It is remarkable that of the many sets of French troops currently made for the early 17th century and the Thirty Years War, most concentrate wholly or partly on the personal guards of either the King or Cardinal Richelieu. Their fame is clearly attributable to the Alexandre Dumas books of the Three Musketeers, although they were also very well known in their own day. When first raised in 1622, the King’s Musketeers was intended as primarily a cavalry unit, but was also expected to serve on foot, including in battle. Clearly the musket was not the ideal weapon when mounted on a horse, but the most prestigious units at the time were all mounted, and any of the junior nobility who might be eligible to join would have been very familiar with riding as part of their basic education.
With no real uniforms yet in existence, the King chose to make his musketeers stand out by giving them a cassock with a white or silver cross on each of the four panels. This cross had lilies at the end of each arm, and a flame decoration around the centre. This was the very visible badge of this elite unit, and all except the two officers at the end are wearing it. Otherwise they wear their ordinary clothes, though these are largely obscured by the cassock. The fashionable wide-brimmed hat is obvious of course, decorated with feathers which we know were sometimes coloured to indicate different units, and every man wears long riding boots, though not all of the same style. Everyone has a sword naturally, and some also carry a carbine. One man in the top row has also drawn a pistol, of which each man had two at the front of his saddle.
The two officer figures in our third row both wear almost full armour, but not of course a helmet. Indeed the first is bare-headed, which is a bit of a surprise, but the second wears a particularly heavily decorated hat as well as lace and decoration in abundance, and we think could even be used as King Louis XIII himself (since he was their nominal captain from 1634). Both have a sash across their body as a further mark of their authority, as if one more were needed.
The horses are the same as used for the Cardinal’s men, and offer a complete range of poses from standing to the full gallop. A couple of the poses look quite poor to us, but the rest are fine and you do at least get a lot of choice of which horse to put under each man. They all have relatively simple saddles and straps, all of which look reasonable, and the brace of pistols already mentioned.
There are some sedate poses here, and also some with lots of action. The top row are the most energetic, and include the second figure from the left, who is holding his sword to his front as if in a charge. This is the accepted way of conducting a charge through the ages, and many manufacturers have attempted to make such a pose, but this one is by far the best ever made, and really shows what can be done. By making the sword a little to the side rather than with a completely straight arm, it is really convincing and the best compromise we have seen. However we really liked all the poses, which much like the horses cover a multitude of activities rather than just the charge, unlike many other cavalry sets.
The sculpting is very good, and in the same style as the related dismounted sets issued earlier. The style is not quite as slim and elegant as the best being made, but the detail is excellent and the proportions good too. The men fit the horses well too, and there is not a great deal of flash, although this does vary, and the flag in particular suffers much more with this. Speaking of the flag, this is too large to be a cavalry standard, but as they were both mounted and dismounted troops, the King’s Musketeers were also given infantry colours, somewhat smaller than the usual issue, an example of which we seem to have here. It has been engraved on both sides with the triple fleur-de-lys, and those that wish to replace it with a paper one will have much work to remove it, but the general design is nicely done, with fringe and cords.
This is the third set so far to depict these men mounted, after ones from GerMan and Mars, and is far superior to them both. The cassock became longer during the 1660s, so the appearance of these figures, with the shorter cassock, covers a long period from when they were first formed, which includes their most famous incarnation during the 1620s. No accuracy problems and high marks for sculpting and poses make this a set well worth considering by anyone interested in this period, whether it is because of the momentous historical changes France was going through at the time, or the supposed romance of so many books and films based on these men.