The 15th century had seen the rise and rise of plate armour, and that trend continued into the 16th century, when some of the most magnificent suits were produced. With increasing numbers and improving power, firearms were making armour more trouble than it was worth as it often failed to stop a bullet, yet armour continued to be the favoured garb when going into battle for many nobles, and princes too, during the years 1500 to 1550 - the period covered by this set. In addition, jousting in various forms continued to be very popular amongst the knights of the day, but a man in full armour remained a part of 16th century battlefields, although as the century wore on the cost and futility of such armour caused it to decline, even among the highest in the land.
This hobby has seen many medieval men in armour, but this set is something new. The subject of 16th century armour is enormous and beyond the scope of this review, but there are many extant examples to illustrate the enormous skill of the men that made such suits. Every figure in this set has a different design of armour, as would be expected in reality as there might not be two identical suits on the same battlefield. All the styles look authentic to us, and include some fluted examples which were particularly popular during this period. Helmets are mostly either an armet or a close-helmet, but two figures wear burgonets and two seem to have some form of morion. Most helmets have a ridge over the skull, which became more popular later in the period. Several of the figures have some form of plume, and the separate weapons sprue pictured above includes several more which can be plugged into holes at the back of the helmet. While armour could be worn both in battle and at the joust, there was much specialised armour specifically designed for some forms of jousting, but there is no evidence of that here.
As can be seen, none of the figures are actually handling a weapon. All weapons are included on the separate sprues, of which there are two, and between them they contain the following:
- 6 lances
- 20 swords (some in scabbards)
- 8 daggers
- 2 axes
- 2 war hammers
- 2 maces
- 2 crossbows
- 8 helmet plumes
This provides a good range of weapons which gives this set added versatility, and it is pleasing to report that all the weapons fit well into the ring hands of the figures without any extra filing. In some cases the fit is a bit lose, as for example some of the plumes, so gluing is still advisable, but these accessories are well done, slim and elegantly carved. The inclusion of crossbows is a surprise as this weapon was fast disappearing by 1500. However the lances are an essential, and at 55mm to 59mm (4 metres or more) in length they are a good size for the period. The fact that none of the poses have a scabbard means these must be attached to the sword belt which is present, and here gluing is essential. This does however avoid the problems many manufacturers have trying to accommodate such an awkward article in the mould.
As with the figures there is considerable variety in the horses, with some being very heavily armoured while some have no more than a chanfron on the head. Those with a lot of barding would be more common earlier in the period, particularly before 1540, much like their owners, as again the cost and relative inefficacy of such armour caused its decline, so that by 1550 many mounts had no more than the chanfron (as some do above), and by 1580 even this had almost entirely disappeared.
All the horse furniture in this set looks authentic, and some of the heavier examples have much engraved decoration which looks good. The saddles are very good, with a range including some with high saddle-backs and large curved front pommels (best for those with the couched lance). The liberal use of strategic tufts of grass means every animal is firmly anchored to their base, but some of the poses leave a lot to be desired as they look very unnatural. The horses themselves are not especially well done either, with some odd shapes in places.
Since most of the figures have ring hands all the weapons are basically horizontal, so there is not the 'slashing to the right' that we so often see in such sets. This is a limitation, although the ability to mix weapons is welcome. On the whole the human poses are reasonable but the two poses holding crossbows (third row) are quite archaic for 1500 and not exactly knightly weapons anyway, so are over-represented here.
As we have suggested there is much detail on these figures, as there should be, and a lot of effort has gone into showing some of the intricate decoration that both man and horse could display. All the men fit the horses very well, and there is no flash on these impeccably turned out models. However there is still a certain roughness to the look of these figures when compared to the best that some companies can produce, although a respectable paint job will doubtless resolve that.
Knights in the first half of the 16th century may have been clinging to a previous age as they witnessed the steady rise of the 'lower orders', and their influence on the battlefield may have waned in the face of new technology, but they were beyond doubt impressive and for the most part these figures do them justice. The horses are the main letdown here, but don't let that put you off a set with plenty of appeal that nicely illustrates the twilight of the fully armoured European knight.
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