The men that invaded and conquered the empires of Central America, known to history as the Conquistadors, were in truth more a group of adventurers than a military unit. After years of struggle against the Moors in Spain and subsequent wars with France, the early sixteenth century found a large number of professional and experienced soldiers in Spain with little to do. Many went to the New World and formed the backbone of the expeditions led by Cortes and others which destroyed the empires they found there.
At this time the Spanish were famed swordsmen, and many of the figures in this set are rightly armed this way. Most of the poses are fine, though the first figure on the second row is extremely flat and quite awkward. As with armies in Europe, the Conquistadors included both arquebusiers and crossbowmen, and again the poses in this set are reasonable. Both the crossbowmen have their weapon at an angle, which is to allow the mould to detail the crossbow better, but it looks quite strange. Since the natives did not have cavalry, pikemen were not an important part of the Spanish force, but the two included here are fairly well done, and in particular have correct full-length pikes which are nice and slender with the leaf-shaped head. Finally, two cavalry poses complete the set.
There continues to be a debate over the appearance of the Conquistadors. As private individuals, the men were responsible for their own clothing and armour, so it would have varied greatly depending on wealth. However metal armour had many disadvantages in the campaigns of Mexico, where the hot damp climate made armour almost unbearable, and also ensured it rusted very quickly and required a lot of maintenance. It seems that many men, certainly once a campaign got underway, wore something like the native quilted cloth armour, which was much more practical and did almost as good a job against native weapons. We therefore felt too many of these figures are in helmets and cuirasses, and certainly they present a rather too smart and uniform appearance. Some seem to wear the Morion helmet, which only appeared years after the Cortes expedition, but all the gunners and bowmen wear soft hats and armour, which is better.
The mounted men, though few in number, had an enormous impact on the conquest as the natives had never seen horses before. One of the figures here wears three-quarter armour, which is correct but again would have been unbearably hot most of the time - he is most likely to be an officer. The other man wears much lighter quilted armour, plus a helmet, and is much more typical of the cavalry. Both men have their (correct length) lances as part of the figure, so there is much extra plastic to be trimmed. Their horses are correctly saddled for the period, and reasonably well done, though we felt the rearing pose was of very limited use and would have preferred a trotting animal instead.
Most of the shields in this set are part of the figure, but a few come separately and fit quite well. Minor quibbles include the swords, which all have a closed guard that does not seem to have prevailed at the time. However the overall impression is pretty good, despite the excessive thinness of some of the swordsmen. Large dogs were often taken into battle, so the two animals in this set are a nice extra touch.
This set has a good amount of detail, and apart from the horsemen there is little flash or excess plastic. When this set and the accompanying set of Aztecs were first announced, there was much surprise that a relatively unknown but attractive subject was being produced. While the result is not perfect, it is certainly something different and does a good job of depicting its subject.