As the number of figure sets increased it became more common for manufacturers to produce 'command' sets for a particular army or period. As a result there are now a great many specific historical characters modelled, and this set of Hussite command provides three more. The individuals in question are all in our first row, and are as follows:
- Jan Hus (c.1369-1415). Hus was the man who’s outspoken criticism of the sale of indulgences and other abuses by the Church would ultimately bring about the Hussite movement. When invited to the Council of Constance in 1415 to debate his views, he was imprisoned and burned at the stake despite having a royal safe conduct. His martyrdom did much to fuel opposition to the Church, which eventually led to the Hussite wars, but naturally he was not there to witness them.
- The second figure is Jan Zizka (c.1360-1424), the first and greatest leader of the Hussites. This celebrated Czech leader led his army to many victories despite unpromising material and many disadvantages.
- Finally there is a figure of Prokop the Great (c.1380-1434), who took over the leadership of the Hussites after the death of Zizka. He was killed in what amounted to a Hussite civil war battle, after which the movement rapidly fell apart.
The costume of Hus looks fine, but Zizka’s gave us more concern. Traditionally Zizka is shown in only half armour, but Orion have broken with this tradition to show him in full armour and carrying a full-face-visored helmet. Whether he wore a full suit such as this is hard to say, so we cannot say it is incorrect, although a rather less 'noble' appearance would have been better in our view. The most striking thing about Zizka was that he had lost an eye in childhood, and is always shown with an eye covered. Not here however, where his head is bare and his eyes in full view. Worse yet, in 1421 he lost the other eye to an arrow, yet continued to lead his armies to victory for the rest of his life, despite being completely blind. For these years he is depicted with a bandage across both eyes, but this Zizka has no such covering, which both contradicts every image ever made of him and would have been a distressing sight for those around him. Finally he was well known for carrying a mace, which was his favourite weapon. On this model he carries a standard type, but while this may not be wrong the sources speak of his mace being in the shape of a hand holding a spike, so again sticking to the most familiar appearance would have been preferable in our view.
The second row shows a small number of generic figures such as many command sets contain. We find a man holding a standard which is of an appropriate shape and size, and has an emblem of a goose on it. Such a design is widely reproduced in many reference books, and is also depicted in illustrations of Hussites made at the time, so its presence here is understandable. However it would seem that this is an error. Contemporary illustrations, particularly the 'Vienna Manuscript', were actually being rude about the Hussites, and the goose never appeared on any real Hussite flag or artwork. Even the fact that the goose has its backside facing the staff is meant to be an insult. Yet another example of how carefully we must treat even apparently conclusive 'evidence', and how easy it is to make mistakes when researching historical subjects. The proper choice would have been a chalice, but in any case the design is only on one side - the other being blank. Next there is a trumpeter, which is OK, and the last figure is the driver for the wagon, which we will discuss in a moment. All these figures are very nicely sculpted, although the poses could be better, as for example Prokop and the standard-bearer holding their shields in a very awkward manner. Also the wagon driver is not so much sitting as perched delicately on the edge of his seat, which means he cannot stay put on it without being glued.
The horses in this set are remarkable because there are so many of them: six in all for only three riders. This is because we have seen these before. They were originally made for the Orion set of Rus Mounted Knights, although in terms of saddle etc. they do seem appropriate for this set also. As we said in our review of that set, the poses are a mixed bag, with some being OK and some quite ridiculous: luckily we have the option of only using the ones in believable poses. Apart from the poses the horses are quite nicely done, although both they and the men do suffer from some flash. The fit between horse and rider is not bad, although some of the horses are not as stable on their bases as we would have liked.
We now come to the subject of the wagon. The Hussites were pioneers in the use of wagons, suitably modified, as a direct weapon of war. Whilst describing them as medieval tanks is going too far, they were intended to be a mobile field fortification, behind which the largely peasant and dismounted Hussite army could deal with the mounted nobility of the various crusades sent against them. As can be seen from our picture of the sprue, this kit comes on one sprue, and is produced in a harder plastic than the figures, which is far better for kits than soft figure plastic. However on opening the box an immediate problem presented itself - the kit has many parts and there are no instructions. The picture on the front of the box is not even of the same sort of vehicle, and on the back there is just a badly lit photograph which tells you little about what is supposed to go where. After long hours of trying different things and looking at various drawings of Hussite wagons we came up with the model you see above, which seems to be the way it is supposed to go together. Whether it is correct we can only guess, and we did have several pieces left over, which makes no sense for a purpose-made kit. The extra shield is detached because the kit includes two thin plastic loops which are presumably supposed to allow the shield to be hung on the wagon, but these broke easily and were very fiddly. Many parts took some persuading to fit and most holes had to be enlarged to avoid breaking something while trying to put it all together. Our original nervousness about tackling the model was well justified - it requires a serious modeller with the ability to accept that the result will be no more than adequate and certainly not a model of which to be proud.
Our hearts also sank on examining the team for the wagon. Sources tell us Hussite wagons were pulled by four horses, and while such horses were sometimes difficult to come by, we could find no reference to oxen being used instead. That is not to say it did not happen, but a four-horse team would have been a better choice.
While the amount of flash is annoying it is not as bad as some sets from Orion, and if the poses of the men are not always particularly natural then they are all still quite reasonable and well detailed figures. The failure to reference Zizka’s blindness is baffling, and as we have said some of the choices for him are not the best in our view. Complete blindness is the best way to view a couple of the horse poses, but happily they can be discarded. However it would take Zizka-like courage to attempt to create a Hussite line of wagons using the model in this set. Designs varied, and while this one has no plank below the body nor box for stone missiles on board, it is likely to be fairly accurate. This then is a product with good, bad and ugly elements (respectively most of the figures, the wagon and the horses). That makes for a neat roundup of what you get in this set, but is hardly a ringing endorsement for a product with too many design problems.