Most people reading this article can claim to have played with toy soldiers when they were a child. The future tsar Peter I, styled 'the Great', could claim to have gone one better and played with 'real' soldiers. From the age of 10 he was able to indulge his interest in military matters by 'raising' other children, servants and staff into his own private play army. As he got older so this 'army' increased, and in time they were divided and quartered near two villages - Preobrazhenskoe and Semyonovskoe - which gave their names to these two companies. In April 1695 these became the Preobrazhenski and Semenovski Regiments of the Guard, the most senior regiments in the Russian army, trained and drilled under Peter's direction and along Western lines. It is these that were the Guard of Peter I.
There are three basic elements to this set. The first two-and-a-bit rows show Guards grenadiers, which were not brigaded together but kept with their regiments. They are dressed much like the line except that they wear a leather helmet with a brass plate on the front and a long neck protector at the back. Sometimes, as in this set, the whole affair was topped with an ostrich feather. This has mostly been correctly done here, although the neck protector should be a less stiff flap that actually covers the neck, whereas here it is a stiff peak jutting out a very long way behind the head. As grenadiers these men have grenades in addition to their muskets, and they should have pouches on their waist belts to take fuses etc., but only a few have been given that item. Some of the muskets that these men carry have had a bayonet fixed, but this has been sculpted as a very short point rather than the correct long blade, although it is properly placed in the muzzle rather than to one side.
The next few figures are the officers and specialists of the regiment. Sergeants carried a halberd and officers a partisan, both more often used to dress troops than as a weapon, which appears to be how they are employed here. The drummer is correctly shown with the epaulette on the right shoulder only, and both the trumpeter and standard bearer are nicely done, although the standard is a little short as it should be about 2 metres square. The two senior officers are identified as Peter I and Alexander Menshikov (first and second figures on row 4), the latter being a trusted lieutenant of Peter. These are also nicely done, although it might be imagined that both would normally be found mounted during a battle and for much of the campaign.
The divided rows show the pikemen, of which Russia had many, which was unusual at this time. Of course they were not grenadiers, and dressed in similar fashion to the fusiliers. The Russians used a pike of between 3.5 and 4 metres in length, but the pikes in this set, which are all separate, are 63 mm (4.5 metres) in length from tip to butt. Of course it is a simple matter to trim their length as required. Unlike many previous Strelets sets with lances or spears, these are quite well done, being quite slim and not bent on the sprue. Some careful trimming is still required, but these are easily the best pikes Strelets have ever produced. Better yet they almost fit the men's hands perfectly. We say almost because a few still needed some encouragement, but in general the fit was pretty good. As we have said the uniform is that of the fusilier, but some have the grenadier front pouch and some have a pistol, which was issued to the front rank.
On occasion infantrymen were mounted, but not in battle as there were dedicated dragoon regiments for such tasks. Still Strelets have provided a number of mounted men, and since this set is labelled as 'Guard' these must be the closest thing in Peter's army - the Life Squadron of Prince Menshikov and the General's Dragoon Company of Count Sheremetiev. Both these were really just escorts for the commanders, and not officially 'guard', but these figures could serve as such as well as supplementing the Strelets set of Russian Dragoons of Peter I. The horses in this set are the same as those in the dragoons set, and are therefore an adequate bunch but not a great sculpting job, while some of the men fit their mounts better than others.
The overall standard of sculpting is reasonable with a decent amount of detail, although Strelets themselves have done better in the past. However we were particularly unimpressed by the stance of some of the men as certain examples seemed unnatural and clumsy. For example, the second figure in the second row appears to be in the act of releasing a grenade, but we found it unconvincing.
This is an interesting collection of figures, with the pikemen being the pick of the bunch in our eyes. The headdress of the grenadiers and the pike make these of little use for most other armies of the time, although clearly the officers could be used anywhere. However in both the history of the Russian army and the Great Northern War the troops represented here are very important and deserve their place in the range.
Note The final figure is of a soldier from the Streltsi of 17th century Russia. Though he is unrelated to the subject of this set (no streltsi were included in the Guard), he is one of a series of 'bonus' figures which when combined will create a set of this unit for the Great Northern War. See Streltsi Bonus Figures feature for details.