Crustacean Cavalry

I sincerely hope all visitors are staying healthy and following the advice during this horrendous pandemic. During this difficult time, any slight sense of normality is welcome and it’s more comforting than ever to occasionally engage in the act of immersive act of figure painting. I’ve been finishing off my Les Higgins War of the Spanish Succession cuirassiers.

The Bavarian army during the War of the Spanish Succession initially included three cuirassier regiments (the Arco, Wieckel and La Tour regiments). This later increased to four with the raising of the Wolframsdorff Regiment. With their “lobster-tailed pot helmets” and metal cuirassies, these troops looked like something familiar from the previous century. During the English Civil War, the so-called Haselrig’s Lobsters wore this armour, not too dissimilar from the Bavarian cuirassiers of 60 years later:

Lobster cavalry armour of the English Civil War, Household Cavalry Museum, London. (my photo)

I’ve chosen to paint these Les Higgins figures as the Arco Cuirassier Regiment, led by Cavalry General Johan Baptist Graf von Arco. Although the numbers in the regiment could vary significantly, a Bavarian cuirassier regiment at this time could have anything up to 900 men, organised into 8 -12 companies.

All the Bavarian cuirassiers during the War of the Spanish Succession wore grey coats with colours of cuffs & lining being distinctive to each regiment. The Arco Regiment was distinguished by mid-light blue facings and horse cloth. The original Robert Marrion illustration below, originally depicting the Wieckel Regiment, has been doctored by somebody with Arco facings and posted online.

All my Les Higgins’ Arco Cuirrassiers are wielding a pistol, which looks a convincing pose, I think.

As soon as I took these photos and uploaded them I found a post-it note to myself with the words “cuff buttons” and “stirrups” written on it, not coincidentally the exact same things I’ve forgotten to paint on these figures! (my friend Pat will know that feeling well). Ah, well. I’ll attend to it in due course. Nevertheless, I’m feeling quite pleased with my first WSS cavalry regiment, and my first metal Les Higgins figures too.

Hoping all visitors to this blog keep themselves and their loved ones healthy and we get through this together soon. In the meantime, when I’m not figure painting, I’m NHS employed and so will be playing a very tiny part in the national response during this time.

Best wishes, Marvin.

Lace Wars with Les

Just wanted to share some progress on my Les Higgins War of the Spanish Succession cavalry, sample figures courtesy of John Cunningham. There’s still a little corrective paint required on one or two of these figures, nonetheless I’ve been creating (from left to right):

  • a trooper of the Bavarian Arco Cuirassier Regiment
  • a French dragoon of the Royal Regiment
  • a dragoon of the Danish 5th Jydske Dragoon Regiment
  • a trooper of the Regiment du Roi, a French Horse Regiment

Still work to be done, but they’ve given me the template for creating an entire regiment of each. Yesterday, I received more of these wonderful old Les Higgins miniatures so I can set to work when I’m ready. These, along with the other mountain of figures should at least keep me well occupied in these troubling times of global pandemic.

Scrubbed and drying, ready for paint: my Les Higgins 20mm cavalry haul.

For anyone interested in purchasing Les Higgins recast figures, please visit this page on Vintage Wargaming Figures for more information.

Les Higgins Miniatures

I was very pleased to receive through the post recently samples of 20mm scale metal figures. These were a large group of recast Les Higgins figures, very generously supplied by their manufacturer, John Cunningham.

Caricature Combat! Co-founder Brian Marlow duals with Les Higgins (taken from the 1971 Les Higgins Miniatures catalogue as displayed on the Prometheus in Aspic blog).

The interesting story behind Les Higgins Miniatures is nicely recorded on the Vintage 20mil website. Founded in 1967, Les Higgins himself tragically passed away aged 49 in 1972. The company continued for some years as Phoenix Model Developments. The figures all belong to my recently favoured Marlburian period and include lovely examples of:

Musketeers

Grenadiers

Command figures

Cavalry

The group of cavalry caught my attention, examples of what I believe are;

  • a trooper of horse
  • a hussar
  • a French dragoon
  • a dragoon wearing a tricorne
  • a trumpeter
  • a horse grenadier
  • and a cuirassier with a ‘lobster’ helmet.

