The revolution begun in 1789 had enormous consequences for the Army as on much else in French society, and what followed were years of upheaval and change as many officers emigrated or were removed, while the men caused much trouble for their new bosses, not least thanks to an unrealistic expectation of their own liberties under the republic which would have made the Army unmanageable. Bolstered by large numbers of recruits with little training it is a wonder that these men achieved the many successes that they did in the 1790s, but under the able leadership of such men as the young Napoleon Bonaparte this unpromising material would be forged into a highly effective military machine that would take the now emperor to many glories all over Europe.
Gone are the days when manufacturers only recognised the final years, and particularly 1815, when it came to making French Napoleonic infantry, and this set is just one of several covering the earlier period between the establishment of the republic and the height of the French Empire in Europe. The uniform on offer on these figures is mostly suitable for the years up to the 1812 reforms, when variations in all but the headgear were relatively small. All these men wear broadly the same thing, being a coat with long tails, a standing collar and lapels that part to reveal plenty of the waistcoat. Those with a particularly pedantic eye may want to know that all but one of these coats have the turnbacks extending to the very bottom of the tail, which technically only makes them correct for the period after 1810, but as we shall see this is not really an issue. Five of the six poses wear trousers over their breeches and shoes, which was common, and the one man without trousers has his gaiters reaching to above the knee, which was normal. All the men wear what was effectively a bicorn, as shown, slanted slightly to cover the right eye, which is not wrong, but we would have preferred the shape of this to be less symmetrical, with more of a suggestion of the residual third corner that is clearer on the box artwork. All the men wear their hat fore-and-aft, which is to say over the face and neck rather than across the head. This was the usual method when on the march, so appropriate here, and only turned to be side-to-side when in action. Each hat has a cockade and large plume, which for many regiments would be too much but of course can easily be trimmed down as required.
Anyone wondering why we photographed four poses in one row and two on the second will now get their answer, for the top row contains the fusiliers and the second has the elites. The fusiliers are identified by the single belt across the body, which supports not only the cartridge pouch on the right hip but also the scabbard for the bayonet, over the right kidney. The much thinner strap over the right shoulder supports one of various forms of water container, which were not official issue and so varied widely. The two elites in the second row have a second belt over the right shoulder which supports their sabre and bayonet scabbard, in a dual frog. Another distinction is that the elite pair have fringed epaulettes whereas the fusiliers have ordinary shoulder straps, largely hidden here anyway. The elites would have been grenadiers or, after 1804, the new voltigeurs. The proportions of four fusiliers to two elites reflects well the actual proportions of such men in a typical regular line demi-brigade or regiment.
All six poses have the straps for a knapsack but lack this item, the cartridge pouch and any sword on their back. Instead all have a peg, onto which separate items need to be attached (and glued). Each sprue has four knapsacks with pouch, and two knapsacks with pouch and sabre briquet, matching the needs of the fusiliers and elites perfectly. In our photo we have already attached these, and this does help improve the appearance of the figures. However note that the pouches are all without any badge, when the elites at least might expect to have some device on them.
Our third row shows the extras that come on every sprue in this set. The extras take the form of a good number of spare or alternative heads, which helps to extend the useful period for these figures. Each sprue (which contains six figures) also has one head with the early helmet with crest (something like the British Tarleton), one head wearing the bonnet de police cap, one wearing a shako with cover and pompon, and six wearing an uncovered shako with plume. For the ordinary line infantry the shako began to be worn from 1806, which means these heads make the figures usable up to the 1812 changes previously mentioned. All have a badge of an eagle over a crescent, which is not the best choice in our view as we would have preferred the common diamond shape instead. Interestingly, all these heads have a hole drilled up the inside so they can be attached to a peg on the neck, but there are no headless bodies here, so you have to remove the bicorn head and fashion a peg yourself to make use of this feature. What is particularly striking is that this is the first time that a HaT set has been made with the ability to have missing plastic where an ordinary steel mould could not reach. This is a useful and common feature of many Caesar sets over the years, but a first for HaT. The choice of headgear for these heads is good and very useful, and again plumes can be removed or cut down for other forms of adornment.
We would characterise the sculpting of these figures as good rather than great. The proportions are good and there is plenty of detail, but this can be a bit vague in places, and for example the faces are relatively simple. Our earlier comment about the detail of the turnbacks is tempered by the fact that this sort of fine detail is hard to make out, so it would be easy to change the bottom of the turnbacks by simply painting accordingly. The muskets are about as well done as they could be since they face the mould, although all the bayonets are barely offset from the barrels, which is quite poor. Perhaps the softer mould which seems to have been used to make these figures is to blame for the soft detail, but though these figures are not as sharp as some other sets, these are still nicely made. There is a thin flash line round the seams, and the plastic used is pretty standard (i.e. not as soft as some later HaT sets), but takes ordinary poly cement as poorly as you would expect.
There are some very pleasing little features to these figures. Two of the knapsacks have a dish or pot attached, as was common, and one man is wearing clogs rather than proper shoes. Indeed the image of French infantry in the 1790s is often of badly dressed men deprived of basic clothing like shoes, and while these figures are rather neater than that, the variation in footwear, kit and forms of trouser do help to add some realism. Our only complaint is that none of the heads, attached or otherwise, has the hair in a queue, although queues were not always compulsory.
So while the detail is soft we generally liked these figures very much. There is not much to say about the pose because there is only one here, which is the classic marching pose, and the only differences are in the arrangement of the arms, but all are reasonable. As before HaT have tried to make the set as widely useful as possible with the extra heads, and there are no problems with accuracy. There is not the wide range of similar but subtly different poses you get in some marching sets, but these figures deliver the promise of the set title nicely.