By the time of the dynastic struggles of the later Middle Ages in England (which would become known as the Wars of the Roses), a king would raise an army by contracting his great lords to provide specified numbers of men, and they in turn would have a similar arrangement with lesser lords etc., their retainers, who might actually raise the necessary men. This worked well enough, but during periods of crisis there was often a call for mercenaries, who were only naturally drawn to England where the various outbreaks of fighting promised a good living and some action. In addition various foreign powers provided this or that lord with their own troops as mercenaries to assist them, so that many men who fought in England in the thirty years and more from around 1455 were not even from the British Isles.
Although mercenaries could and doubtless did come from all over Europe, the particularly significant nationalities were the Flemish, Germans, Swiss and French, many of whom were specialists in some of the new weapons of the day. In this set however we have quite a wide array of weaponry, starting with the two men with very long spears/pikes in the top row. While their weapons are of an impressive length, unfortunately they are also of an impressive width. Each is about 2mm at the base, which scales up to almost 15cm, so they are more tree-trunks than pikes that could be lifted and manoeuvred. Try getting your hand round something that thick and you will see it is impossible to grip, but the sculptor has got around this problem by failing to provide the first pikeman with any hands at all, while the second merely has the pike resting in his hand. Both also have particularly large swords - as do many of the others - but the poses themselves are fine.
Next we come to a particular speciality of English soldiers - the bill. Here there are five such figures, which is something of a surprise as we would have expected more of the more advanced weapons. Such bills can be tough to mould without having separate parts, so these poses suffer to some extent, although we particularly liked the man walking with his bill over his shoulder. The other poses are reasonable if a little awkward, and the various designs of blade are all authentic.
The bottom row contains two hand gunners and a crossbowman. The gunners have fairly advanced devices for the time - better for the last years of the war - with fairly sophisticated shaped stocks and matches set into serpentines. Both men carry bags for bullets etc., and flasks or gourds which might contain drinking water or powder. The last man carries a crossbow, and again was a skilled soldier much in demand and frequently obtained from the continent. However this one, although he has already loaded a bolt, is holding his crossbow almost vertically, which makes the sculptor’s job easy but the bolt is surely about to fall out.
As experienced and professional soldiers, you would expect these men to be above average in the quality of their armour and clothing. All but one hand gunner wear a helmet, mostly sallets or kettle hats although there are also a couple of barbutes. Again varied in design but everything looks great apart from the barbute of the crossbowman, which has a nasal piece that reaches down to the mouth and just does not look right. There is little in the way of plate armour here, which is not a problem, but several men wear mail and most have padded jacks, brigandines and the like, which is perfectly authentic. Leg defences too are mostly absent here, although one of the billmen has a full set of leg defences, and a couple of the others have poleyns at the knee. This too is reasonable, so there is no problem with any of the clothing here, apart from one item that is missing. No one seems to wear a livery coat, which while far from universal wear would still have been quite common, particularly amongst troops with no particular ties with the army in which they fought. It is hard to judge how common such things were at the time, but we would have liked to have seen some here, even if they obscured some of the nice jacks on show.
Two figures particularly stand out in terms of attire. One of the hand gunners wears no apparent armour at all, trusting instead to the mobility his entirely civilian clothing gives him to avoid contact with an aggressor. This would have made him quite unusual on the battlefield of the Wars of the Roses, but over the next decades armour declined in importance and quantity, so this nice figure is something of a signal of things to come. The crossbowman on the other hand has gone in completely the other direction, and is by far the most protected crossbowman we have ever seen. Traditionally crossbowmen had used a large shield called a pavise for protection, but by this time these were disappearing. Instead, he too would normally rely on mobility to avoid trouble, wearing perhaps no more plate armour than a helmet. This man, with his closed barbute, his mail tunic, metal cuirass and poleyns looks ready to take on a knight, and while perhaps not impossible we felt this was very unrepresentative of crossbowmen in the later part of the 15th century.
How pleasing the quality of these figures is depends on where you look. The various jacks etc. are really nicely done, as are some of the faces. However the man firing his hand gun has no face at all, and we have already mentioned the lack of hands on another man. The detail then is mostly very good but inconsistent, Flash too is a mixed bag, with some figures having none at all and some suffering a little, although there is not too much anywhere, and compared to some previous sets from RedBox the quantities of flash are very low indeed. While the polearms in particular restrict what can be done with single-piece figures, causing some fairly unnatural poses, these are generally very nicely done sculpts and even the mould-maker has done a pretty good job.
With so many hand gunners and crossbowmen coming from the continent we would have liked to see more such men here, and leave the billmen for other sets. However all this may be balanced out by future sets in this series, and clearly RedBox take some pride in covering their chosen subjects in depth, so there may yet be more such men in future output. That aside the figures are mostly well done, except for a few rather obvious absences and exaggerations, and apart from the one very unlikely barbute and the tree-trunks for pikes, everything looks perfectly authentic for the period in question. This set doesn’t really cover anything in much depth, but delivers some useful figures for the end of the medieval period and as part of the wider range it is a worthwhile addition.