In English the word ‘musket’ is used for any long firearm before the widespread adoption of rifled barrels, when the word ‘rifle’ became normal usage. In French the word is more precise, in that a musket is specifically a matchlock (where the charge is ignited with a match or hot wire), and the later weapons ignited by sparks such as from a flint are termed fusil, from which the term fusilier is derived. So this set depicts infantry armed with the matchlock, a weapon that was out of favour by the time of the War of the Spanish Succession. Although it was the standard firearm of the 17th century, it was slower to load than the flintlock, more prone to damp conditions (which made the match hard to keep alight) and more likely to misfire. By 1701 many nations had largely abandoned it, and indeed so had France, eventually, which decreed that the flintlock was the only approved infantry weapon in 1699. However the enormous cost of replacing all the existing matchlocks, and the time necessary to manufacture replacements, meant that it took many years to complete the task, and it was not until 1708 that the last matchlock was finally withdrawn from front-line service.
Since the musket is the focus of this set we will start by looking at that, partly because it is the most noticeable feature at first glance. All these men carry a matchlock which is quite nicely sculpted, with fair detail on the lock and the match. The French army used various models of matchlock at the same time, so there was no standard model, but in an effort to control this diversity, in 1670 the authorities decreed that the calibre and barrel length of all muskets should be the same. The barrel length was to be three feet and eight inches (these are French measurements, not the same length as the Imperial system still used by some today). This equates to about 119cm, which at our scale is 16.5mm. All the muskets in this set are 17mm total length, with a barrel of 11mm, so are massively too short. To be honest this is readily apparent simply by looking at them, and they should be much more like the examples illustrated on the box artwork.
Sticking with the subject of weaponry, no one here has a bayonet fixed. In the early days of bayonets it was simply plugged into the muzzle of the matchlock, so could not be attached if the man intended to fire his piece, as all here are doing. Later bayonets were redesigned to be attached without blocking the barrel, but even then they made the weapon a bit heavier to hold steady, and were sometimes not fixed unless it is apparent they would be needed. Every man here has a bayonet in its scabbard, either on the right or left hip. Many are largely obscured, so it is difficult to see which type of bayonet they have, although it would seem there is a mix of plug-in and socket types here. Completing the weapons list is the infantry sword each man correctly has on his left side, hanging from his waist belt.
This was an age of increasing uniformity, which was not so different from civilian garb. The men wear a coat with large cuffs and no collar, and under this a shorter waistcoat, plus breeches, stockings and square-toed shoes, all of which are correct. The coats show a wide variation in the pockets, in terms of design, orientation and with both single and double arrangements. Such differences were effectively regimental distinctions, and everything here is authentic, although strictly speaking this shows the men to belong to various different regiments, and so unlikely to be acting together. The men also wear a tricorn hat, which was becoming fashionable during the early years of the 18th century, but sadly it is unclear how quickly this fashion was taken up by French infantry. Some evidence suggests that in the early years – precisely the period when the matchlock was still in service – hats were usually without turned-up brims, or with only one such turn-up, but as so often, evidence is inconclusive. None of the hats have a cockade, but most have the button on the left side to which the cockade would later be attached.
A wide strap over the left shoulder supports a bag on the right hip which contained the ammunition for the musket, and each man also has a flask on a separate thin strap that contained powder. Later in the war the pouch would be worn on the waist belt, towards the front, so like the matchlock this feature suggests the men are for the early part of the war.
Our last row shows the command figures, although there are also two sergeant poses of four copies each, so there is a remarkably high number of command and specialist figures here. The two sergeants are correctly clothed like the men, but instead of firearms they have been given the halberd, which has a head like a partisan, but is absolutely correct for this subject. Unfortunately the pole for this weapon is also a bit too short here, although not by very much. The drummer has a more ornate coat (i.e. more lines engraved to suggest more lace and more pattern), but the flag-bearer and officers are much more splendid overall. Each has a full periwig and much more decoration in their hat. One of the senior officers has a sash round his waist, correctly tied, and both are armed with a spontoon or half-pike, which is also correct. However again the shaft of these weapons is much too short, as they should be well over two metres in length without the head. Previously the King had been annoyed with officers carrying shorter polearms like these, but by the time of the War of the Spanish Succession it seems they had been forced to carry proper-length examples, so these here are poor. Also poor is the absence of a gorget at the throat (again correctly shown on the box artwork), which was another item they were required to wear when on duty.
