The grenade as a weapon, and the grenadier trained to use it, were both firmly established in European armies by the beginning of the 18th century. The grenade was a simple hollow sphere filled with black powder and with a fuse inserted, which was then thrown after the fuse was lit. Grenadiers were chosen from tall and strong men, but there was a limit to how far a grenade could be thrown, and in an open field there was a risk the blast might injure friends as well as enemies. As a result it was almost always used in sieges, when it might be thrown into a trench, building or other confined space, ensuring any harm only came to the enemy, and also magnifying the effect by exploding in a relatively confined space. The grenadiers tasked with using such devices were the tallest, strongest and most reliable of the troops, and so quickly became recognised as an elite, frequently used to lead an assault even if grenades were not utilized.
By the start of the War of the Spanish Succession all French regiments had their companies of grenadiers, even though the use of grenades themselves was not common. This set of grenadiers has just two poses actually handling grenades, which seems about right to us as they are useful, but most of the time you would want grenadiers without the grenades. One of the grenade poses (top row) is lighting a fuse with his slow match, while the other is about to throw or bowl it. These are the two most obvious poses choices in our view, and look good.
The rest of the ordinary poses are of grenadiers in their usual role as fusiliers. There is a selection of advancing, firing and reloading positions, all of which are fine. The marching figure is always useful, and the man who has drawn his sword is perhaps less common, but certainly still useful. While the quality of his sword may have been poor, in a face-to-face fight a sword was generally easier to use than a bayonet fixed to the musket. The four command poses in our bottom row are of a musician, an ensign carrying a flag and two officers. All the last three seem to be advancing, which fits well with the dash and fighting spirit we would associate with grenadiers.
As uniform developed in the French Army, that of the grenadiers remained the same as for the rest of the infantry with the exception of the headwear. The men here all wear the usual coat with pocket flaps either vertical or horizontal, single or double, all of which are correct and were part of the regimental distinctions used at the time (so technically these men are from several different units). The big cuffs are an obvious feature which was typical of the period, and so are the breeches and stockings all here wear, though these were more likely to be covered by gaiters later in the war (perhaps part of the reason the set is labelled as ‘early war’). The shoes are of the correct square-toed type, but the hats provide some variety. The usual brimmed hat might interfere with a throw, or more likely make it difficult to sling your musket over your head to leave your hands free to handle the grenade, so various alternative caps were often worn. By 1700 the most common was the dragoon style cap, which was a stocking-type cap with a fabric or fur turn-up. Six of the poses in this set have this, three with fabric and three with fur turn-ups. The rest have the ordinary tricorn, which is also valid, particularly as those men are not using the grenade. So everything about the uniform here is authentic.
Equipment for the grenadiers was also mostly the same as for the rest of the infantry. Each man here has a pouch on his right hip for ammunition, and he also carries a powder flask on a string. The pouch had to be fairly large to accommodate several grenades (as well as musket ammunition if there was no other container), and we thought those on these figures could have been a bit bigger since only one is carried. The rest of the kit includes the sabre and bayonet hanging from the waist belt, and the hatchet held behind the pouch on the right side, which was intended for breaking down wooden palisades and the like. We were pleased to see many of the men have the match-holder on their pouch belt, which was worn even when not handling grenades as it was a proud sign of their grenadier status.
The grenades are simple devices, but nicely done here. Right from their inception, grenadiers carried the flintlock rather than the matchlock, and all here have this weapon. It has been well done in this set, and since grenadiers had to carry the musket on their back in order to free up their hands, they had to have a sling, something few ordinary infantry weapons had at this date. The first three poses have clearly already slung their muskets, but the sling is also visible on the rest, which is good. Bayonets are mostly fixed, but whether fixed or stowed, they are all of the socket variety, which is also good. The sergeant in the third row holds a halberd, which was normal armament for an infantry sergeant, but unfortunately grenadier sergeants and company officers carried firearms rather than polearms like this, so this man will have to be used in a fusilier company instead.
As usual in this series, Strelets have included four command poses in the set. The first is a musician playing a hautbois, an early form of oboe. The only musician in a company would be the drummer, and possibly a fifer, so such a man as this would have been attached to the regiment as a whole, and would have been the whim of the colonel. So not a grenadier as such, but certainly part of the larger regiment in some cases, so a worthwhile figure, although sculpted somewhat flat here. Next as the ensign with flag. This is a nicely animated figure, correctly dressed and armed, and carrying a short pole with spearhead finial from which the flag is flying freely. The flag itself is 17mm square, which scales up to 122cm. In fact such flags were generally at least two metres square, so like the previous sets in this range the flag is much too small, and the staff similarly too short. Happily in this case the flag could quite easily be removed and replaced by something more appropriate if desired. It should also be noted that the flag has cords but no scarf, or cravat, which was a distinguishing feature of French flags of the period. It must also be wondered how easy it was to hold the flag and pole with just one hand like this, especially when the flag was actually much bigger.
The pose collection ends with the two officers. Both are quite active, and look to be encouraging their men in going forward. Our comment about grenadier company officers having firearms rather than polearms applies here too unless the first officer with the spontoon is of a higher grade than company officer, which he might be. With his large full periwig he certainly does seem to be fairly senior, so in that role he is fine. The last man looks more senior still, with large wig, decorated hat, sash around the waist and another across the chest. In fact he looks very like the portrayal of no less a person than Marshal Villars leading the assault at the Battle of Denain in 1712, as painted by Jean Alaux. This famous and stirring painting is also an excellent view of troops using hatchets to break down enemy barriers, so is very appropriate as inspiration for this set.
The standard of sculpting on these figures is very nice. Not quite up to the standard of the previously released British infantry, as some of the smaller details like the pocket flaps and buttons are a bit chunkier and exaggerated in size, but the detail is still plentiful and the poses quite lively. The heads are a little on the large side, as many sets are, but the faces and hair are nicely done, and every man has a moustache, as is appropriate for grenadiers. The full wigs of the officers are another attractive feature well done, although we were surprised to find no gorget at the throat of the more junior officer. The join between the two halves of the mould is relative clean, but there is a little flash all round this on the private soldiers. The four command figures have a fair bit more flash here, and the occasional extra lump such as on the hautbois, so the bulk of the figures are fairly clean but overall there is plenty of room for improvement.
In an age when grenades were still actually used, the presence of grenades here is a good idea, but they have not been over-represented. Apart from details like the sergeant’s weapon, the uniforms and kit are accurate here, with grenadier distinctions like the cap and hatchet properly done. A good mix of useful poses, though a drummer will need to be obtained from another set, and while the sculpting may not be exceptional it is still pretty good, though the amount of flash is an irritant. The small flag is also annoying, though not too difficult to remedy, so this is another appealing set from Strelets which adds considerably to the range already available.