A very nice group of horses were also included for them to ride:

In addition to the Les Higgins figures were some examples from other 20mm manufacturers of yore; Alberken and Douglas Miniatures.

Alberken Miniatures:

Begun in 1964, Nottinghamshire-based Alberken was formed by Albert Horsfield and Ken Watkins, (whose main business was making “pie machines”)! The manufacturer name was a portmanteau of their first names. The figures are described on Vintage 20mil as being “thin in build, a bit static in pose, sometimes lacking in detail and stand around 22mm high and noticeably flat“. Albert Horsfield tragically died in a car accident just a year after forming and Alberken subsequently ceased production. Full story again on Vintage 20Mil.

Douglas Miniatures:

Douglas Miniatures were the forerunner to the manufacturer of the 54mm MJ Mode figures which I painted last year. Vintage 20mil states that the early Douglas Miniatures were “quite literally a ‘cottage industry’, with Johnston sculpting the figures in his own kitchen in Glenfield.” In a bizarre coincidence, I happen to paint all figures in my kitchen in Glenfield…

It’s interesting to compare a Les Higgins grenadier (left below) with an Irregular Miniatures version which also came through as a sample.

Left: a Les Higgins grenadier and Right: an Irregular Miniatures grenadier

So, I’m keen to see how these lovely old veterans paint up with a long view of incorporating some into my Marlburian armies. I thought I’d begin by having a go at some of Les Higgins’ cavalry figures, so I’ll post more on these when I’ve made some progress.

“We could perhaps be super-optimistic and see (international wargaming) as a future way of solving our international differences without firing a single, full-size explosive shot!”. And so say all of us…

The Female Dragoon: A Farewell to FEMbruary 2020

While painting 20mm British Horse figures for my War of the Spanish Succession armies, I’ve been enjoying the submissions from other participants in the 2020 FEMbruary challenge. With a nod to this, Mark at Man of Tin blog posted about a page he’d found on a copy of an 1893 edition of “The Girls Own Paper”.

This article is most certainly ‘of its time’ yet it contains many inspiring and fascinating stories about “Women Soldiers”, much of which I was familiar (Hannah Snell of the Carnatic Wars, and the Dahomey Amazons) but one account in particular caught my eye. The article mentioned Christian Kavanagh (aka Welsh, Davies and ‘Mother Ross’) who had led a “strange and decidedly romantic career“.

1706 illustration of ‘Kit Kavanagh’ – Public Domain

This “cross-dressing” lady had joined the British Army in 1691, in pursuit of her reluctantly enlisted husband. After fighting in the Battle of Landen and wounded in the ankle, Christian (or Kit) was released from capture and joined the Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys). After serving for many years she was said to have been wounded at the Battle of Schellenberg and later found her husband among the French prisoners after the Battle of Blenheim. With her husband now in a relationship with a Dutch lady, they remained simply regimental comrades until Kit was badly wounded at the Battle of Ramillies.

It’s possible that this ended her military career, although Wikipedia have her searching for her husband’s body at the Battle of Malplaquet. It is said that when her gender was discovered by a surgeon, she was nonetheless given a military pension by Lord Hay and ended her days as a Chelsea Pensioner, presented to and honoured by Queen Anne, and eventually buried with full military honours.

Her tale was recounted at the time to author Daniel Defoe and subsequently published as “The Life and Adventures of Mrs Christian Davies“.

As with many old tales, this story has been no doubt subjected to embellishment and myth, but the core of the tale must undoubtedly be true and many similar tales of surreptitious female enlistment into armies exist across different nations and eras (for and example, see my post on Heroic Female Soldiers of Serbia). Even today, the tale of Christian Kavanagh continues to inspire new tales such as this ‘delightful and fun’ work of fiction based on her life, “The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh” by Marina Fiorato.

The War of Louis Quatorze blog posted on this same story appropriately last February.