Perhaps the strongest feature of this set is the choice of poses. The top row of poses speak for themselves, and the two pairs are very similar, so this is a device to increase the number of two very useful poses and is fine. The other four ordinary poses depict various stages of the reloading process – retrieving a ball, priming, putting powder down the barrel and handling the stick (ramrod). Since the set is exclusively men in the act of firing, we thought this was an excellent range of appropriate poses, all of which are nicely done. The truncated musket makes the last two reloading poses look ridiculous of course, but that is not the fault of the pose itself. The sergeant poses are also excellent, and we liked all those in the bottom row too, although the flag-bearer looks a bit more relaxed than we would have liked.
Sadly we have to devote a paragraph to the flag, which is another major weakness of this collection. French flags of the day varied in size to a degree, but it seems they were at least two metres square, even though they were attached to a relatively short staff. The flag in this set is limp and draped over the man’s shoulder, but is clearly only 15mm high at the staff, which is barely more than one metre to scale. The width cannot be estimated, but it is very obvious that this flag is again massively undersized, so much so that it looks pretty pathetic. Furthermore, although it has cords, it lacks the cravat or streamer just under the finial which was such an important aspect of all French flags of the period. In addition, the arrangement means it would be impossible (for most at least) to remove the flag and pole to add a proper-sized paper model – if you are going to make a flag-bearer with a flag that is much too small, at least make it possible for customers to replace it with something more realistic.
Overall the sculpting is very nice, with lots of nice detail which works well for such an ornate subject. The style is a little more chunky than the corresponding sets of British infantry released at a similar time to this one, so it is not the best that Strelets have done, but it is still quite appealing. It is easy to see the slowmatch wrapped round the left wrist for example, and the detail on the officer’s wigs is particularly effective, while the drum is very good too. The very short stick being held up in the third row looks silly, but this is only because the musket is so short that a ramrod this length is all that is needed for it! Most of the seams are extremely clean and smooth, and while there is a little flash in places this is a very minor issue on a generally well-produced set.
While there are many positive aspects to this set, the small flag is something of a waste, but it is the size of the muskets that dominates everything here. Carbines did exist at the time, and they did have a shortened barrel, but only by a few inches, so even they are too long to be portrayed by these figures. In any case carbines were only used by some elite cavalry units, so would not be appropriate here. However even if the muskets had been of the correct size, there would have been a question mark as to the dating of these figures. They have the musket, which was only an early war weapon, yet they also wear the full tricorn, which may have been less common in the early years. Such a combination may have happened, and so been accurate, but it may have been relatively unusual, seriously limiting the utility of this set. Had the designer chosen to show earlier hats with fewer or no turn-ups, the figures could have worked for several years prior to the War for Spain, and so would at least have been useful for conflicts of the 1690s and before.
Some visitors put great store by our scores – we do not. Reviews are always a matter of opinion, and opinions will always vary. Scores are a far more blunt instrument for assessing anything, and so are usually far more controversial. When it comes to accuracy, some argue that there is really only two states – accurate or not accurate. For those that care about such things, if the figures are noticeably wrong then they are useless and might as well score zero for accuracy. Our accuracy score tries to reflect how accurate a set is, and leave it up to the visitor to decide how much they care, if at all. After all, some might have the skill and inclination to overcome accuracy problems, rescuing a set that needs it. In this case we have docked several points for the muskets and the flag because both are so important, even though the uniform and other kit is fine. However this may be one of those cases where the loss of accuracy is so obvious, and hard to remedy, that some will say our accuracy score is much too generous. Regardless of the many good accuracy aspects of this set and the score, it is very hard to see how these figures can be put to good use by anyone with a care for such things, so this may well be an example where the flaws effectively overwhelm the other elements of the set.