The Middle Ages in Europe had seen the rise of the missile weapon, which was increasingly dominating the battlefield at the expense of the heavily armoured knight. The longbow had shown it could be a battle-winner, but it took great strength and practice to master, and an archer could quickly become tired if called upon to loose arrows at anything like the maximum possible rate. For many the crossbow was a step forward, for while it had a much slower maximum rate of fire it required much less strength and practice to master. Crossbowmen were usually on foot, even if they may have ridden to the battle beforehand, but on occasion crossbowmen did come into action while still mounted. By 1410 the crossbow was already starting to give way to early forms of handgun, and the Teutonic Order was following this trend. During that decisive year however they still employed many crossbowmen, often mercenaries, so such men remained a key part of the Order’s forces during the half century at which this set is targeted.
Since these troops own crossbows and horses they are likely to be amongst the more wealthy of the ordinary troops, so a higher degree of armour would not be unreasonable. To be honest however it is not easy to see how well armoured these men are because they are not particularly clear. Most have helmets, but one seems to have just an arming cap, or (admittedly unlikely) bare-headed, or else the most beaten-up and minimalist helmet in the entire Order. Several clearly have quilted armour, which is quite typical, but whether the rest have plate armour or a simpler garment (perhaps over armour) is impossible to tell. Arms and legs are also difficult to make out, but there is no sign of any plate armour here, which is fine. However their featureless appearance means whether they are wearing boots or shoes is entirely down to how you choose to paint them. Most seem to have a mail coif, and the sorts of helmet on show, though hardly beautifully produced, do not seem too far from the mark. Although doubtless all have a knife at least, four of the six poses have a sword which, surprise surprise, perfectly follows the line of the leg.
Aiming any sort of weapon is never easy when on a moving horse, so with two of the six poses having their crossbow up to the face (the last in each row) we would have expected some stationary animals for them to sit upon. No such luck. True none of the horses is at the gallop, nor even trotting, so far as we can tell, but neither do any of them seem to be standing still. Not the worst crime in the world, since the horse may simply not be inclined to stay still, but we would have preferred at least one such animal here. Ranking much higher in the league table of crimes, however, is the actual poses of the horses. Most are pretty horrible and anything but natural, with one horse in particular tripping over its own hind legs. The relatively simple saddles and associated straps do, however, look appropriate for the job.
Bonus marks are on offer for anyone that can spot the one problem we have so far failed to mention. Correct - no one has a crossbow. Since this is a Mars product seasoned visitors will expect the crossbows to be on a separate sprue, and so they are. They will also expect these weapons to be half engulfed in plastic, joining them to the sprue in very many places and being a complete nightmare to remove, and so they are. Take a look at the image of the sprue. That blue blob is supposed to be two crossbows and a bag of ammunition. If you fancy trying to extract the components from that then good luck, but you can trust us, it is a tedious and difficult task that produces a crude and completely unsatisfying model. There are actually two types of crossbow. Both have stirrups but one is in two pieces and has what appear to be two handles coming out of it. Is that supposed to be a windlass? If so, the handles are wrong (they should be offset). In any case, to use a crossbow while mounted it would need to have a lever or ratchet mechanism, and none of these crossbows has that, so it is hard to think of a reason to rescue them.
The horses are quite poor but the men are a little better. Detail is fairly indistinct but we have seen worse, but there is a fair bit of flash in some places. All the men sit, or rather perch, rather precariously in their saddles, so gluing will be necessary here. Apart from the two men actually holding their crossbow up to the shoulder, the rest are just holding theirs in various ways and are reasonable enough, even having the advantage that they are not necessarily intending to use their weapon while mounted. No one is attempting to reload their weapon (just as well, since they could not with these examples), so it is not a great selection of poses, but nothing too terrible either.
By the early years of the 15th century the majority of the Teutonic Order’s archers were crossbowmen, but whether belonging to the Order or simply paid mercenaries, these men looked no different to any others in Western Europe. So this should have been a useful set, since there have been very few mounted crossbowmen made so far. However once again we were very underwhelmed by a Mars set, which asks a lot of the customer without delivering a great deal in return. At an average height of 26mm (1.87 metres) they are significantly too tall for late medieval Europeans too, although not as bad as some sets from this company. Although the only identifiable accuracy problem is with the crossbows, thanks almost entirely to the quality of sculpting and production this is another very forgettable product despite covering a subject that has been almost ignored so far.