All this chimed nicely with my latest venture painting a Marlburian horse regiment. Admittedly, they’re a regiment of horse not dragoons, but when I do paint some, then perhaps I’ll add a feminine touch to the face of one figures so that my own Trooper Davies can secretly take her place in my army too?

“An Audience with Empress Catherine” #FEMbruary 2020

I have now completed my submission for the 3rd Annual FEMbruary Challenge! I posted on my FEMbruary figures recently and promised that I’d share something which ‘would complete the scene more fully’. Well, I went a little further than planned…

Entirely coincidentally, Catherine the first is the 2nd Russian empress called Catherine that I’ve painted for a FEMbruary challenge, Catherine the second (the Great) being painted back in 2018:

I had some real trouble with basing. At first, I just glued the figures to pennies with modelling clay as usual without thinking of what Catherine and the ladies of court might be standing on. Then I spent time, filing down the clay and adding some PVA glue to smooth the surface. Next I painted a tiled floor which looked great apart from being hopelessly uneven!

So I scrapped that and went back to the drawing board. I found some cheap HO scale mosaic card floors which I though might look the business in some kind of a stately garden.

Adding some hedges and flowers, the palace garden idea took shape. My Capability Brown talents in full flow, I made a gravel path alongside a hedge. Helpfully, my Strelets Roman Senate set also came with a roman statue which I added to my design. I wasn’t sure how to paint a marble statue but a little cream colouring with satin varnish seems to have worked well enough?

Aside from the statuary, there are the two court ladies I presented previously; one a lady glancing with a fan and the other patting her lap dog.

A woman of the nobility observes the general’s greeting.
“There’s a good boy!” – said Catherine to General Repnin…

The other characters that I was planning to introduce are also from Strelets’ “Court and Army of Peter I” set. The Russian general is bending to kiss the hand of Empress Catherine, a fact correctly identified by a commentator on my last post.

There’s also some guards from the same set, veterans of the Great Northern War, which I’ve painted up to watch over her imperial highness. I know the early Strelets figures aren’t to everyone’s taste, but I do love the expressions on these guys.

Finally, you may have noticed the large house in the background. This is courtesy of Paperboys on Campaign 18th Century buildings book, which I had purchased recently anyway with a view to placing some of them on the wargaming table, their scale apparently being far more suitable to my 20mm figures than the 28mm they’re originally designed for.

The building is unfinished but I only needed the rear facing the garden. It’s far too small for any of the grand St. Petersburg palaces of course, but perhaps it will stand for a wing or even a little ‘out-building’ in the grounds of one?

And with that, like a genuflecting general, I bow graciously out of FEMbruary. Don’t forget to check out the other varied and fabulous work being created across the blogosphere for Alex at Leadballoony’s FEMbruary by checking out his original post here –

A sample of these glorious creations include;

My young daughter shows she’s a FEMbruary supporter by helpfully adding a sky effect in the background of my photo!

My Horse is Irregular…

I’m patiently waiting for a little something to arrive through the post which I hope will enhance my slowly progressing FEMbruary submission of Empress Catherine and the Russian Court.

In the meantime, as the shocking Storm Dennis rages outside it is at least an opportunity to add some paint to those War of the Spanish Succession horses which arrived from Irregular Miniatures some weeks ago.

These are first metal 20mm figures I’ve ever had the pleasure to paint, so I’ll have to see how the riders go. It’s also a toe in the water for some other classic metal 20mm figures which I’ve received.

Right – I’d better nip outside now and check for any storm damage…!

FEMbruary: The Other ‘Empress Catherine’

I’ve been making swift progress with my FEMbruary submission. In the first FEMbruary challenge back in 2018, I chose Bad Squiddo’s 28mm figure of Catherine the Great. One of the most remarkable rulers in history, most people are familiar with her name, the monarch being the subject of recent TV miniseries in the UK (2019) and Russia (2014-19). While Catherine II of Russia is famous, less familiar is Catherine I, mostly because she only reigned for three years after Peter I’s (her husband’s) death.

