It was in 1622 that the young Louis XIII effectively created a new royal guard unit by arming 100 individuals with matchlocks and naming them the Mousquetaires du Roi. Ranks were to be filled by gentlemen volunteers, and unusually they were to be both an infantry and a mounted unit, equally proficient with the musket and the sword. These were mostly young men from the provinces, and service in the unit served as a sort of academy for future military service as officers elsewhere, but the unit soon gained a reputation for bravery, and participated in many battles as well as provide a bodyguard for the sovereign. In 1646, with Louis dead, they were disbanded by the then prime minister Cardinal Mazarin, only to be resurrected 11 years later with Louis XIV as its nominal captain.
The men of this company have posthumously found greater fame world-wide thanks to the success of the Dumas book The Three Musketeers, but in their day their exploits were well known and they were greatly admired. Clearly this set concentrates on these men in their dismounted role, which included their first major action, around the siege of La Rochelle in 1627, but of course also includes guard work, training and perhaps the odd duel fought in the street or away from official eyes. The first four poses are all using the rapier, and tend to give the impression of a duel rather than a life-or-death sword fight in battle, although they could also serve in that role. The next five are armed with the musket, which in one case could be almost ready for firing (although there is no match in the serpentine), but are otherwise on the march or just standing and apparently very relaxed. These are all perfectly useful poses, and really good ones too, but not nearly as aggressive as the swordsmen. The last figure in the third row is an officer carrying his spontoon, and the four single-piece poses in the bottom row are of a drummer, flag-bearer, senior officer and random lady. The drummer pose is a bit odd because he has his sticks in his hands, and one is resting on the drum, but the other is by his side, so not clear what is going on here. The rest of the ‘command’ figures are also quite relaxed, so basically we have a lot of poses that are relatively inactive plus a handful of swordsmen apparently very busy indeed; a somewhat odd combination, and not designed for a formed up unit we would suggest, but individually all are nicely done and worthwhile.
The history of the Kings Musketeers stretches for almost a century and a half, but from the costume and weaponry we would think these men are mainly for the first period of their existence, between 1622 and 1646. The only element of uniform at this time was the cassock, which is here faithfully recreated with the King’s badge (cross with lilies and central sunburst) on all the panels. This loose garment allowed easy access to equipment underneath, but marked these elite men out, and looks good here. Otherwise these men wear ordinary male costume of the day, including wide-brimmed hats decorated with feathers, loose baggy breeches and either shoes and stockings or boots of various descriptions. Some of these are elaborately decorated, but this would be entirely dependent on the wealth of the individual, though all here are authentic for the period. The first figure in row two has no cassock, so must at least be off-duty and perhaps not a King’s musketeer at all. He wears ordinary gentleman’s dress of the day, including a wide sash and long boots, and so inevitably makes one think of the young d’Artagnan in the famous novel. Over the years, especially from c.1660, the cassock got longer and heavier, but was only replaced around 1688, so these are valid for a long period of time potentially.
The rapier swords are nicely done, especially the complex hilt, and the muskets too are good. The fact that the muskets all include a forked rest also tends to suggest an earlier date for these men, but the sculpting is very nice indeed in all areas. Highlights include the moustachioed faces and the long flowing hair, but even the highly decorated features of the gorgeous costume of the senior officer are very attractive, so these are great to look at. Nothing here needs assembly, which includes the drum, nicely done and of average infantry size, although we are told that the musketeers had a smaller drum at some stage. The flag too is one with the man, and difficult to replace if desired as it drapes over the man’s hat. Apparently there is no information on flags for the early years, but to our eye this seems like a very small example, and the average French infantry flag of the time was about 2.8 metres square, whereas this one is 17mm (1.22 metres) square. So while we cannot prove it, we feel this is likely to be much too small (although after being reformed their flag was described as ‘much smaller’ than the ordinary infantry). We found very little flash, and many seams were quite clean, and no excess plastic anywhere.
The lady in the set wears a very posh low-cut frock, with an extravagant standing collar, and is clearly no peasant. While civilians are always welcome, we have to think this figure owes its existence here to the Dumas novel, which is fine as we have a good number of military poses here. We loved the officer in the bottom row too, and also the man waving his hat, although having four of this figure in each box will not please some wargamers. In fact those wishing to depict an actual battle will find much that is missing here, and as we have said the flavour of the set is more that of the musketeers attending the King or duelling in the streets. However we very much enjoyed these figures, and with no accuracy problems, good sculpting and interesting poses, this is a collection of figures with great appeal.