This set and its companion is subtitled ‘Siege of Orsha’, so a little background on that would be a good place to begin. It occurred in 1514, during one of the very many wars Muscovy fought with its neighbours for territory and power during the 16th century. This time the enemy was an old one, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, who as so often was assisted by forces from the Kingdom of Poland. The climax of the battle came when the Lithuanians and their allies attacked the Muscovite centre, then retreated in apparent confusion, luring the Muscovite cavalry to chase them. It was a trap, and the Muscovite cavalry was faced with artillery and superior fire which caused it to retreat and then be routed. Since much of the Muscovite army was cavalry, the day was lost for the Muscovites, who were subsequently chased out of most of the territory they had occupied, finishing the campaign for that season.
After centuries of being a part of the Mongol/Golden Horde Empire, the Muscovite army was like any Steppe army, made up primarily of cavalry, of which the noble cavalry was the elite. The nobles who served in this corps were the wealthier members of society, and although income varied greatly, most were able to equip themselves to a high standard. The Turco-Persian style tall helmet is a classic design for the Muscovites at this date, but the shorter examples also found in this set are equally valid. All have a mail aventail, and all have body protection of mostly mail or scale armour, although some may actually be quilted fabric which may have metal elements within or underneath. Most have vambraces to extend protection of the arm down to the wrist, and their long coats hide the legs apart from the boots. Everything here suggests well-equipped noble cavalry, so there are no problems with accuracy.
By 1514 the lance was going out of fashion in this region, so to have four of the six poses carrying such an item might seem unbalanced. However as this is only set 1, and the second set has no one with this weapon, it is not a problem here. Some of these men carry a shield, which was another item gradually disappearing at this time, but still valid for this date. By far the most important weapon of any Steppe army was the Inner-Asian composite bow, and most noble cavalry carried one. Only three of these poses have this, so we did wonder if this was underrepresented in this set, especially as Set 2 also has some figures without the bow. The bows and quivers full of arrows all look authentic, as do the lances. Each man has a knife at his waist, and a curved scimitar sword, which would have been almost universal. A couple have also felt they needed an axe as an additional sidearm, so these are very well-armed warriors.
Both bows and long pointy weapons make life very difficult for sculptors unless they choose to have multiple parts, but all the figures here are in one piece. As a result the lancer poses follow the basic pattern you usually find with such figures, with the lance held upright or across the chest. The single pose with lance lowered is an impressive piece of sculpting, given that he is one piece, and this also makes him the most active of the lancers. The two bowmen are also in classic poses – ready to lose the arrow and having just done so, so reasonable choices again. The poses are not exactly full of action, but none are unlikely so they do the job.
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.
Our comments on the sculpting are different for the men and the horses. The men are nicely proportioned and full of detail, which is just as well on such complex clothing and armour. There are many areas of high detail such as the body armour and the shields, and these have been really well done. The figures give the feeling of being rather overweight, but while that may have been true in some cases, the layers of warm clothing are a more likely explanation, although the slight impression of stockiness is noticeable. The men fit well on the horses, but not snugly, so will require gluing to stay put. We were surprised at just how clean the figures are, by which we mean there is almost no flash at all. There are just a couple of small tabs that would need to be removed, but otherwise all the seams are perfectly smooth, which is impressive. The horses however fall far short of this standard. They have a good deal of flash on some of the seams, so will need more work before they match their masters. One of the poses has also required some extra plastic between the hind legs, which will take some removing if desired.
One more aspect to note is that as Steppe cavalry and primarily mounted bowmen, all Muscovite cavalry rode Mongol-style, which is to say with shortened stirrups and the legs tucked up under them. This was so they could easily stand in the saddle to use their bow, or rotate to do the same. All these figures have very straight legs, so a full-length stirrup, which is not authentic. However we recognise the difficulties of reproducing such a stance given the production technology used for such sets.
Although this set does not accurately reflect the balance of weapons used by these men, as this is merely one of several sets that does not matter. By buying more of set 1 or set 2, or indeed some of the others in the series, the customer can decide for themselves on the proportion of lances etc., which is a good thing. All these men are very well equipped and armoured, and they are an accurate reflection of the noble cavalry as it would have appeared at Orsha. We liked the men a great deal – more so than the horses unfortunately – but this set has much going for it, and as just a component of the whole six-box range of noble cavalry for the 16th century this is a great first step.