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Ultima Ratio

Set UR012

Guards of Cardinal Richelieu

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All figures are supplied unpainted    (Numbers of each pose in brackets)
Date Released 2018
Contents 32 or 24 figures
Poses 8 or 17 poses
Material Plastic (Medium Consistency)
Colours Dark Red, Grey, Light Tan
Average Height 25 mm (= 1.8 m)


SPOILER ALERT! This set is clearly heavily influenced by the Dumas book The Three Musketeers, to which we will frequently refer in this review. We won’t be giving away any of the story, but will be discussing the characters, so if you intend to read this book and are sensitive to spoilers then you should consider not reading the rest of this review since inevitably it will reveal elements which you may not wish to know in advance!

When the book The Three Musketeers came out it was an immediate hit, and its fame spread far beyond France. Since its publication in 1844 it has inspired many repeat tellings in films, TV series and even cartoons, which have done much to gain fame for the characters in the story, many of whom are genuine people from history. Doubtless many more people today have heard of Cardinal Richelieu thanks to this book than would otherwise have done so, even though the book takes many liberties with the real people it portrays. Now the spin-offs from the novel include small plastic figures such as we find here.

We must start this review by explaining that there are two versions of this set. The first was released in 2018, and contained four each of the poses shown above in our first three rows, making a total of 32 figures. In early 2024 the set was rereleased with a total of 24 figures in 17 different poses, which included all those in the first type plus the poses shown above in our fourth and fifth rows. The second type contains two of each figure in the top two rows, one each of the poses in our third row, two each of the first two poses in our fourth row, and one each of the rest of the figures. Exactly the same box was used for both types, so unless it is stated, the only way you know which type you might receive (if ordering blind) is by the number of figures and poses stated on the box, since the second type box has the correct figures stuck over the original print. We would advise checking this with any seller when ordering to be sure of which type you will be receiving.

Our review of the sister set to this, Musketeers of the King of France, details the strong link between that set and the Dumas novel, and with this set of the Cardinal’s men we find a similar link. Those that have read the book will understand the different themes between these two sets, so again we will start by identifying these individual figures.

The first five poses are of the Guards of Cardinal Richelieu as promised on the box. In the early 17th century it was normal for personages of importance to have their own body of guards for personal protection, and the cardinal, as the most important man in the kingdom (arguable more so than the King), certainly had that need, particularly as he was the subject of assassination attempts. His corps dates from 1626, and like those of the King and the others they wore ordinary clothing befitting a soldier, being recognisable only by the cassock they wear with the cardinal’s design as shown on the box. All these five figures are dressed correctly, and their weaponry looks good too. Four of the poses are of swordsmen, which is fine, and as a design we thought all the poses were good too. However the third and fourth man are really quite flat - the third in particular holds both sword and dagger, but in an awkward way. The man with musket is a really good pose, and although he lacks the action of the rest, in many ways we makes a better guard than they.

To identify the figures in the third row, we must return to the Dumas work, for then they are all easy to spot. First is a lady, well dressed but with a very revealing neckline, which tells us she is meant to be beautiful. She holds, or offers, a cup, but behind her back (and invisible in our photo), she holds a large dagger. Those who have read the book will immediately recognise Milady de Winter. Beside her is a well-dressed man armed with sword and dagger. He has a patch over one eye, and closely matches the depiction of Rochefort in several films, although the book only mentions a scar on the face. Clearly well off, he also has a pistol tucked into his sash, so is a man to be reckoned with. Finally we have the unmistakably figure of Richelieu himself, dressed in full armour and armed with a sword, but also wearing the cardinal’s zucchetto (skullcap) should we be in any doubt. When on campaign the real man did wear armour, so this costume is reasonable, though he would have spent much more time in more conventional cardinal attire.

