By the end of the 17th century, body armour had largely died out in many armies, especially in Western Europe, although during the War of the Spanish Succession some such as the Dutch and the British experimented with the cuirass for a while. In central Europe the cuirass was retained longer, as was the metal helmet, partly because they could expect to face the Ottomans, who’s cavalry was both more numerous and more mobile, even though it gave them something of an old-fashioned look by the early 1700s. Several of the many small German states got involved in wider wars of the period such as the Great Northern War and the War of the Spanish Succession, often effectively hiring out infantry and squadrons of cavalry, who were paid for and supported by one of the major powers. Thus it was that cavalry from various minor German states could find themselves on some of the major battlefields of Europe.
While precise details of the look of armoured cavalry from such small states are poorly documented today, it is reasonable to expect that they much resembled those of their neighbours in the Austrian lands and Bavaria, and therefore wore a cuirass (usually metal, but those of Swabia were apparently leather) and metal helmet. All the figures in this set are equipped this way, with both a front and back plate, and the classic lobster-tail helmet with face guard. Whether this was worn when in Western Europe is unknown, and may have been mostly seen in the East, but it is very likely that on at least some occasions these men appeared as they are modelled here. All wear a normal long coat with large cuffs (rather than the older buff coat), and the usual long boots with turn-down tops to protect the knee. The kettledrummer has an elaborate coat with extra lace and the traditional false sleeves, and he wears a tricorn rather than a helmet, which again seems like a reasonable appearance for a musician. The officer looks much like his men except that his clothing would be of better quality, and his cuirass appears to have a lining, which is visible at the edges. He also seems to have a full wig under his helmet, which surprised us as we would have thought such a gentleman’s wig would have been removed prior to putting on the helmet (for practical reasons), but we do not know whether this was done or not. Aside from that query, there are no problems with the accuracy of these troops.
The traditional tactic of cavalry at this time had been the ‘caracole’, which first entailed approaching the enemy, then the front rank would fire their pistols and wheel to the rear to reload while the new front rank fired in their turn. Only once the enemy was sufficiently disordered by this fire would the sword be drawn and the final advance made. However, more innovative minds like Gustavus Adolphus had abandoned this in favour of advancing directly onto the enemy with drawn swords, yet in many German states the caracole remained in use, particularly against Eastern opponents, and clearly the poses in this set are well-made for this tactic, although they are equally suitable for the skirmish mentioned in the title. Every trooper is either firing or reloading a firearm, with six of them using carbines while the other three have pistols instead. We liked all the poses, not least because it is rare to see models of reloading being done by mounted men, and it is particularly noteworthy that the three actually firing their carbines are doing so more or less over the head of their horse, rather than direct to the side, as we so often see in such sets. This is a much more difficult pose to sculpt, but essential if they are to make sense for a caracole, and the results here are very well done.
The three specialist poses in the third row are more problematic. First is the kettledrummer, who is clearly beating his drums with gusto. Quite why he would be doing this during a skirmish is rather hard to imagine, so while he is a nice enough figure, he feels a bit out of place here. Equally, the man with the standard would be something of a surprise in a skirmish, although he has it resting in the bucket and has drawn his pistol. The officer has also drawn a pistol, although whether he too would normally take part in the actual firing during a skirmish is hard to say (and anyway, at this precise moment he is pointing it very high).
All the men have their carbines attached to a belt over their left shoulder, which has been well modelled here. The carbines are of a good size, and are reasonably detailed, as are the pistols. Some authors have expressed surprise that such men could use their weapons whilst wearing gauntlets, which every man here is doing, and looking at these figures we tend to agree, though it is not known how they overcame this difficulty (by removing their gauntlets perhaps?). All the troopers also have their cartridge pouch from a belt over the right shoulder, but the three specialists do not, which seems reasonable. Of course, all, even the drummer, have a sword as well.
As this is a skirmish line, the horses are all more or less stationary, which is as it should be. These are the same animals as can be found in several other Strelets WSS sets such as the Bavarian Cuirassiers, and their horse furniture is pretty standard for the day, so likely to be perfectly appropriate for these men also. All have a pair of pistols visible on the saddle (so the absolute purist might want to carve one away if the rider already has one in his hands), and for some reason one animal is missing the valise at the rear, but as mounts for these men these horses work well.
The quality of sculpting is very nice as usual, and while the peaks on some of the helmets seem a bit too large, these figures are generally nicely detailed and well posed. We liked the subtle details, like the lining of the officer’s cuirass, and the fact that one of the firing men is doing so by merely resting his weapon on his left arm, allowing him to keep hold of the reins. The men sit quite well in the saddles, and flash is quite variable, with a few tabs and ridges, yet many seams are perfectly clean.
So good sculpting and great poses. The drummer is a lovely figure, with great drums decorated with banners, but hardly one to be found in a skirmish, so put him aside for use elsewhere. The standard-bearer too would not normally be seen in a skirmish, but the bigger problem with him is that he holds a swallow-tailed guidon, and a really large one too. We cannot categorically say this is wrong, but in most if not all armies it was the dragoons that carried a guidon like this (but smaller) while the heavy horse carried rectangular standards, so we feel confident in saying that is an error. The wig of the officer is also a doubt, on practical grounds, although we can prove nothing in that regard, and the query regarding using a pistol while wearing thick gauntlets also troubles us. Still this is yet another very attractive set of cuirassiers for the period from Strelets, and this time offering lots of useful poses for an important aspect of mounted warfare during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.