In 1745 the British Army could call on the services of 14 regiments of dragoons, but only eight of Horse plus the Household Cavalry. The dragoons were fast losing their original role as mounted infantry, although they still sometimes fought on foot at this date, but they were aware that the Horse remained the superior cavalry in terms of social standing. However dragoons were much cheaper to maintain, and in 1746 the British Government converted three of the Horse regiments into dragoons, a trend that would continue later in the century until all Horse regiments disappeared. The majority of cavalry action during the Jacobite Rebellion was conducted by dragoons, including two regiments present at Culloden, who could equally well charge an enemy with cold steel or dismount to act as mobile infantry.
The differences between costume of the Horse and dragoons were not large. Like the Horse the dragoons wore a tricorn hat (mostly) and a long coat with turnbacks. Unlike the Horse the coat had no lapels, and most regiments wore a shoulder knot on the right shoulder, as do these figures (left shoulder for the 1st Dragoons). This is all typical of the period, but the more interesting aspects of the uniform appear on the speciality troops in our third row. The first man is a farrier, and as such we wears a fur cap rather than a hat. Somewhat surprisingly he also wears an apron, rather awkwardly pushed to one side, which seems bizarre to us. While this was certainly something a working man like this would have had, he is highly unlikely to be wearing it whilst mounted, not least because it would serve no purpose! Next is a drummer – another dragoon distinction – who correctly wears a short mitre cap like that of infantry drummers. Also like the infantry, his coat is much more elaborate, with large amounts of lace decoration and the traditional false sleeves at the back. The ensign is dressed much like the men, but the officer at the end of the row is in the style of a gentleman since at the time officers paid little regard to uniform. His coat is full-skirted and he wears a sash around the body as a mark of his rank.
Personal kit for these men is limited to a cartridge pouch, held low on the right hip by a belt over the left shoulder in the same way as the infantry – another nod to their roots. Each is armed with a sword, which for dragoons is correctly held by a waistbelt hidden under the coat. A bayonet scabbard would also likely be hidden under there. Troopers also have a carbine attached to the saddle with the butt resting in a bucket. For convenience, on these figures it has been included with the figure rather than the horse, which makes good sense. Finally they also have a pair of pistols mounted on the saddle. Our friend the farrier is different in having no firearm, but instead an axe held by his right hip. The drummer has a good-sized infantry drum, and the guidon held by the man next to him is well done and of a good shape and size for dragoons.
The poses of the men are fairly standard and mainly useful, but there are some particular problems here. The swordsmen in the top row are fine, but we have a problem with the men in the second row, who of whom are holding their carbine. For the most part the carbine was for service on foot, and indeed all cavalry was discouraged from using even their pistols when mounted. Experts argue as to whether dragoons ever fired their carbine from the saddle, and certainly there is much doubt that they did, so handling it like this, and especially firing it as two of these poses do, seems very dubious to say the least. This is a shame as the two men firing have been really well done – no easy task with such a mounted pose – but to our mind the effort was largely wasted – these men dismounted to use their firearms. The farrier in the bottom row also causes problems, the first being the question of whether these men were actually combatants at all. They were skilled and valuable craftsmen that might not have been risked in a fight, and contemporary paintings show them without any sort of weapon. Although a later (1778) drawing does show such a man with sword drawn, it seems debateable whether this actually happened in anything other than a real emergency, so the very energetic and combative pose here is likely to be wrong, although high marks for the imagination of the sculptor.
The horses in this set may seem familiar to some as they are also to be found in the RedBox set of British Horse and in several sets from Strelets for other 18th century subjects. Happily they are appropriate for the dragoons of 1745 as well, with the correct rounded shabraque, rolled cloak at the back, and good-looking saddles. As with the Horse set, the box explains that we should cut off much of the tails here to achieve the docked style which the dragoons followed. The poses of the horses are all quite active, which hardly gives the best of platforms for those men attempting to fire from the saddle. However since we feel those two poses should not exist anyway, perhaps that is a minor point.
The sculpting of the horses is pretty good, and the same can be said of the men. These are detailed subjects, particularly the more elaborate coats, and the sculptor has caught all of this very well. We thought these figures were very good-looking, and should be fun to paint. In general the figures fit the horses quite well, though this is a bit more variable, and a few may need slight adjusting to sit properly. On our sample we were stunned to find not the slightest suggestion of flash, nor even of a line where the moulds meet, but our delight was slightly tempered by the discovery that one of the firing poses has completely lost his right hand – a serious handicap which looks to be a mistake rather than a fault with filling the mould. Also both the firing poses have been achieved by having some extra plastic between their arms – an issue which again we can live with since these are not useful poses anyway!
Here we have some lovely figures beautifully rendered and mostly perfectly accurate. The fighting farrier was a nice idea, but probably departs from reality in this case, and the men handling or firing the firelock while mounted are also highly unlikely, especially on the fast-moving horses they have been given. Sadly that is a big problem with this set – essentially we are advocating removing the four poses in the middle and the farrier, which wastes a lot of figures. Were you to do that however, you would have a rather small set which is nevertheless entirely accurate, beautifully sculpted, energetic and perfectly produced out of the mould. Better research needs to be done on what poses are appropriate for such men, however, to avoid wasting some of this good work on figures which those with an eye for historical accuracy will probably never use.