The 17th century had seen a steady shift in importance from the pike to the musket, especially once the bayonet was introduced. By 1701 all recognised that the most important characteristic of the infantry was its firepower, and the classic tactic was to approach the enemy and then fire in a disciplined manner until one side or the other retired. However there were times when infantry engaged in hand-to-hand fighting, particularly when assaulting a defended position like a breastwork, where the troops or officers might feel it worthwhile to stay put and fight even when the enemy was upon them. This kind of personal, face-to-face killing is surely the most dramatic and vicious action an infantryman would take, and with this set Strelets have depicted this most basic of fighting for the soldiers under Marlborough.
All of these poses can be imagined facing their opponent immediately to their front, and we thought they were all terrific. Several are showing their bayonet, and the grenadier actually thrusting with his bayonet is doing so in a more natural and believable way than any figure we think we have ever seen. Traditionally this has been a difficult pose, yet here it is done to perfection. Another highlight is the first figure in the top row, about to strike someone with the butt of his musket. Again, an energetic and completely believable pose, but then all of these are apart from the static man firing his weapon. The two infantrymen who have drawn their swords are a nice feature, although the man holding his over his head is the one poor pose in the set as this is both a difficult posture and very unlikely. Many grenadiers carried a hatchet, which was primarily meant to be used to break down obstacles and gates, and this may be the purpose of the grenadier we see here. However it is easy to imagine a man also using it as a weapon, which this figure could also be doing. The grenadier with the grenade ready to throw or bowl is a particularly interesting pose, as grenades were seldom seen on the battlefield by this date, but were used mostly in sieges, so this man may be at a siege (about to throw his grenade over a wall), or about to throw it from cover.
The four command figures in the bottom row are a good match for the men in their action poses. The drummer is beating his drum to encourage or signal to the men (a superb rendition of a tricky pose), and the two ensigns are very active – you can imagine the one with sword drawn perhaps defending his colours from attack, or simply encouraging his men to the fray. Holding the colours up like this with one hand would not be particularly easy, but in the heat of the moment it is certainly credible. The officer is equally energetic, with sword drawn and ready for action, so like the soldier figures we loved all these poses.
At the start of the 18th century military costume was still similar to civilian fashion, which meant a long coat without collar or turned back skirts, but with large cuffs revealing a little shirt at the wrist. The coat had two pockets on the skirts, and was left unbuttoned below the waist as well as toward the neck, revealing the neckcloth, all of which is perfectly reproduced on these figures. In the early years the men usually wore breeches, stockings and buckled shoes, which is how all these figures are dressed. Later in the Wars gaiters became more common, so these have more of an early-war feel to them, though not unusable for any part of the conflict. The ordinary infantry wear the tricorn hat (hence called ‘hat men’), but the four grenadier poses have grenadier caps designed to make slinging the musket over the head easier, and not to interfere with throwing the grenade. The design of this cap varied between regiments at this date, and here we find two of the most common styles. Two men have the rear bag drooping at the back, but the other two have the bag attached to the top of the front plate, forming the mitre cap which would become standard grenadier apparel for much of the rest of the century.
Moving to the command figures, the drummer is correctly dressed much like the men, though he might have extra lace on sleeves or elsewhere at the whim of the colonel. The two ensigns and the other officer are also correctly dressed, with a similar coat to the men (although doubtless of better quality) and similar (but more decorated) tricorn hat. Two of these men have the coat open to reveal the waistcoat, and all three wear the sash as a badge of rank. In two cases this is round the trunk, and the third has it round the waist – both are valid. It is unfortunate that the sergeant in the set (the man with the lowered halberd in the second row) is missing his sash.
All the men’s firearms look to be the flintlock, which is as it should be, and all have the increasingly universal socket bayonet, which is also the correct choice. All the men have a sword as a sidearm, and the grenadiers all have the hatchet, which is fine although not all grenadiers were so equipped. The sergeant has his halberd, so all the weaponry on show here is perfect.
That completes the description of the upper ranks and the drummer, but the men inevitably have much more kit to carry. Both hat men and grenadiers have a pouch on the right hip for cartridges and, potentially, grenades, held by a strap over the left shoulder. They also have a waist-belt which supports both the sword on the left and the bayonet scabbard at the front. All also have a knapsack, which at this date was literally a sack held over one shoulder, although it appears this was usually sent to the rear when action beckoned, so these figures should not have this item, even though it is correctly modelled. They have a variety of vessels for carrying water (no regulation item was issued), but they also have a sort of haversack held by a belt over the right shoulder, which is not correct for the British at this period.
The sculpting is outstanding on these figures, matching the quality of the first set Strelets produced for this conflict. Lots of lovely detail, and everything of the appropriate size and shape. Muskets and swords are slender, the men’s faces are full of character and the full wigs of the officers are a joy to behold. All the proportions are perfect, and everything looks completely natural. Even the drum, something often done poorly at this scale, is a master class in how it should be done, and the flags, though possibly a little smaller than the enormous articles actually carried at the time, are beautifully natural with their curves and folds, and as they are not engraved with any design they are ready for painting as required. The common soldiers have very little flash – often none at all, and no excess plastic, but the command figures are subject to a fair amount of flash which seems to vary between examples of this set.
To sum up, we loved this set. In a review of superlatives there are certainly some black marks – the presence of knapsacks and haversacks, the pose holding his sword over his head, and the flash on the command figures, but the lively and realistic poses and the marvellous sculpting are enough to make this a terrific set which will add spice to any diorama or game that might otherwise be a little static with just firing and advancing figures.