The Thirty Years War had begun as largely a war of religion, although power politics always had a part to play too. France was too engrossed in her own religious civil wars to play much of a part, although there were numerous actions against the old enemy Spain, particularly in the Italian peninsular. With the success of the Imperial and Spanish forces in the 1630s France felt more threatened by these now more powerful enemies, and with the suppression of the Huguenots at home she felt more able to take the offensive against them. Thus in 1635 she entered the war in alliance with the Swedes, on what had hitherto been the largely Protestant side, and kept the war going until the final peace in 1648. During those years of fighting she succeeded in diminishing the power of Spain, most notably by victory at the battle of Rocroi in 1643, although that power struggle would go on for many more years.
As with all European armies of the time, French infantry consisted of musketeers and pikemen. At this time the proportion of musketeers was gradually increasing, and by 1648 they were in the majority. The figures in this set consist largely of musketeers, which is perfectly reasonable, and on the whole the poses are also quite authentic. The third man in the second row is clearly fighting hand-to-hand with the enemy, and so is using his musket as a staff, while the second man in the bottom row is drawing his sword in expectation of a similar encounter.
According to the box two of the figures are pikemen. The first, in the middle row, is running with his pike. Anyone that has actually handled such a weapon will know they are very hard to handle, being both heavy and awkward, and running like this would be almost impossible, so this is not a good pose. Equally the other pike-armed man - in the bottom row - seems to be holding his pike well up and without supporting it, which would not have been easy and he can only be in the process of moving the pike from one position to another, so again not a great choice for a pose. Many earlier sets have included pikemen conforming to the standard pike drill, and while we always welcome variety we would have preferred something closer to the regulations here.
Several figures hold neither musket nor pike, and so require a little more consideration. Both musketeers and pikemen carried swords, so when their primary weapon was useless or lost they would become a swordsman. This is presumably the fate of the last figure in the second row, although how he secured his 12mm sword in his 8mm scabbard is hard to guess. The penultimate figure could also have disposed of his primary weapon, but the painted figures on the back of the box show him carrying the separate flag, which is actually a pretty good pose. The final figure, with both pistol and sword, is presumably an officer, although how many left-handed officers went around discharging their pistols like this? In general though the swordsmen are the poorest poses in the collection.
Although some individual regiments had common colours or styles, there was no overall uniform for French infantry until the 1660s, so these figures wear the standard costume of any man of the period. The pikemen have helmets and half-armour, as you would expect, and the rest a more everyday costume. Several have the false half-boots that were fashionable at the time, and the officer has a pair of very high boots, which help to pick him out from the crowd. The set title makes mention of the Guard, and these were the only men to have a particular item of uniform - a cassock - which means the figures in our top row are the Guard element. As a bodyguard they had a slightly different role, so having several figures with swords drawn makes sense for them, as do the splendid boots most have.
The sculpting of this set is very much a weak point. Many of the poses are very flat, and the general proportions are poor. Detail is quite hit-and-miss too, although there is not very much flash. The separate sprue of pikes is very nicely done, but at 87mm (6.25 metres) long they are rather too long, although it is an easy task to cut them down to the approximate 5 metres that is their correct length. Far more difficult is to try and attach them to the figures who are supposed to be holding them, for there are no holes or other means of doing so. Be prepared for a lot of work to properly put together one of the pikemen (although given the poor pose perhaps it would not be worth the effort). The flag, like the figures, is quite a mess and really poorly thought out. The staff is 54mm in length (3.9 metres), which is a little more than the maximum 3.6 metres of the real thing, although again it can be easily cut down. What cannot easily be remedied is the flag itself, which should be square and about 2.5 to 3 metres in all directions. This one is 15mm (1.1 metres) at the staff and shorter still in length (even allowing for the droop of the material), which makes it both the wrong shape and rather pathetic and unimpressive. The painted figures on the box show a completely different, and rather better, flag, which seems very unfair on anyone assuming what they see on the box is what they will be getting. Also, do not expect the flag to fit the hands of the nominated figure any better than the pikes, because it will not.
One more point to make is our copy of this set was missing a few of the first figure pictured above, so actually had fewer figures than the box claimed. We assume this was a one-off mistake, but be warned, the contents may not be as certain as they would be from one of the major manufacturers. In any case this is quite a poor set, which can rightly claim good historical accuracy (apart from certain dimensions) but is otherwise lacking a good deal.