The provision of firepower was the most important role for the British infantry during the War of the Spanish Succession, and that was achieved with the firing line. Unlike some such as the French, the British adopted a firing line three ranks deep, to allow every man the ability to give fire (the French used four or five ranks deep, but not everyone could then fire their weapon). There were several systems for firing, but the common purpose of all of them was to pepper the enemy with fire until they broke or retreated, in which case the cavalry would be expected to follow up and complete the victory. By modern standards the muskets had poor accuracy for many reasons, but on a battlefield with much smoke it was often not possible to identify an individual target in any case, so the aim was to send as much fire in the direction of the enemy as possible, to maximise the chances of a hit. So speed of loading and firing was vital, and the British were widely seen as amongst those who were expert at this skill.
Clearly the most important poses in a set such as this are the three presenting or giving fire, which echo the three-rank structure of a firing line nicely. The front rank knelt, and the other two stood, leaning forward if necessary to avoid hitting their own men. These three are excellent poses. Three more poses are in the act of reloading, and we find a man dropping powder and ball down the barrel, another using his ramrod to secure them, and a third cocking his weapon. Again those here are good poses, and of course there could have been others depicting other stages of the loading/firing process, but these six cover the basics well.
The third row consists of three grenadiers and a sergeant. The grenadiers could also be going through the drill of giving fire, and the first may be in the process of presenting his weapon, but we were surprised at the lack of any grenadiers either reloading or giving fire. Given the number of poses in the set, it would perhaps have been better to have a separate set for the grenadiers, so the same poses could be repeated for both, but as it is we have some valid but not very satisfactory grenadier poses. The sergeant at the end is supervising the firing line, and we thought this was a particularly great pose – so natural and believable, and not at all flat or stiff.
The command poses are a match for the firing line. The noise of battle made shouted commands ineffective, so commands were usually given by drum, which is clearly what our first command figure is doing. He beats his drum in a particularly believable way, which is not often seen on one-piece figures. Flags served as rallying points, and as an object of regimental pride, but during a fire-fight they had no particular role, so the two relaxed ensigns here, both resting the staff on the ground, seem appropriate. The officer would be controlling the firing line, and again he just stands as he watches and given commands, so a suitable posture.
By 1701 the uniform of English and Scottish infantry was well-established as a red coat with deep cuffs but usually without collar or lapels, and without the skirts turned back as they would be in a later age. It had two pockets on the lower skirts, and was left unbuttoned below the waist, and towards the neck to show the neckcloth. As in civilian life, the men wore breeches, stockings and shoes (gaiters would appear later in the period, but there are none here), and on the head a normal tricorn hat. Grenadiers differed only in wearing the brimless cap, which came in several styles, but here all three men wear the rear bag fastened to the front face, forming the classic mitre cap that would eventually emerge as the standard pattern for such men. Everything about the costume on these figures is perfectly accurate and really well done.
Equipment had by this time taken the form it would retain for the following 150 years or more, starting with the cartridge pouch on the right hip, suspended from a wide crossbelt over the left shoulder. A sabre was carried on the left hip, held by the waist belt, which also carried the bayonet scabbard over the left kidney. The men have a variety of kegs, bottles and other vessels for holding water, which is correct as these were provided by the men themselves, but every man also has a haversack on the left hip, which was not an item carried by British infantry during this period, so should not be here. Another error is the soft bag-like knapsack each man has slung across his back. While the item is correctly shaped and located, it was usually discarded before action, and these men are clearly in action.
The men are all armed with flintlock muskets and socket bayonets, as they should be, and the sergeant has his halberd, which is also well done. The officer holds his half-pike, which is not quite so nicely sculpted, but correct for a man of his rank. The weaponry is good, as is the drum, which is often a challenge for lesser sculptors than this. The two flags are a little smaller than they should be, but both are nicely presented, although neither lend themselves to removal and replacement with a paper flag as some like to do.
So far the Strelets War of the Spanish Succession range has been about their best in terms of sculpting, and this set is no exception. All the buttons and finer details are present and of the correct size, and the faces are fantastic. Muskets and swords are slender and look great, and the whole human anatomy is well proportioned and lifelike. The hair of the men is also well done, and the full-bottom wig of the senior officer is very impressive, as is the extra lace and decoration this man has, such as the gorget at his throat and the sash around his body.
Levels of flash can vary between different copies of the same set depending on circumstances during production, but on our copy all the soldiers were entirely without any flash, ridge on the seam, or extra plastic. That is always an impressive aspect to report, but unfortunately it does not include the four command figures, which we found had a fair amount of flash, particularly around the legs. As already noted the officer’s half-pike has some poor forming too, but why the command figures are not made to the same standard as the rest of the set we do not know.
Other good aspects include the flags having no engraved design on them (always good in our eyes), and all the grenadiers have the hatchet on their belt (which was not universal, but nice to see here). One more accuracy flaw however is the sergeant, who has his hair tied neatly at the back (as he should) but lacks the sash he would be expected to have round his waist. So there are some annoying issues with these figures – mostly concerning kit – but they look great and provide a vital part of any British infantry formation in battle during the early years of the 18th century.