In 1429 France was at a low ebb in her long wars with England, but that year saw the appearance of Jeanne d'Arc (c.1412 - 31), sometimes known as Joan of Arc or the Maid of Orleans. Though she was captured the following year and put to death the year after, her impact was immense and French fortunes revived. The army that achieved that success is portrayed here in a set where every figure is unique.
This is the first set from Strelets which mixes infantry and cavalry, and the emphasis is on the infantry. This is appropriate as the later stages of the Hundred Years War were mainly characterised by a series of sieges where cavalry had little or no role. The most common weapon in the infantry is the sword, with both single-handed and two-handed examples on display. A single archer (a Franc-archer) is joined by four crossbow men, several spearmen and a varied assortment of soldiers armed with other weapons.
The six mounted figures include Jeanne herself, who we are told wore full armour and carried her own standard. The only contemporary drawing of this standard shows its shape to be the normal long rectangular with two tails, but the standard on this figure is triangular, for which there seems to be no evidence.
Another mounted figure is, we are told, of the Duke of Alencon, Joan's main general, and there are two mounted archers. The French learned the lessons of Crecy and Agincourt, and made more user of archers later on, including mounted archers for mobility, though they would have dismounted to shoot.
There was no uniformity of armour or costume in armies of the time, and with so many poses there is plenty of scope to show many different patterns, which is what has been done here. Newer styles mix with old-fashioned ones, and plate mixes with mail in an authentic-looking 'confused' appearance. In addition the differing national styles reflect the fact that French armies would often include mercenaries and others from elsewhere in Europe. Helmets are mostly open-faced, but the latest full-face examples are also present.
The crossbow was a particularly important weapon in the siege warfare of this period, and it is nice to see several such weapons in this set. There are also examples of men wielding clubs, axes and what appears to be an ox-tongue (langue de boeuf) polearm with a shortened handle. We could find no evidence for the use of the round club, but this was a time of all manner of different weapons, many based on agricultural tools, so we cannot completely dismiss it. One weapon that was certainly increasingly used was the handgun, though we could not find any evidence for the appearance of the one modelled here, and most hand-guns at this time were mounted on a much longer stock which rested on the shoulder and protruded well behind the gunner. Another man is using a hammer which resembles a modern mallet (though on a larger scale). However warhammers of the time usually also included spikes and cutting edges to finish their victim off once the armour had been breached.
The herald figure is of particular interest. Heralds were the administrators of the medieval battlefield. They carried messages, identified units by their standards, recorded the names of those who had fought particularly well (and those who had fought badly or fled) and identified the bodies of those of note who fell. They were usually given complete immunity by both sides in order that they could carry out these functions in safety. The figure in this set is accurately dressed, and seems to be waving a staff or similar device which was his symbol of office.
The figures are generally well animated and have plenty of detail, though we were less keen on a few of the poses, which seemed awkward or rather flat. Apart from a couple of the spears, all weapons and shields are moulded with the figure, so the problem with ill-fitting components found in previous sets does not apply here. There are too many doubtful historical features here, and too many awkward or unlikely poses to make this set the definitive collection of late Hundred Years War French troops. The sculpting style is not to our taste either, so while the diversity is great this is not a set we would recommend.