Robert Bruce was born in 1274 with the good fortune to belong to one of the strongest families in Scotland. Nonetheless his rise to power required the kind of scheming not uncommon in that period, and in 1306 he personally murdered the best claimant to the throne in Dumfries. Within weeks his own claim to the throne was accepted, at least by some, and he was crowned King. Over the next eight years he battled both the English and his own domestic enemies, improving the effectiveness of Scottish armies until they achieved their most famous triumph at Bannockburn, completely defeating the English and effectively making Robert’s kingship a reality throughout the country. The following years until his death in 1329 still held many smaller battles with the English, but his victories had effectively kept his country free of foreign rule.
The most famous element of the Scottish armies at this time was the pikemen, and this set contains 12 such men. The formation was similar to the ancient phalanx, so the need is for men holding their pike at various levels and angles to present a hedge of points, and that is what we find here. The man holding his pike at the very end (first figure in the fourth row) can only be doing so if it is resting on something, which seems very precarious to us, but the other poses are a good mix. The remaining foot soldiers have swords and polearms, which are authentic weapons apart from the two-handed claymore, which had yet to be introduced at this date.
The set also includes a cavalry element, which were a smaller proportion of the army than elsewhere in Europe but still rendered a vital service. Most have a lance, which is a good choice although the weapon itself is rather too short. The first pictured mounted figure has his lance couched as if at the charge, but the rest seem more relaxed. The figure beside the horses is clearly King Robert himself, and he carries an axe with which he famously defended himself from personal attack before Bannockburn.
The horses for these men of status are quite a mix, with two having caparisons and three having plate armour. None of the horses appear to be moving rapidly, which is as it should be for such a period, especially considering the relatively relaxed stance of most of the riders. However some of the poses leave much to be desired. The saddles are nice and high, and all the required horse furniture looks authentic.
Scotland probably had a higher proportion of lightly armoured or unarmoured men than most at this time, but most of the foot figures in this set have some form of metal or fabric armour. The styles vary enormously, as they should, and include some real antiques resembling the conical helmets with nasal guards of the Normans and Vikings two centuries previously. Other items however are more up to date, and the mix is appropriate, although we would have preferred far more unarmoured men to reflect the true balance of the force.
Naturally the mounted men were the elite, and they could afford the latest fashions and technology, making them no different from knights of any other country in the region. They wear mail armour with varying amounts of plate on them, as is correct for the period when plate was still gradually being introduced. Several have the great helm with some nicely done crests of various descriptions. By this stage such items were becoming less common on the battlefield and mostly used for tournament, and so some, naturally including the king himself, are wearing the modern bascinet instead.
The sculpting is unrefined but decent and the figures exhibit no noticeable flash. As can be guessed from their different colour the pikes are separate, and seem to be made of a softer plastic. They are 62mm (4.5 metres) in length, which is maybe slightly too long but of course they can be cut down easily. They fit into the cupped hands but sadly the sculptor has often failed to provide a clear pathway between these hands. Consequently the pike is forced to bend to go round the body, which looks very silly. Some of this bending can be seen in our main picture, and more can be seen here. From these examples it can be seen that some are fine, but others will need considerable filing down to achieve a straight pike. At least the pikes themselves are quite straight. Apart from the pikes the only assembly is the couched lance - the mounted men all have their shields as part of the figure.
Now we come to the gripes. Clearly the emphasis is on the pikemen, leaving few poses left for other weapons. Also, while several men are armed with the traditional axe, none are actually using them, which is a pity. Most noticeable is the almost total lack of shields on the infantry. By no means everyone had a shield, but many did, particularly those as well garbed as these men, so more should have been in evidence.
These are quite nicely done figures that are perfectly suitable for the subject in question. However for the reasons stated they are not really representative of the Scottish forces as a whole (not enough of the 'small folk'!). Whether that matters will depend on the individual, but this is a decent set let down by the poor design of the men holding the pikes.