The origins of dragoons are still debated, but the idea of having infantry mounted so as to reach a crucial point sooner, but still fight on foot, dates back to the sixteenth century, though the first unit in the French Army to be called dragoons was formed in 1635. Such units would prosper and increase during the rest of the century, but by the later wars of Louis XIV they were still considered as mounted infantry. Nevertheless when on campaign this hybrid soldier, if mounted (and not all were) was treated as part of the cavalry, though below the ordinary line cavalry in status. On the march they were usually placed at the front and tail of a column to provide security, so in the event of interception they could quickly dismount and provide a defence.
Naturally when on campaign the troops would spend a lot of time on the march, and it is good to see a set dedicated to this, but the poses were never likely to be particularly exciting. The men would simply travel with weapons sheathed and in a relaxed or bored mood, and for the most part that is what these figures seem to portray. Two of the poses have their musket in their hands for some reason, which would be fairly unusual as if they were to use them they would dismount first, or sling the musket on their back first, as the last man in the top row has done. The musician in the third row holds his hautbois out to the side – a rather odd pose, but perhaps he is about to give us a tune? So a relaxed collection, dull but perfectly suited to the theme of the set.
Dragoon uniforms in this period were very colourful but little regulated, and seem to have had many variations. As with other sets, Strelets have opted for a very typical look, starting with the stocking cap with its fabric or fur turnup. The men wear the same coat as the infantry, with large cuffs, no lapel or collar, but a typical ribbon shoulder knot behind the right shoulder. Some wear their coat unbuttoned to reveal the waistcoat underneath. Over breeches and stockings they wear long leather gaiters (‘bottines’) buckled up one side, which are good for both riding and action on foot. The officers and musician naturally have more elaborate versions of the same costume, with much more lace, and the traditional false sleeves of the musician are here too. All are likely to be wearing gloves, though on many these are partly obscured by the cuffs of the coat.
Each man has a sword hanging from his waist belt, which is outside the coat, but we were surprised to see no sign of a bayonet scabbard here. All however do have the musket or carbine, either in hand or hanging by their right side, butt down next to the saddle. On some the ammunition pouches attached to the right side of the waist belt can be seen, and all carry a fourniment – an extra powder flask hanging by a strap. Like the uniforms this is all correct.
The horses are the same as those used in the attack set for the dragoons, and all have walking or trotting poses. The poses are reasonably natural, given the limitations on all horse poses. Each animal has a good saddle and bridle, with a pistol forward of the saddle on the left and one of a number of tools on the right – either a spade, pick, axe or sickle. One has a second pistol instead, so must be for the officers. Dragoon horses were noticeably smaller than those for the ordinary cavalry, although these seem little different. What is noticeable is that several lean to left or right – not enough to fall over, but still it looks strange.
There is a lot of detail on these nicely sculpted pieces, which look good, and are done in a somewhat thicker, chunkier style with larger heads etc. The decoration on the musician and officers is particularly good, and the faces are very appealing also. The musket has been moulded as part of the man rather than the horse, which works well, and man and horse fit together nicely. We found no flash on the figures, and very little on the horses. The guidon is not engraved with any design, but the general shape matches known examples, though these too tended to vary quite a bit.
Sets on the march are rarely that exciting, but they provide some very useful poses, and this one is no exception. Nicely made, good to look at and accurate throughout, this collection of figures delivers exactly what it says on the box.