Catherine I, Empress of Russia by Augustine Fauchery, hand-coloured lithograph, 1830s NPG D34625 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Born of very humble beginnings as Marta Helena Skowrońska, she was nonetheless to become a remarkable and very capable empress. In a happy marriage, the “energetic, compassionate, charming, and always cheerful” Catherine proved to be the perfect partner to support and manage the tempestuous emperor Peter. With no successor named by the dying Peter, popular Catherine took power with the support of Peter’s best friend, Prince Menshikov, and the Guards Regiments.

I was interested to discover there was an equestrian portrait of Catherine I in a Guards uniform riding a grey charger, closely resembling (perhaps not coincidentally) the later painting of Catherine II by Eriksen which had inspired my 2018 figure. So, it seems that the Bad Squiddo figure could stand for either Empress Catherine?

I am very unfamiliar ground painting 18th dresses but thankfully the fashion of the early 18th century was for plainer designs:

“In the beginning of the (18th) century…a plain style was preferred, without too many ornaments. This style was strongly influenced by Françoise d’Aubigné, the wife of King Louis XIV.” How did women dress in the 18th century?

This seems to be born out in contemporary portraits and it made things much easier for me. My Strelets 1/72 scale figure wears a dress which I’ve painted in a similar shade to her portrait by Jean-Marc Nattier. A red sash and an ermine-lined velvet cloak is all that’s missing. I may brush on a little satin varnish to imitate silk.

The above painting most probably was the inspiration for Strelets’ sculptor too. The dress design being remarkably similar and there’s even a tiara on her head closely resembling the one she wore (making some allowance for the complications of sculpting such a thing in 20mm scale)!

Catherine’s opulent tiara; an abundance of large pearls, gold, possibly diamonds, together with some pretty hefty rubies in there too!

The other two FEMbruary ladies at court are also nearly completed. This charming figure is using her richly decorated fan and gazing into the distance:

The other lady has a small dog at her feet which she is reaching down to pet. I thought that it looked a little like a King Charles Spaniel (a breed, incidentally, particularly popular with the 1st Duke of Marlborough), so I painted it in that fashion. This is the figure for whom I had to resort to some serious flash removal. To conceal her disfigurement, half of her face I’ve hidden under the locks of her hair.

So, these three courtly women are nearly completed but not quite! There’s more to come – the Empress Catherine is reaching her hand out in front of her and I’m also painting something which will make sense of this gesture and complete the scene more fully. So, ‘stay tuned’!

Firing Line: The 1st Foot Guards

Presenting my project’s third regiment from the Duke of Marlborough’s British army; the 1st Foot Guards!

Lovely figures, once again by Strelets, if not entirely historically accurate. They are mostly all from their new “Firing Line” box of British Infantry figures. Blue breeches, cuffs and collars are a distinctive element in this regiment’s uniform.

For the grenadiers, I’ve used a couple of figures from their “In Attack” box instead, simply because the ‘firing line’ grenadiers looked so good that I’m thinking of keeping them back for a special purpose.The grenadiers have blue fronted caps, piped with yellow, examples of which I’ve attempted to reproduce (see 1st Guards grenadiers crossing the River Nebel below):

The musketeers I’ve shown with yellow hat lace.

The Strelets Firing Line box comes with various firing and loading poses. For the 1st Guards, I’ve concentrated all the firing figures together within this single battalion. Strelets supplied two poses standing to fire their muskets.

But there were only a limited four figures in a kneeling pose across the box.

The NCO was a pleasing figure to paint, suitably adopting a shouting and pointing pose:

This commissioned officer appears to be wearing gaiters and is holding his pair of white gloves.

More ‘fun with flags’… Would you believe that I actually quite enjoy the tinkering challenge of not-quite-getting-it-right, until I eventually admit defeat and accept whatever outcome. With this one, I realised I had foolishly put the red device in completely the wrong corner! Oh well, never mind…

I’m now thinking that I’m ready to tackle something else in the WSS project which perhaps isn’t British infantry. I’m not sure what exactly yet and anyway the FEMbruary challenge will now take precedence for a little while. Furthermore, I’ve recently come into possession some more WSS figures – but more on this in another post.

