As the Thirty Years War was primarily a German affair it will surprise many that a significant number of Scots also participated. It is true that Elizabeth, daughter of the Scottish king James VI, was the wife of Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate and King of Bohemia, whose Bohemian rebellion was a major cause of the war, and that her father tried to help the couple after they were forced to flee in 1620. In addition, the War was widely seen as a battle between Protestant and Catholic, and many from all over Europe were motivated to fight for one side or the other for reasons of religion alone. However while such high political or religious motives may have driven some senior officers, the bulk of the ordinary men, who numbered perhaps as much as 20,000 at their peak, were motivated either by the usual mercenary attractions of adventure and money, or were simply forced into service by zealous officers and nobles. A potentially exciting venture in a foreign war was more appealing than the extremely limited prospects at home, for Scotland at this time was overcrowded and poor, and the Scots already had a long history of providing mercenaries.
The demand for mercenaries was particularly strong in the armies of Gustavus Adolphus, where the small population of Sweden and her possessions could not furnish sufficient troops for the campaigns in Germany. By far the bulk of these mercenaries were German, but as we have said significant numbers of Scots were also employed, particularly those under Munro from 1629. In terms of producing sets of figures then, the question has to be what did these Scots look like? Well the answer seems to be not like the figures on this page, at least not for most of the time.
During the 17th century it was normal practice to send mercenaries to their new employer with either a cheap suit of clothes or simply their everyday outfit as the army would clothe and arm them upon arrival. We know this happened with the Scots in Swedish service, so in fact Scots mercenaries looked just like any other nationality, not least because Highland costume was viewed as barbaric by Europeans, and Gustavus did not like his troops in peasant costume. After the death of the king, the Swedish army fell into something of a shambles, and it is possible then that fitting new recruits was simply not practical, so during this phase some troops may indeed have been in their own costume, but over the war as a whole this was probably the exception. Also it must be remembered that 'Scot' and 'Highlander' are by no means the same thing. These figures largely wear Highland dress, which was as foreign to a southern Scot as to any German.
Having said that perhaps most of the time Scots mercenaries wore the same as everyone else, we must consider what value these figures have. It seems clear that they are based, either directly on via secondary sources, on a series of prints published in 1631, most notably one by Köler depicting Irish soldiers landing at Stettin. In the parlance of the day 'Irish' meant those from Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland, but from the style of the clothing we can accept that these are indeed Scottish. Stettin is a port where many such mercenaries landed, so it is perfectly reasonable to accept that such mercenaries were dressed this way upon arrival. However as we have said many - perhaps most - received the promised new suits before being sent off to war. Modern authorities also believe that the engravings were executed from a description rather than by an eye-witness as there is plenty to be doubted about them.
The figures have a variety of clothing, much of which is liberally engraved with a pattern to suggest a check or tartan. In some cases it seems the plaid is being represented, although as with the Köler print the sculptor seems to be unfamiliar with the look of a plaid, especially from behind, leaving some to be highly dubious in appearance. Two of the pikemen are dressed in normal fashion and simply have engraving on the trousers suggesting trews, which is much easier to accept. For the rest, most have bonnets, which was a classic Highland item, while a couple have apparently knitted caps, which too look fine. What is being worn on the legs is hard to say, but should mostly be stockings or even left bare.
At last we can move on from the clothing, and consider instead the weaponry. The usual armaments of the day were matchlock muskets and pikes, and many here seem so armed, which is good. We know that some Highland mercenaries travelled with bows as these were personal possessions and archery remained strong in that remote region despite dying out elsewhere in Europe. Whether such weapons were ever used in battle during the Thirty Years War is not recorded, although they were used later in Britain, so the possibility cannot be ruled out. However on at least one figure the sculptor has given the figure a large composite bow with the classic curved shape used in the East, not the longbow that was in use in Scotland. One of the musketeers has a rest, but either the sculptor has not understood this, or they have forgotten to finish the job, for it lacks the fork into which the musket rests. In addition the rest is back by the foot, forming a pretty poor platform for the firearm.
The general pattern of poses is reasonable given the weapons being employed. The musketeers are firing or reloading, the archers doing likewise, and the pikemen are in classic pike poses too. These are all OK, but the man on the right of the second row has a posture which is perfectly possible but hard to imagine why anyone would hold their sword in this way. With the number of poses per weapon there was little room for anything more interesting, but these are adequate.
The sculpting of these figures speaks for itself. Proportions are very far from correct for human beings, with some figures having incredibly short bodies and the man with arm raised (first figure in third row) finds he can barely get his hand above his head despite the arm being straight! What you cannot tell from our pictures is that the figures are very flat indeed, so for example the pikeman with drawn sword is pressing it close to his body, holding it in a manner that is impossible without first breaking the wrist. The faces are really nicely done, and the sculptor has gone to a lot of trouble to engrave a check pattern on much of the clothing, which will help some painters, but the overall look of the figures is not attractive or realistic. On the positive side the pikes are very long (88mm in total) and nice and slender, and while they will need to be glued into the cupped hands of the pikemen these are at least big enough for the job. Also there is virtually no flash, and their flat nature means there is no excess plastic.
The evidence for the appearance of Scottish mercenaries of the Thirty Years War is far from conclusive, and of course the absence of evidence is not proof that something did not happen. This can be used by figure manufacturers to give them some flexibility in what they produce, and to make assumptions where hard facts are missing. Equally a reviewer has to make judgements where there is no certainty, and this is just such a case. Our doubts about the finer details of the Highland costume are fairly easy to explain, as are those on the inappropriate shape of the bow, and this is what has caused the loss of accuracy points. To what extent men wearing the plaid actually went into battle, and whether they ever used the bow, is very hard to know, so we must leave that up to the individual to decide. This is certainly an interesting and unusual subject, and Mars are to be congratulated for their continuing commitment to depict the Thirty Years War as widely as they do, but the quality of the sculpting is still poor by modern standards and makes it hard to use these alongside suitable sets by Revell, for example. Overall a disappointing set.