The extra poses to be found in the second type set are mainly civilian and other specialists, but begin with two more soldiers. The musketeer wears the same garb as the other cardinal's men, but the man holding the pistol has no cassock, and is perhaps a gentleman or an officer (or both). Next to them is a man holding a halbard, which might indicate an NCO or officer, although his rather informal cap, despite the feather plume, makes us think he would work best as a member of some city guard or militia rather than the Cardinal's retinue. Last in this row is a gentleman holding what might be a sealed despatch - his sash certainly implies a high rank. The last row begins with another gentleman in the act of doffing his hat, followed by a man dressed like a monk, but holding (almost upright) an open book in his right hand and some rolled plan in his left, which has just enough visible to make it apparent that this is a plan of a star fort. This is François Leclerc du Tremblay, confidant and advisor to Cardinal Richelieu, and a very influential figure in the period. In the middle of this row we have a man of the cloth, quite possibly another figure of Cardinal Richelieu himself but in less combative clothing, as he wears the usual cardinal's cassock, mozetta and zucchetto. The penultimate figure is of another lady, again wearing a very low-cut dress, though with an odd hairstyle which does not look particularly 17th century to us as it is held in bunches on either side. Finally we have the ultimate position in the command chain - King Louis XIII himself, seated in a chair. He is dressed as a gentleman, wearing a cloak as well as his hat and boots, and has some decoration on a ribbon around his neck. With his arm raised, he seems to be in conversation with someone, or perhaps issuing instructions, maybe to the cardinal.

The cardinal’s guard do not get a big part in The Three Musketeers; mostly they are there to show just how wonderful the book’s hero musketeers are. Nevertheless the four swordsmen here are nice and lively, and seem well suited to the fencing with which they are engaged when they do appear in the book. Milady is great, even though this particular pose relates to just one scene in the book, and the Rochefort character is in a fairly generic but fair pose. Since he is in battle garb, the Richelieu figure is of limited value, but perhaps by making him more military than ecclesiastical the point is to underline his basic bad-guy persona (which does not reflect the real historic man at all). Still, as characters in the book these look great.

The 'new' poses don't really add much to the basic cardinal's guard, but provide some really interesting extra figures which also serve to depict other characters from the Dumas story, most obviously the new cardinal figure and the King. Even disregarding the novel, these extra poses certainly deliver some unusual and appealing figures.

Seen as a historic set, things are not quite so rosy. The various guards are good, wear perfectly authentic costume and are in useful if somewhat over-dramatic poses. As guards we would have liked to have had a pose in a more inactive, guarding pose, but we liked the musketeers a lot. The women are very hard to justify in any terms except from the book. Just how many buxom women holding a cup and a dagger can anyone really need, although the second woman is in a more useful generic pose. Both their wardrobe choices would be considered immodest in public at the time, so not much you can do with them really except in some indoor scene. The one-eyed officer is also a challenge, but less so, and the cardinals (both of them) are nice, but again, finding useful employment for four of them is going to be tricky. The generic officers are great and very useful, but the king seated in his chair is a really nice but slightly less useful pose, at least for wargamers.

Like the king’s set, this one is beautifully sculpted (both types), with great detail and very well-done clothing and weapons. The flatness of a couple of the swordsmen is not so pleasing to the eye, and also we found a few instances of very obvious flash, despite most of the figures being completely clean. The seated king comes as two parts, with both man and chair as part of both, so he cannot be parted from the furniture (see sprue image). The parts fit together well enough but need gluing to stay in place. Nevertheless this remains a very well produced set, and a treat for the eyes.

The soldier figures are very good and useable in a wide variety of situations, not just for the Cardinal’s Guard, so we give them a big thumbs up. The many character figures are great fun, and perfectly reflect the book or the later film dramatisations, but are less useful as members of a history set, particularly the very specific female figure. Quality is very good baring a handful of areas of flash, so a good set (though the type one version, with eight poses, is a bit limited), and not quite as good as the King’s set, which after all reflects the relative merits of the book’s characters too!


Historical Accuracy 10
Pose Quality 9
Pose Number 6
Sculpting 10
Mould 8

Further Reading
"European Weapons and Warfare 1618-1648" - Octopus - Eduard Wagner - 9780706410723
"French Armies of the Thirty Years War" - LRT - Stephane Thion - 9782917747018
"French Musketeer 1622-1775" - Osprey (Warrior Series No.168) - René Chartrand - 9781780968612
"The Armies and Wars of the Sun King 1643-1715: Vol 1" - Helion & Company (Century of the Soldier No.41) - René Chartrand - 9781911628606
"The Three Musketeers" - Wordsworth Editions - Alexandre Dumas - 9781853260407

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