Eastern Europe in the 17th century was well-known for its light troops, both cavalry and infantry. Indeed, in an era that was only just beginning to see the growth of standing armies, the Habsburgs looked solely to the east for their light units, and made good use of Hungarian, Croatian and Polish mercenaries for this purpose. However, as we shall see, the look of the figures in this set suggests that they originate from further east still, and so would be less likely to see action in central Europe during the Thirty Years War, for example, but instead in the various wars involving such states as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
In attempting to make a positive identification of these figures there are some key characteristics that can guide us. Firstly, several appear to have metal helmets with a high, pointed crown, which by mid-century was seldom seen on light troops from Hungary or Poland, and have the look of styles to be seen in Russia, for example. Second, most of the mounted men are armed with a bow as well as a pair of pistols, and this would again suggest the far east of Europe, particularly the Tatars. Several of the figures have quilted armour, and one has a fur-lined cloak, while the first pictured man on foot wears a kaftan, so the whole flavour of these figures fits with the Eastern Europe label. Having said that, the last foot figure is dressed entirely in Western style, with short coat, breeches and stockings, which is in contrast to the eastern look of the rest of the poses, but eastern mercenaries serving further west would often adopt more western fashions, partly to fit in better, and partly because local replacement clothing would only be of western style anyway. Therefore everything here makes sense for mercenaries who originated from the far Eastern Europe.
The last figure in our top row may be intended to be an officer, and he is only armed with a sword, but the rest have their bows and quiver, plus a sword or what we take to be a spear. The first musketeer has a conventional firearm, but the second has a very short weapon, too short really to even be a caliver, and not much longer than a large pistol of the day. Part of the difficulty here is that the sculpting is not good, and details, when present, are very hard to make out and interpret. The proportions are poor, so items such as swords are rather thick, while that held by the ‘officer’ is so short as to be no more than a large knife, and the same goes for what we assume to be a sword scabbard for the first man in that row. Whilst on the subject of weapons, the first man has his hand by his shoulder and is supposed to be holding the thing to his side. Presumably this is a spear, but in fact it is just a plastic strand with no attempt to make it look like any sort of weapon. In the past, Mars have attempted to sculpt such weapons, but without success, so this is probably an easy way to avoid such problems, although clearly this approach requires a large leap of the imagination. Even ignoring that problem, the hand is crudely cupped and will require much work to convince anyone that it is actually holding the ‘weapon’, let alone at a plausible angle. Faces too are quite basic, so these are not good-looking models at all. On our example we found only a modest amount of flash, although again some work would be required to truly hide the join of the moulds.
The horses are no better than the men. Three of them are quite chunky in style, but the first animal in the bottom row is much better and seems to have come from a completely different, and much healthier, stable. The poses are not too bad by the standards of the hobby, and the saddles and bridles seem reasonable, although it is interesting to note that three of them have a tassel decoration at the throat. These same three also have at least one pistol at the front of the saddle, and a couple also have a rope and hatchet, again suggestive of Tatar or similar origins. One has a bag on one side of the saddle with what look to be crossbow bolts, which makes no sense at all, but they look too short to be for his bow. Two others have some
rather long box affair, again at the rear of the saddle and not visible in our pictures, which we could not identify but assume are intended for arrows, although whatever they are, they are unconvincing as they extend over half the saddle and underside of the animal. Finally, the men fit on the saddles, though not particularly well, and not firmly enough to avoid the need to glue them in place.
The poses are uninspiring to say the least. The two mounted men with sword in the air are okay, as is the man with ‘sword’ by his right boot, but as we have said, the man with separate weapon will need much work, and even then, he has his right hand next to his shoulder, leaving a very unconvincing pose. The first musketeer is fine, but we really did not like the second, who is running to his right but looking straight at us and holding his firearm across the top of his head. Why is he not looking where he is going, and what is he going to do with his firearm up there? He isn’t using it as a club, so perhaps he means to hit someone with the butt of his gun, but to us this is a really bad pose, made worse by the fact that it would be a huge task to put it together; the gun in no way attaches to his ‘hands’, so gluing is essential to get a really bizarre and unsuccessful pose.
These are pretty crude figures – the cartridges on the bandolier of the musketeers are more comical than believable. The various features of these figures already described do give the impression of troops from the far east of Europe at this time, as does the circular wicker (?) shield on the back of one of the mounted men, so accuracy may not be a problem, but with only adequate or poor poses and multiple challenges facing anyone wanting to put them together, there is not much else here to see in a positive light.