Throughout history, the sight of an army on the march was likely to install dread in any population, even if the troops were their own. Armies always need considerable logistical support, primarily just to feed the men and horses, and this often meant obtaining what was required on the line of march, whether paid for at fair prices or ‘requisitioned’ from the unfortunate locals. The first decade of the 18th century saw a great increase in the size of armies, when armies of 100,000 or more were not unknown, more than twice the size of most armies in the previous century. The French used pre-prepared dumps of supplies to help service these enormous forces, but the poor condition of Europe’s roads meant progress was often very slow, particularly in bad weather, and the experience of marching must have been fairly miserable for most troops. Nevertheless it was usually unavoidable, and so we have this set depicting that experience for the poor infantry of the Sun King as he struggled, at least nominally, for the future of the Spanish throne.
In the early 18th century the term ‘musket’ in French specifically meant a matchlock, which as musketeers is of course what all these men are carrying. The advantages of the flintlock had long been recognised everywhere, and matchlocks were being phased out in France when war broke out, but the time and cost required meant they remained in use until around 1708, so while not the most common weapon for the period, they were in use for the early years and so are appropriate here. The match-lock mechanism is clearly sculpted, but the length of the weapons is around the 17mm or 18mm mark, which gives them a scale overall length of 130cm. In fact French muskets were about 145cm in length, so those here are too short – not quite as obviously too short as in the Strelets set of French Musketeers Firing, but still an inaccuracy which would be very hard to resolve. The overall impression is, however, helped by the fact that many of the poses here have a socket bayonet attached, making the discrepancy in length less apparent.
When on the march it would be reasonable to expect the men to be supporting their muskets in the most comfortable way possible, which is generally on the shoulder. A few of the poses here are doing this, but several are holding the musket in hand in a very aggressive and determined way, looking not like men on the march but men advancing to meet the enemy. When you add on the fact that bayonets are attached, it would be fair to say many of these poses are not on the march at all, and the middle figure in our second row is not even moving. So the title of this set is somewhat misleading, but whether marching or not, all the poses here are reasonable. A couple of the figures (last man in the top row and first man in the second) are leaning heavily to their left, such that they do not stand on their bases. This cannot have been sculpted this way, so we must assume a fault during the removal of the sprue from the mould. All our examples had this problem, but perhaps future reruns will fix the issue, otherwise lots of bending in hot water will be required, which is annoying.
Severe leaning aside, the sculpting is pretty good. These men have lots of detail, and on the whole this has been well done here. Certainly smaller items like buttons and pockets were clearly a challenge, and so are somewhat larger than they should be, but the faces are good and we liked the way the hair had been rendered. Hands too are nice, and a fair effort has been made with the wigs and other elements on the command figures. There is a little flash in places, but occasionally this becomes much more noticeable, and the man carrying the flag needs a special mention as his back and left arm are really poorly done, with a large ridge of plastic connecting the two. By contrast, many of the seams elsewhere are perfectly smooth.
The main features of the uniform of these men are the collarless coats with the large, deep cuffs, and the tricorn hats. The coat, cuffs and all, is accurately done here, with the usual array of pocket designs (horizontal and vertical, single flap and double) which were part of the way regiments were distinguished, and are all correct here, thought ideally would not be mixed like this. The buttons all down the front are fine, and some are unfastened, revealing the waistcoat underneath. The tricorn hat also looks good, though there is much debate as to when exactly this item became commonplace in the French army, particularly during the short period when matchlocks were still being carried. However as a classic look for this period we think most customers will be happy with this choice. The men all wear breeches with stockings and square-toed shoes, which is correct, but again suggests an early war period as the wearing of long gaiters became more common in later years.
The men’s equipment is also standard. Each has a sword held from his waist belt, and a wide strap over the left shoulder supports both a cartridge box and a bayonet scabbard on the right hip. Also present is the small flask that held extra powder, which should be held by a narrow strap, but there is not much evidence of this on these figures. No man has any other impedimenta, which would be fine for battle, but when on the march we might have expected some more haversacks or other items to be on display, although as we have said many here do not seem to be on the march anyway.
Each sprue of eight infantry soldiers includes a generous two sergeants. Both these are armed with a halberd with a head of good design, although the shaft here is only about two metres in length when it should be more like three. The rest of the command figures are in our last row. The drummer has much more engraving on his coat, suggesting the increased amount of lace such men were often given, and he is walking along, beating his drum in a pose that is much more realistic than many that attempt to do the same thing. His drum is nicely detailed and of a good size. The man with the flag is also clearly on the move, although the colours are not cased, so perhaps action is expected shortly. Unfortunately these colours suffer from exactly the same problems as previous sets of Louis’s infantry from Strelets. The flag itself, although draped over the man’s shoulder and so hard to visualize unfurled, is clearly much too small. The real thing varied in size, but was rarely less than two metres square, and since the entire staff here is only 25mm in length (1.8 metres), this flag is clearly nowhere near the mark. Also, while it has cords, it lacks the scarf or streamer that was a crucial element of French flags of the day.
Finally in our line-up are the two officers. Both have abundant periwigs, heavily decorated hats and the officer’s sash round the waist, which is good. One man seems to be just watching what is happening, but the other is raising his hat as if to exhort his men to greater efforts in, erm, marching? Again, more like a battle pose when on the march, although in reality both would normally find the man mounted anyway. Both carry the spontoon or half-pike, but like the sergeants’ polearms these weapons are on the short side, and should be more like 2.5 metres at least. Finally, we would have expected them to sport a gorget at the throat, a required device for officers when on duty.
So this set is not without its problems. The shortness of virtually every weapon on show here, as well as the flag, is certainly a disappointment, and while the uniforms and kit are largely valid, the extra plastic on the flag-bearer and the leaning poses suggest problems during the mould-making or production phase. The sculpting is quite good, and in keeping with the rest of the French infantry sets in this range, but it is perhaps the relative lack of ‘marching’ that is the main stumbling block for this product. The French army did not march in step at this date, so a mix of relatively relaxed walking figures would have been very useful. However here there are really only three ordinary soldier poses that could be described as actually on the march, so it seems the label was largely just an excuse to make another set of infantry. While that is fine by us, anyone buying this set blind will probably be disappointed at the lack of marching poses, and by the men looking more like they are ready for battle than a long hard slog through the countryside. However, having read this review you now know better, and if you already have some of this range then you will surely find this less than perfect set still brings new breadth to the subject.