All nobles in Russia were required to give military service to the Tsar when called, and such men were released at the end of the campaign. With the many military campaigns of Ivan IV this meant some nobles might be away from their estate for years, so they could neither run them properly, nor ensure their peasants did not abscond (or indeed be kidnapped by a rival noble to work on his estate). The solution was to dramatically restrict the freedom of movement of the peasants by introducing full serfdom, whereby they were ‘attached’ to a piece of land. This gave peace of mind to the nobles, who would continue to provide the most important element of Russia’s armies throughout the 16th century and beyond, although gunpowder technology was gradually taking a greater role, as were infantry.
The mention on the box of the siege of Pskov (1581-82) tells us that these miniatures are for around the end of the reign of Ivan IV, so towards the end of the 16th century. The bow was still a common weapon, as used by many of these poses, but only one still wears the mail and the pointed helmet that could just as easily have been seen on the battlefield half a century earlier. Most of these figures wear no visible armour at all, and have swapped their helmet for a warmer and more comfortable cap. The long coat was still normal Russian apparel, and the swords and axes they carry hadn’t changed much either, but the lance would have been quite unusual by this date. However everything here would fit with the stated date and is pretty representative of these men.
The emphasis in this set is clearly on the use of the bow, which is fairly limiting when you are dealing with mounted men. However all these poses are pretty good, and other sets in this mini-series provide men using other weapons, so we had no problems with the choices here.
The six horse poses in this set are exactly the same as in the other five products in this mini-series from RedBox, so our comments on these are identical for all. The poses are all moving rapidly, but some of the poses are far less natural than we would have liked. We also felt that the general anatomy of the horses was not quite as good as for the riders. Noble cavalry at this time most commonly rode Noghai ponies, so the relatively small size of these animals is about right. The saddlery is much simplified though. The Mongol-style saddles, that all should have, seem to be replaced with a simple couple of cloths, lacking all the usual items like the pommel and cantle, although the decoration on parts of the harness seems reasonable.
There can be little cause for complaint on the sculpting, because all the figures here are beautifully done. The figure with mail is nicely textured, and other items like the fur trim on the caps is realistic too. All the clothing looks good and natural, and the bows are well done and convincing. There is very little flash on these figures, but in several places, especially around the arms, there are strange ridges of extra plastic that will take a fair amount of work to remove. This appears to be a fault during the mould-making rather than during actual production, and it marks these out from the largely flash-free figures in the companion sets to this one. The horses too have a fair amount of flash, but this is more variable. The men sit on the animals well, but won’t stay there without some compulsion.
Finally, as bowmen of the Steppe, these men sat with bended legs tucked under them jockey-style, but rise in the saddle to use the bow. Those figures here that are actually using the bow might be doing this, but then the customer has the problem of how to place them somewhat above the saddle. That apart, these figures should not have the nice straight legs that they do have, although sculpting the bent legs would be difficult. Very nice sculpting and useful poses go a long way to make up for the less than impressive horses, and it is a pity about the areas of excess plastic, though there are many sets far worse in this regard than this one. This is the last (chronologically) in the series of RedBox sets depicting noble cavalry of the 16th century, and it has been a great series which has covered the subject in more depth than most in this hobby. This particular set is a worthy component of that series, bringing a high number of active bowmen that should look good on any table-top.