Although the 15th century had begun with yet more wars with France, as the century wore on the importance of England on the international scene became even less significant as it became preoccupied with a series of civil wars over who should be king, so that by the time Henry VII grabbed the throne no European country was paying much attention to England, and so not likely to threaten it. When Henry VIII succeeded his father in 1509, he took a much more active role in European politics, and so made enemies, particularly following his break with the Roman Catholic Church. With Elizabeth on the throne England meddled in continental affairs all the more, and so became a likely target for invasion, particularly from the Spanish, whose king wished to see this heretic country return to what he considered the one true faith. The English always saw the best defence of their country as being the Navy, and spent far more money on it than on land troops. Even in the next century, defence on the sea remained the priority, especially when the English beheaded their king and declared a republic, to the dismay of European monarchs. Finally, commercial rivalry with the Dutch in particular meant a strong navy was essential, so these two centuries placed great trust and responsibility on a relatively small number of English sailors, and the most important tool those sailors had were their ships, heavily armed with good cannon.
This set much resembles other sets of RedBox artillery, whereby you get four sprues, each of which contains a gun and five crew members. The five crew are all in typical poses – holding the ramrod or ammunition and applying the match – plus a couple apparently in charge or else aiming the gun. As such all these poses are fine, although it should be pointed out that the man with the match is holding it well below the level of the gun barrel, so cannot be in the act of firing it.
Guns on board ships were manned by gunners, assisted as necessary by crew members. Most of the figures in this set look to be gunners, by which we mean they are too well dressed to be ordinary seamen doing all the dirty and dangerous jobs of running a ship. The man holding the ramrod wears baggy breeches or trousers, a shirt or tunic and a floppy hat, and so looks like an ordinary sailor, but the rest are much more smartly dressed. This is a little odd, but it also means their dress is more obviously suitable to one particular period, and as with the other sets in this little series they work best for the second half of the 16th century. The slashing of the sleeves and breeches, the puffy sleeves and the doublets – all give a late Tudor feel to the men, so they do not work for the 17th century at all, despite what is claimed on the box. Given that restriction, all the clothing looks reasonable, and the tools look good too.
Each sprue includes a gun, correctly mounted on a truck carriage as you would find on any ship of this period and many others. The design of both carriage and barrel are fairly standard, and the barrel is about 22 mm in length. This makes it quite a small cannon, and so would be on one of the upper decks. The barrel is reasonably well done, but for some reason the carriage has been mostly filled in with plastic between the two sides, which seems odd as this is nothing to do with facing the mould. The carriage is a single piece, but this is not a problem as the simple design means there are no compromises as there would be on a field carriage.
We said that the set contains five guns, but strictly speaking it contains 10, because also on each sprue is a swivel gun as shown. This small weapon would have been mounted on one of the top decks, and used as an anti-personnel weapon to spray enemy decks with shot, or if necessary its own decks to repel a boarding party. The barrel here is about 11 mm long, and it stands on what is basically a single strand of plastic. No attempt has been made to represent the stirrup by which the gun was actually attached to its support, and nor is there any evidence of the breech-loading mechanism it employed, so while the design is not bad it is missing some crucial features. Also none of the poses seem to be interacting with it, so while we warmly welcome its inclusion, as many such weapons would be found on board any warship, at least one gunner operating it would have been nice too.
The sculpting of the figures is quite good, with decent detail on the quite complex clothing. Although we thought the men were over-dressed (the man with the match even has a small ruff), the sculptor has depicted this clothing well, and most of the faces are well done too. The two gun barrels are to a degree simplified, and the carriage is strangely solid, so not as good-looking as the figures, though not terrible either. The figures have variable amounts of flash – some have almost none, but the man with the ramrod is covered in it, as you can see. The gun carriage is also generously supplied with flash, which is again apparent from our photo, though this is at least much easier to trim off than the figures.
Thanks to information from wrecks like the Mary Rose and Wasa we have a good understanding of warships of this period and their crew, and our only complaint about accuracy here is that the men are mostly rather too well dressed for battle – more should have been ordinary gunners or seamen and dressed accordingly. This also means the set is good for much of the Tudor period (16th century), but badly out of date for the following century, so does not deliver what the box promises. The poses are good (but differ slightly from those pictured on the back of the box) and the sculpting nice, though as so often RedBox need to pay much more attention to the quality of their mould, since high levels of flash put many customers off purchases. For those that wish to populate a 16th century ship these figures fit the bill quite well, and should also work for the much larger cannon that formed the bulk of the firepower of warships of the day.