At the start of the War of the Spanish Succession, the structure of the cavalry of the Maison du Roi, effectively the French Royal Guard, had long been established. In order of precedence the units were the Gardes du Corps (four companies), followed by the Compagnie des Gendarmes (one company), then the Compagnie des Chevau-Légers (one company), then the Mousquetaires (two companies) and finally the Grenadiers à Cheval (one company). This set is concerned with the second and third on that list. Each of these two companies had around 200 troopers plus officers and support staff, and as part of the guard of the King they were privileged to be in his presence when on campaign, although they did also serve when he was not present. Like the other units they were much more than a ceremonial force; a true elite cavalry unit that were intended to set the standard for the rest of the army.
These two units campaigned together, and were dressed and equipped in much the same way, so it makes sense to combine them in a single set as here. Louis XIV took a great interest in his Household troops, particularly their appearance, and made sure they looked as magnificent as possible. As a result they wore coats heavily decorated with lace on all edges, around the buttons, pockets and on the cuffs. All of this decoration is reproduced on these figures, and they do indeed look fantastic. Their tricorn hats also have plenty of lace decoration as well as feather trim, and again this is just as it should be. The long boots complete the picture. Everyone has a sword at his waist of course, and although sources disagree it seems these men did not have muskets – instead they had a brace of pistols attached to the saddle, as do these figures (possibly a few chosen men might have had long firearms).
If the men could be described as richly decorated, then the musicians and officers were a riot of lace and flamboyance. The coat of the kettledrummer here is properly engraved to be essentially covered in lace, and it also includes the distinctive shoulder pieces and the false sleeves trailing at the back. The man carrying the guidon may not have so much ornamentation, but his standard is an excellent size (9mm by 13mm) and flies from a correctly-done stave. We did think however that there should be a strap around the body attached to the stave to prevent loss. The guidon has a fringe but no design on it, and the stave has a spear finial as well as cords, so looks correct. The two officer figures naturally outdo all the rest with lace, sashes and ribbons at every conceivable location, competing with each other to be the most stunning, and therefore the most wealthy, as well as pleasing the critical eye of the King. The two figures in this set do them justice.
The poses are all pretty combative, and generally very good and not flat. However the third figure in our second row is an exception, as he is both very flat and in a very unrealistic pose. He holds his sword at a very difficult angle for wrist and elbow to achieve, and although he appears to be about to strike a blow to his left, he cannot as his head is in the way. We liked the inclusion of a man using one of his pistols, but thought it right that all the rest are using swords. The kettledrummer is of course an unusual figure, but a good and realistic pose, clearly in the act of beating his drums. It should be noted however that the company of Gendarmes had just one kettledrummer, and apparently the Chevau-Légers had none during the period 1701-14 (although see below discussion about dating). The two officers have sword raised as you might expect, so look good too.
The horses, which will be used in multiple sets, are in fair poses. One looks to be walking, and a couple are at the canter, while three are at full gallop, all of which largely match the posture of the riders. Each animal has a bridle and saddle with the necessary pair of pistols at the front. At the back they have a round valise, and a rounded shabraque which looks correct for these men. The men fit the horses very well.
The sculpting of the men is good, although there is a slightly chunky feel to them. These are complex subjects and must have taken a lot of time to do all the detail, but the result is very appealing. Attempts to show the detail of the decoration are rather ambitious, as this sort of detail is really too small to see at this scale. The faces are reasonable and the gloved hands nice and clear,
and we enjoyed the portly appearance of the senior officer. As is often the case, the guidon flaps strongly to the side, suggesting a very strong cross-wind, particularly if this figure is moving forward rapidly as well. There is hardly any flash – just a little, mainly around one of the swords and the pistol, and in a couple of places on the horses, but no excess plastic, so mostly very neat indeed.
As we have said, the men and horses are accurate for the whole of the War of the Spanish Succession, but the news gets better, for not only did the uniform not change during those years, but it also remained much the same for many more. The tricorn means these figures cannot be before about 1700, but the next big change in uniform came many years later when they were granted permission to wear a cuirass. However, apart from one illustration by Funcken, all the other sources agree this was worn under the coat, so should not matter here. In 1746 both units were issued muskets, yet still the uniform remained the same, and it was not until 1762 that it really changed, when the coats got turnbacks, lapels and collars. So this set is appropriate for over six decades, which is very useful, and during that period the Chevau-Légers acquired a kettledrummer – even better!
Although they were not particularly large, both these units saw real action in battle, and must have presented quite a sight to onlookers. The longevity of their appearance helps to make the set more useful, but with perfect accuracy and good poses this set is a nice illustration of how extravagant cavalry could be in the reigns of Louis XIV and XV, and should make a fine spectacle on many a model of the period.