Although nominally still part of the Holy Roman Empire, after victory in the Swabian War in 1499 the Confederacy that would later be known as Switzerland was in effect an independent country that had considerable power within Europe. Its soldiers had earned a reputation as extraordinary soldiers during the 15th century, particularly after the wars of the 1470s against Charles, Duke of Burgundy, and their services as mercenaries were much in demand. Although they were to serve many masters over the years, and the Pope would end up being their longest-serving customer (he still is today), in time it would be the French that would make most use of their services. Originally they had gained mastery of the battlefield through their use of the halberd, but by the start of the 16th century it was the pike that was their principal weapon, and coupled with their excellent training and ruthless professionalism they would be both feared and respected for many years, even after defeats in the 1520s tarnished their reputation somewhat.
The first thing to say about this set is that it contains exactly the same figures as the RedBox set of Swiss Halberdiers, the only difference between the sets being that this one contains sprues of pikes whereas the other contains halberds. The not very generous 20 figures include 10 poses all handling their pike in various ways. The many stances that are necessary to form a pike square are largely all here, although since there is only one of each the resulting group would look very regular and artificial. We have chosen not to show the pikes on the figures for reasons that will become apparent, but the poses are OK apart from the first in the second row, which is of someone holding the pike with both hands at about the same point but over the head, which could be done but would make it difficult to control the pike and so very hazardous not just for the enemy but for those directly behind him. The Swiss were known for holding the pike above shoulder height and pointing it down slightly, but they would have held it more securely than this man does. The poses include one of a man simply holding his pike upright, one resting it nonchalantly across his shoulders and another shouldering it while on the move, so there is a nice range of poses at least.
By the 16th century many Swiss wore no armour at all, although the front ranks would often wear a helmet and part armour, and this mix is properly reflected here. Many have no armour, but those that do wear open-faced helmets, a cuirass and in one case tassets too. Styles of armour were enormously varied, but everything here looks reasonable. For the rest the normal costume was shirt, doublet, breeches and hose, plus a cap. All the caps here are beret-like, although many others were also worn, but generally everything here is fine. The men all wear the kuhmäule ('cow mouths') footwear that was fashionable earlier in the century, so these best represent soldiers during the heyday of the Swiss pike in the first few decades of the century. Most have engraved somewhere a white cross that was their field sign, but all lack the feathers and other decoration that usually adorned the hats.
The sculpting is reasonable, with fair detail and good proportions to the figures. There is almost no flash on any figure, and with the separate pikes the poses are not flat, yet have no noticeable excess plastic. Where the technical delivery of the set does fall down however is with the pikes. These are delivered on separate sprues in groups of five (see sprue image), and are awash with flash. Towards the foot of the pike it simply merges into a mass at the end, so you simply have to cut it off where you want and do without any sort of sculpted butt. The pikes have a bare minimum of sculpted head, and strangely are sort of square or diamond shape in cross-section, meaning they have corners running down the whole of the shaft. This and the flash make them difficult to attach to the figures, but this is made much worse by the various cupped hands being mostly inadequate. Many are basically filled with plastic, and all are really too small to cope with the thick pike, so a lot of filing is required to achieve a half-decent fit. Even then, everything will need to be strongly glued, and on most figures where the pike is across the body or head we found there is insufficient room for it, meaning if it touches both hands as it should then the pike must be bent to make it happen. This has been a feature of pike sets in the past, so is perhaps a difficult thing to do, but whatever the reason it makes for some unsatisfactory figures or a great deal of preparation by the customer.
If you cut the pikes as long as possible then they are about 75mm in length, which is 5.4 metres and so a good length for the real thing. It was the Swiss that were credited with lengthening the then three-metre pike to this new length, but of course with no butt sculpted you can simply cut down the pike to whatever length you want. All the men have a sword as a sidearm, and these are all very simple, with just straight quillons as the only guard. No one seems to have the characteristic Swiss dagger (the schweizerdolch) with which these men were often associated.
With good accuracy and some useful poses this set should have much to offer, but the effort of placing pikes on each man is quite considerable and not to be undertaken lightly. Had the pikes been round rather than square, and better able to fit into the hands, which themselves should have been clear and ready to receive them, then things might have been a lot better. As with several soldiers throughout history, it was the impressive sight of a block of Swiss pikemen, coupled with their ferocious reputation, that probably won many battles before much fighting had been done, and ultimately it was the rise of firearms that was their undoing. If you want to model these men at their peak then this set will give you enough to get started but at the cost of a lot of time and perhaps much frustration as you try and force everything to work well together.