Strelets, meanwhile, recently announced on their forum that they are committed to also producing both cavalry and artillery sets for this series, in addition to the French Fusiliers slated for production – so much more to look forward to there! 🙂

Court Appearances: FEMbruary 2020

FEMbruary has been declared! For the 3rd year, I’m formally throwing my hat into the ring for FEMbruary 2020. Begun in 2018, this cracking idea by Alex at Leadballoony blog invited modellers to share their work on female miniatures or otherwise join in as “part of an ongoing conversation about how women are presented within our hobby”. In previous years, Suburban Militarism has submitted:

Catherine the Great by Bad Squiddo Games

This year, I’m turning to my preferred 1/72 scale. The figures I’ve chosen are from Strelets’ “Court and Army of Peter the 1st” ‘big box’ set which I’ve had for a little while now in my far-too-large pile of unpainted items. It features soldiers and guards from Tsar Peter I’s newly formed professional Russian army, and also contains a number of unusual and entertaining court figures, including Peter the Great himself.

For FEMbruary, I’ve taken from this set three aristocratic ladies in fine dresses, one of whom is the Empress, Peter’s wife. I’ve already glued them on pennies and PSR’s description of each is below:


“Empress Catherine I (1684-1727) – Peter’s second wife, whom he married in 1707 and was named Empress but only really had power after his death. The marriage was a very happy one.”


“Court lady – In ‘German’ or western dress, with a large wig as required by Peter.”


“Court lady – As above, but this one pets a small dog at her skirts.”


Much of the court personalities from this set will of course fit the era for my new War of the Spanish Succession project. As such, they could as Plastic Soldier Review state; “work equally well at the court of Louis XIV or any other monarch, so the potential is quite considerable. However a top quality paint job is about the only hope for these otherwise rather unsatisfying figures.” Gulp! The pressure is on to meet that challenge, and I hardly need confess that I’ve not painted 18th Century ladies dresses before, never mind a dog…

The figures seem to show those early Strelets characteristics of imagination and fun, with a distinctive sculpting style which divides opinion. In the main, I haven’t found flash to be a particular issue with Strelets figures but these courtly ladies underwent some serious plastic surgery with my scalpel. In the case of the lady and dog, her face quite literally went ‘under the knife’!

Always up for a challenge, I’ll share my progress, good or bad, in due course. In the mean time, do pop over to Leadballoony’s blog for more on other FEMbruary figures and participants!

Lace Wars: The 1st Guards

Two regiments (and 1 box) already completed in my War of the Spanish Succession project, I’m still happily painting the lovely Strelets British infantry. For the latest figures, I’m making use of Strelets other very newly released WSS sets;

  • British Infantry in Attack
  • British Infantry Firing line

After a couple of line regiments, I felt it was time to include an elite formation and so I’ve started work on the most prestigious infantry in the British Army; the 1st Foot Guards.

The 1st Foot Guards at Blenheim, crossing the River Nebel.

My C.S. Grant book on the uniforms of the WSS informs me that the 1st Guards wore a red coat with facings of “Royal blue” and breeches of blue. Depictions of the regiment from this time seem to show a mid-light coloured blue, including this 1st Foot Guards re-enactor wearing a grenadier’s uniform:

I have Vallejo paint called “Royal Blue” but I’ve instead opted for their “Flat Blue” which seemed a more satisfactory shade.

Impatient for Strelets to produce other sets (presuming of course that they do), at the wise suggestion of John at Just Needs Varnish blog, I’ve been exploring other potential sources of 20mm scale WSS troops. As a first toe in the water some figures have arrived today from metal 20mm manufacturer Irregular Miniatures. These are some infantry officers to make up my shortfall from the Strelets boxes and a regiment of British Horse consisting of an officer, a trumpeter, a flag bearer and five troopers:

I think they’re very impressive! 🙂 Size comparison shows the figures to be slightly smaller than the Strelets figures. This is because these Irregular Miniatures figures are ‘true’ 20mm which is to say 1/76 scale rather than 1/72.

Anyway, there’s an awful lot going on on the Suburban Militarism painting desk at the moment, and those Foot Guards won’t paint themselves!