Although dragoons had long been seen in England, including during the Civil War, the modern British Army largely dates from the restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the first official regiment of dragoons was raised in 1672 (although disbanded again in 1674 after the war came to an end). The first long-term regiment of dragoons appeared in 1684 when the Tangier Horse was renamed the King’s Own Royal Dragoons. Although traditionally seen as mounted infantry, dragoons were already beginning the process of being seen and used as proper cavalry (if cheaper and of lower social standing), and the regiment was ordered to muster with the Horse when in the field, taking precedence over the infantry. By 1701 there were eight dragoon regiments, and more were added as the war progressed. Some were short-lived, but six were retained so that by the end of the suppression of the Jacobite Revolt in 1715 there were 14 such regiments.
Despite their best efforts, there were a number of differences between these troops and ordinary Horse, even when mounted like these figures. The Horse carried their sword scabbard from a belt over the right shoulder, and after 1707 wore a breastplate under their coat, but the dragoons had their sword held by a waist belt, and never wore any body armour. Like infantry companies, the dragoons had one troop of grenadiers per regiment (usually there were eight troops in a regiment) who wore mitre caps and carried a hammer-hatchet as well as their normal equipment, and as with the other differences we find this set correctly reflects this, with a couple of grenadier poses suitably equipped. The presence of a drummer rather than a trumpeter is another distinction correctly seen here, as is the use of a guidon rather than the rectangular standard carried by the Horse. One difference has, however, been overlooked here, because after 1697 dragoons did not carry pistols, yet the horses in this set clearly have a pair of them in front of the saddle. This is because these models are the same as those used for the corresponding set of British Late War Horse, so are a sacrifice to saving costs. Other than that, however, all the dragoon distinctions are correctly portrayed in this set.
Other elements of their appearance conform to the usual look of most soldiers at this period, including the tricorn hat, single-breasted full-skirted coats with big cuffs, breeches and long boots. The waistcoat all would wear underneath is hidden by the closed coat in most cases, but more apparent are the gauntlets everyone here has. The neckcloth completes the dress of the ordinary rankers, but as you would expect, the officers are more striking. The officer and cornet both have a full wig, and both also have a sash as a sign of their authority. That of the cornet is round the waist, as was normal, but the senior officer wears his across the body, which was a late-war fashion, and, more surprisingly, has it over the right shoulder when the left was more normal (though as ever officers had much leeway in their appearance). Again as per tradition, the drummer has much lace decoration on his coat as well as the usual false sleeves at the back, so in all respects the costume of these men is properly done here.
The usual equipment was an ammunition pouch held by a belt over the left shoulder, and a bayonet by the waist belt over the left kidney, as modelled here. A carbine or musket is being held on the right side, and the sword scabbard on the left. The sword itself was not regulated at this time, but most were of the broadsword variety, and have been pretty well done here. The infantry drum has been nicely done too, and the guidon, which is not engraved with any particular design, also looks to be correct, so no problems with weaponry or equipment.
All the poses are in fairly sedate positions, so while most have their sword drawn, none are actually using it, suggesting these men are expecting action soon but have yet to be called to it. Each holds his sword in different, often casual ways, so are clearly not on parade or being reviewed. In a similar vein, the drummer is doing no more than resting on his drum, though he does have his sticks in hand, and the cornet is not actually holding his guidon; instead it leans against his back, supported by the strap that connects it to his shoulder belt. If on the march then we would expect this to be cased, so having it unfurled but not being held reinforces the look of men who are standing still and waiting for something to happen. While they are not in exciting battle poses, all are perfectly reasonable and nicely done. The senior officer however does have a problem, because he holds his telescope to his eye by a single hand, and holds it close to the eyepiece, which we would have thought was both uncomfortable and would make it hard to keep steady. Also when seated on a horse the angle of the telescope looks down, so only really makes sense if he is at the top of a slope – a level telescope would have been much better.
As we have said, the horses are the same as used in a previous set of Horse, so wrongly have the pistols, but the saddles and other kit are all correct for these dragoons. The poses are as sedate as the attitude of the men, so a perfect match, and are nicely done despite the problems such poses bring with them. We particularly liked the grazing animal, but all make very good standing animals and offer good variety for a group of them standing in line. As with the Horse, however, we must address the issue of the tails. All here are natural length, but it is known that around this time the British Army started to dock the tail. Docking is a severe procedure that requires not only trimming the tail hair but also removing most of the bones in the tail, leaving little more than a stump just a few centimetres in length. When exactly this cruel practice was begun we could not discover, but one source speaks of Marlborough’s personal dislike of natural tails, and an observer in Spain commented that the British cavalry horses quickly deteriorated in health compared to those of other nations as the lack of a tail meant the animals could not whisk away flies and other unhealthy irritants. This all suggests that these animals should be docked, since they are likely to have been so for much of the course of the war, although at least it is possible for the customer to do this themselves with a sharp knife, so the problem is a minor one.
The remarkably consistency of sculpting with this Strelets range means that these figures are beautifully crafted, with all the usual great detail and proper proportions. The men fit their horses well, and there is only a small amount of flash in a few places, so are easy to prepare for painting. The only imperfection is with the cornet, since there is extra plastic between his guidon and the back of his head (which is hard to notice) and the top third of the staff is bent upright (which is more obvious and perhaps done to avoid a deeper mould). Otherwise the drummer and his drum are particularly outstanding work, but the whole set is very well done overall.
Having previously made sets of Horse for the British, this set of dragoons delivers the other major element of the British cavalry during the War of the Spanish Succession. Our only issues with accuracy relate to the two concerning the horses, and in both cases the problem can be solved by removing plastic, so are not so great an issue. The figures are great and correctly done, and for a group waiting to go into action, or perhaps guarding a supply convey or fulfilling some other passive role, the poses are excellent too. This is a worthy addition to the range, and fills a hole in the list of units available very nicely.