The Swiss had gained their fearsome reputation as fine soldiers in the 15th century mainly as halberdiers and pikemen, but like any other military machine they recognised the growing importance of the arquebus and fielded many such men in their formations. Such men were used as skirmishers, providing part of a ‘forlorn hope’ in front of the pikemen to help disrupt the enemy before the main battle commenced, then falling back to protect the flanks of the pike square. Ultimately however only using firearms as a peripheral weapon allowed others to overtake the Swiss in battlefield efficiency during the 16th century. Well before the start of that century the Swiss had also gained a reputation for the use of enormous two-handed swords, which were used in advance of the pike square to attack an enemy pike formation and cut swathes through it or at least decapitate some of the pikes. A very heavy weapon that was difficult to use, it had disappeared from the ranks by the middle of the century as firearms became more important. These two weapons make up the bulk of this set.
There was no attempt to have these men dress uniformly, either by their own cantons or by whoever might be currently employing them as mercenaries. The only distinguishing mark was the white cross field sign which they attached to their clothing - often on the legs - and most of these figures have this mark. By the 16th century armour was on the decline, but anything from a simple helmet to three-quarter armour might still be worn, particularly by those in the front ranks of the pike formation. Here a couple of the swordsmen wear helmets and one at least also has a cuirass, but the rest, particularly the arquebusiers, are without armour, which is what you would expect. They wear typical clothing of shirt, doublet, breeches, stockings or hose and shoes, topped off with a beret-style cap. All this is fine, although the variety of clothing - particularly headwear - was rather wider than suggested here, but nothing in this set is wrong although what is missing are the feathers or similar decoration many wore in their caps. No one here wears the baggy Pluderhosen which came into fashion later in the century, and all wear the 'cow's mouth' style of shoe which was fashionable during the early part of the century, so these figures have an early century feel, which is when such men were at their zenith. The Swiss never quite matched the extravagance of the Landsknecht costume, but the deliberately outrageous slashing of the clothing can be achieved on these figures with careful painting, and many do have the common and equally provocative prominent codpieces. Three of the poses (one in the top row and two in the bottom) wear longer tunics or surcoats, and it is tempting to see these men as officers. That is an understandable presumption, and likely to be true for the man holding the partisan, while all of the poses are common 'officer' choices, but it should be remembered that these soldiers elected their own officers, so wealth and social status was not necessarily any guarantee of command, as it was in most armies.
The swordsmen here are mostly in nice poses, although we did not care for the first figure in the second row, who holds his sword directly over his head in an anatomically almost impossible and certainly highly unlikely fashion. All are clearly in combat and nice and lively. Although they certainly did use them as reputed, by the start of our period two-handed swords were less popular with the Swiss than with the Landsknechts, and the hand-and-a-half being used by the third man is probably the more likely weapon. All the swords, whether normal sidearms or the large examples, are very simple in style, with no guards beyond straight quillons, which is OK although a little more variety would have been welcome. Also the two-handed swords would normally have had a second set of quillons part way down the blade to protect the hands once the sword was used for close-quarter combat, as practised by the first figure in the top row.
The three arquebusier poses are fine as far as they go, and cover the bare essentials. Although not in battle mode we particularly liked the relaxed gunner pose, but a couple more poses would have made this selection of figures more useful. The man firing his piece is holding it against his shoulder, which was a later development of the early practice of holding it against the chest, but it is unclear when the method changed. What we did find disappointing however is that none of these three men seem to carry any form of pouch, horn or satchel for their powder, bullets or any of the accessories the care of their weapon required.
The man with the axe was something of a surprise for us. Large axes like this were used at this time on the fringes of Europe - particularly Scotland and Ireland - but were very unusual in continental armies. However as a weapon of war it is not impossible, and of course there was always a need for men to chop wood, so whether you see this man as fighting or merely clearing a path or fetching wood for the fire, he is an interesting addition to the collection and a decent if somewhat flat pose.
Having covered the titular swordsmen and arquebusiers, we must now consider the specialists in the bottom row. The musical instruments most often referred to with regard to Swiss soldiers are the drum, fife and bagpipe. There is no piper here, but both a fifer and drummer are present, although neither man seems to be moving, which is a pity as the drummer in particular was used to help the men keep a pace when on the march, and in any case the drummer is clearly not beating his drum at the moment. The fife seems to be a particularly long example, and is being held in completely the wrong way, with one hand holding it exactly where the man’s chin would be, which would make it impossible to play. The drummer is, as we have said, doing very little, and has what by the standards of the day is quite a small drum, but is a nice pose although it would have been more useful if he had actually been drumming.
As already mentioned, the man with the partisan is surely an officer of some sort, and a good pose, which leaves us with the flag-bearer. On the positive side the flag is nice and big and held by a short staff so it can more easily be waved. On the negative side it is almost entirely flat. Our picture shows some folds, but these are very shallow and nothing more than engraving on an otherwise completely flat surface. Turn the flag around and absolutely no effort has been made to even engrave anything on the reverse - it is completely smooth and flat, not even reproducing the folds shown on the front side. As a result the flag is really poor and from the back just looks ridiculous. The only design on the front is a large cross, which bears no relation to the emblems of any of the thirteen cantons that made up the Swiss Confederation early in the century. It could of course be used for other things, perhaps including the flag of the Confederacy itself, while the flag of the Cent-Suisse - a Swiss unit in the service of the French king - was based on a large cross such as this. However as always we would have preferred no design so any of the many appropriate designs could be painted on by those with the inclination. Since the flag is heavily attached to the figure, replacing it with something more credible such as a paper flag would not be easy.
The sculpting of these figures is fair, and while there is not a need for a lot of detail the baggy clothing is probably the biggest challenge for the sculptor and this has been done quite well. The faces are OK, but there are some areas where it is hard to make out what is being depicted, and also some places where we find basically 'square' limbs rather than the loose, round shapes you would expect. The swords in particular are surprisingly thick and wide, although the weaponry is otherwise reasonably good, although the partisan is quite poor and has nothing like the spear head it should have. In general there is not a lot of flash on the main fighting figures, but the specialists in the bottom row have a very large amount as can be seen, mostly round the legs.
In general the costume on these figures is authentic, although it could have been a bit more varied in our view, and the lack of any feathers or plumes in the caps is very noticeable. The weaponry is also basically acceptable, although we would add one more criticism, which is that not one man seems to have any sort of knife or dagger visible. One of the defining features of men from the cantons at this time was the possession of the schweizerdolch, a distinctive style of dagger, so it would have been nice to see some here. The poses are no more flat than many sets, and most of the swordsmen are actually quite good considering they are in one piece. The musicians could have been better, and the flag-bearer has many issues regarding the flag, while there is a significant amount of flash on some figures. The sculpting is OK but not brilliant, although we quite liked the spread of weaponry and specialist figures for what is in some respects a command set for the associated pikemen and halberdier sets. This is quite a nice set, though not without its faults, that still reflects the subject matter well.