The term 'revolution' is usually taken to mean the overthrow of a government by the governed, but in Peter I, the Great, Russia had one of her greatest revolutionaries, and he did it from the top of the social pile, not the bottom. He determined from an early age that Russia must modernise and become a major player in European politics rather than the fringe land barely noticed by so much of the continent. His impact on Russian society was tremendous, and often unpopular, and while not all his reforms were to stand the test of time he nevertheless succeeded in dragging his country into a new imperial age. For our purposes his two most important targets for reform were the army and the Court, both of which are depicted in this large set from Strelets.
To begin with we must point out that this set follows the usual format of previous big sets from Strelets in that it includes several sets already released by themselves. In this case the old friends we find once more are Guard of Peter I and Artillery of Peter I. Both have been photographed and reviewed as separate products elsewhere on this site so we shall say nothing more of them here. Instead we will concentrate on the new material, which is pictured above, and in a break with tradition we will start at the bottom, with the soldiers in the last three rows.
In previous sets Strelets have released both grenadiers and pikemen, but no ordinary fusiliers or 'hat men', perhaps because Zvezda have already marketed such a set. The infantry figures in this set go some way to fill that gap in that they represent the ordinary infantry which made up much of Peter's foot soldiers after the fall of the Streltsi regiments. The basic uniform is typical of the time, with coat over breeches and stockings, and a tricorn hat on the head. As such this is a sign of the modernising touch of Peter, who forced much of his army to dress in this western style rather than the traditional heavier Russian fashion. The advancing figures all have bayonet attached, which in most cases seems to be a plug-in sword variety. The figures themselves come in essentially two poses as can be seen - either marching or advancing - but with subtle differences between each to make for a very plausible group scene when placed randomly together. Clearly there has been no attempt to portray the wider infantry, again presumably because Zvezda has already covered this ground, although as we will point out these figures and those from Zvezda do not make for a happy match.
So to the rest of the new figures, which devote themselves largely to the Petrine Court. Here we will follow our own convention and discuss the finer points of each figure in turn, starting from the left on the top row.
- Tsar Peter I (1672-1725) - The man himself was rather gangling and tremendously tall at just over 2 metres, and this figure, measuring 27 mm in height, is a pretty good reflection of this. Peter loved to wear military or naval uniform, and this could be what he is wearing here, although his hatred of formal and overly-ornate clothing led to more than one commentator describing his dress as 'shabby'. Here he strikes quite a strident pose, which is in contrast to his renowned love of informality but a perfectly valuable pose nonetheless.
- Empress Catherine I (1684-1727) - Peters second wife, whom he married in 1707 and was named Empress but only really had power after his death. The marriage was a very happy one.
- Alexander Menshikov (1673-1729) - Peter’s favourite and best friend, who did much to further his reforms and served as both field-marshal and governor-general.
- Dmitry Mikhail Golitsyn (1665-1737) - Field-marshal and governor.
- Boris Sheremetyev (1652-1719) - Perhaps Peter's best commander.
- Rodion Bour (1667-1717) - A cavalry commander who was in charge of the Russian right at Poltava.
- Nikita Zotov (1644-1717) - Zotov was a Count who held various government posts and was a lifelong friend of the Tsar. However he is perhaps most famous for being made Prince-Pope in the All-Mad, All-Jesting, All-Drunken Assembly, also translated as the Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters. This was a group of Peter's friends who were looking for a good time, and generally found it in a long succession of parties involving debauchery, games, tobacco and, above all, drink. The Russian love of strong drink and plenty of it was as alive 300 years ago as it is today, and Peter indulged his fondness in this 'society' which shocked many contemporaries, not least for its irreverent satire of the Russian state and Orthodox Church. Zotov is modelled here holding tankard and bottle, and clearly in a relaxed frame of mind. Interestingly he is the only figure in traditional Russian costume, and he sports a full beard, both of which were heavily suppressed by the reforming Peter, who wanted everyone in the 'German' costume the rest of the figures wear. Zotov may have a false beard and be in 'party dress' for the sake of irony, otherwise it is difficult to see how he could get away with this appearance even if you could afford the fines.
- Count Fyodor Apraksin (1661-1728) - Peter's greatest admiral, which given Peter's love of sailing and the sea made him one of the most important people in the Tsar's administration.
- Count Andrey Osterman (1686-1747) - A major member of Peter’s government, serving with distinction on foreign affairs but also influential on domestic policy. Here he is holding a pair of spectacles out from his nose, which looks very strange.
- Baron Pavel Shafirov (1669-1739) - Another senior government minister who became a privy councillor. He successfully negotiated a treaty with the Ottoman Empire but eventually fell from grace.
- Count Peter Tolstoy (1645-1729) - Highly regarded ambassador and diplomat.
- Senior Naval Officer.
- Secretary - With a paper, pen and small chest to underline his profession.
- Doctor - Holding something we cannot identify or guess.
- Officer - Carrying a very short, stubby sword and apparently wearing a cuirass under his coat, so perhaps an officer of cavalry?
- Unlabelled, but dressed as a gentleman and seemingly handling a satchel.
- Another gentleman/courtier/officer. His pose suggests he is kissing the hand of the empress figure.
- Court lady - In 'German' or western dress, with a large wig as required by Peter.
- Court lady - As above, but this one pets a small dog at her skirts.
- Priest - Peter greatly reduced the role of the Church and made sure it was subservient to the State, not the other way round.
- Army officer, with gorget and cuirass.
- Another officer, which like his comrade is holding an excessively long partizan.
- Two duellists. As elsewhere, duelling was frowned upon but continued nonetheless.
When you create character figures such as these it is inevitable that they are more closely inspected for finer details. Strelets figures have never been described as finely detailed, and these are not really up with the best Strelets have yet made. The usual chunky appearance and shortened limbs is on show here, and some of the detail is really quite poor, with some faces in particular being vague. Another common problem is the shortened scabbards, which in some cases on the soldiers are only long enough for a pen-knife. This means they are a world away from the quality of the Zvezda set of Russian Infantry of Peter the Great, so you would have to be very forgiving to be able to place figures from both sets in close proximity. On the whole the poses are OK, although in many cases the senior officers would be more useful mounted as if in battle or on the march.
The quality of these figures leaves plenty to be desired, but they make a good attempt at depicting one of the more colourful and interesting European courts of the 18th century. Those in westernised costume (i.e. most of them) would work equally well at the court of Louis XIV or any other monarch, so the potential is quite considerable. However a top quality paint job is about the only hope for these otherwise rather unsatisfying figures.