Saturday, 7 November 2015

Swiss Pike Keil

I have wanted a 16th Century Swiss Pike block for a long time and, having waited so long, I wanted to make as good a job of it as I could.

As with the rest of this army, I wanted to get as much variety of pose and dress as I could whilst maintaining a consistent size, build and style. The big problem in making a 16th Century Swiss pike block had always been that hardly anybody made 16th Swiss. Minifigs make an armoured and an unarmoured pikeman (I bought a pack of each), both wearing berets and the even older Asgard/Table Top Games/Altuos range has a few figures, some of them rather odd looking, but that was about it. The many other Swiss Renaissance ranges in 15mm were all from the late 15th Century Burgundian Wars. With nothing like enough different figures or good enough figures to achieve the variety I wanted, the Swiss never progressed beyond a wish.

Now Khurasan from the USA have come to the rescue with a range of Swiss for the later Italian Wars, Pavia and after. This includes a command pack, armoured and un-armoured infantry (the same figures with a  choice of halberds or cast pikes), arquebus, a light gun and a “renaissance death” figure. The pike/halberd infantry each come in 4 different poses and the arquebus in three.

In many ways these are excellent sculpts and almost my ideal figures: relatively realistic proportions (apart from a few huge hands), excellent detail and cleanly cast but… sadly there are a few buts that maybe don’t make these the ideal figures for everybody. First of all, they are only available direct from the USA, shipping charges are understandably high and the owner has a slightly idiosyncratic way of business - not a bad thing in some ways - the website isn’t taking orders right now so they can catch up on shipping those they have already, surely better than over-promising but under-delivering. However, you may need a bit of patience. Next, their realistic proportions make them quite fragile and some of the bases, ankles and necks are very thin and easily damaged. Also the poses aren’t quite as I would have wished - many hold their weapons heavily slanted off to the right and generally the heavily armoured figures have theirs vertical whilst the lightly armoured rear-rankers are angled forwards. I used a couple of those with the weapons angled at a low angle as extra standard bearers and others with halberds for the two elements with heavy weapons and two more mixed in among the pikes.

Khurasan 15mm Swiss

For all that, the Khurasan figures are the only game in town and very good overall. To get a bit of extra variation and expressing my inner Yorkshireman, I decided to mix in my Minifigs Swiss - the armoured pikeman matches very well but the un-armoured one is not so well proportioned and looks a bit too squat. In all cases, for strength, I glued the pikes so they touched the ground as an extra point of contact although most are clearly designed to be held well clear of the ground. I originally planned to include a pack of Minifigs French Pike but, after painting one of them, I decided they didn’t really match. I may need them for a block of French Legion at some point.

Left to right: Khurasan, Minifigs Unarmoured Swiss, Minifigs French, Minifigs Armoured Swiss, Khurasan

To differentiate the Swiss from my earlier Landsknecht (apart from the Swiss crosses and hand and half swords rather than katzbalgers) I decided to use a more restricted range of colours with the majority of figures having at least some red. I also went with only white feathers. As usual I used brass wire for the pikes so ordered all the packs with halberds - I have plans for some of them as discarded weapons for disorder markers.

The final point was to sort out some flags. I was very disappointed to find that the Swiss in mercenary service didn’t use their iconic cantonal banners but something relating to their paymasters. I took much of my information on flags from Massimo Predonzani’s book on the battle of CĂ©risoles. This excellent reference is only available in Italian or French but, even for somebody like me who can barely manage an Asterix book in French, is well worth getting. In summary he says that Swiss flags in French service always had the French white cross; with the arms reaching the edges of the flag, in contrast to the truncated Swiss white cross. They would have either quarters in different colours or with bands of different colours to differentiate between the various sub-units. The general trend was for the number of bands to increase with time. At the time of Pavia there were three bands: yellow with blue, white or red. I’m not 100% convinced by this. Although the Pavia tapestry clearly shows three unequal yellow bands on a white (maybe blue or grey - it is all a bit faded) background with a white cross (not a great combination if you want a strong colour contrast) this looks a bit awkward and later flags had equal numbers of bands in each quadrant. Typically flags were 2.8m high by 3.7 wide - I made mine at about 1:110 and they seem huge. I wish I had done the flags before basing so I could have taken care to make space for them in the next rank - I might even have used double-depth bases to combine the second and third ranks.

All my previous flags (apart from the St George and the dragon Gendarm flag) have been hand painted but I needed 4 flags for the keil, another for the arquebus screen and some more for the camp which I was finishing off at the same time so I decided life was too short. These (maybe temporary) flags were designed in MS Excel and printed off on an inkjet.

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