Building LEGO armies can become a bit of an obsessive pastime and it is not unknown for avid collectors to amass forces that number in the thousands. Indeed, here at Brick to the Past we have substantial numbers of Macedonian, Spartan, Persian, Roman, Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and generic medieval troops. Jacobites however are new to us and it has been an interesting process designing and redesigning our burgeoning force. In this blog we explain how we did it and how you too can do it too.
The first stage of any army building project is always research and this essentially takes two interrelated paths. Firstly, you need to get a good idea of what an army looked like, what clothes they wore, what equipment they used, what standards they flew. Secondly, you need to find out if LEGO actually make pieces that represent these characteristics and if not, how can you creatively fill in the gaps. This latter part may require you to consider any comprises you need to make and how far you are willing to pursue these. Cost may also play a significant part in this process because while the perfect part may exist, it might also be rare and therefore prohibitively expensive if your intention is to build a substantial force. Make sure you spend time exploring the options on sites such as Bricklink before committing.
Fortunately for the avid army builder, there is a wealth of easily accessible literature to help them along the way. Books published by companies such as Osprey are ideal for this purpose, because not only do they contain detailed drawings of soldiers and their equipment, they also provide descriptions of tactics and formations employed at the time. There are numerous titles available on the Jacobite Risings, both in and out of print, and so it was natural for us to turn to these as a major source of information. For this project, another good source came in the form of battlefield re-enactors and we were lucky enough to talk to members of Major General Glenbucket's Regiment, Alan Breck's Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment and Régiment Irlandois de Dillon at the Highland Folk Museum in 2016.
The most noticeable thing about Jacobite armies is the variety of clothing worn and equipment used. Indeed, the appearance of an army could change over the course of a campaign, as goods were requisitioned and equipment captured. Our army is stylistically based on that of the one during the ‘Forty-Five’ Rising and we have tried to incorporate a few key features into the mix. Before describing some of these however, a few words needs to be said on the subject of tartan.
If you walk down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, or indeed any Scottish street that relies on an influx of tourists, you will be bombarded with advertisements for tartan goods, and more particularly, ‘authentic’ clan themed tartan goods. These trade on the idea that each Highland clan has its own unique tartan, and these days, this is largely true. However, this notion is a relatively new one, only dating from the first half of the 19th century and finding its roots, like many such traditions, in the Romantic movement of the time. Traditionally, tartans were not clan specific, with colours based on whatever natural dies were available locally, while patterns would have been made according to the tastes of the local weavers. As a result, what might be regarded as regional styles may have emerged, but these were not formalised along clan lines. During the ‘Forty-Five’ members of different clans would in fact have been identified by their ‘clan badges’, which usually took the form of a sprig of a specific plant and were usually worn on a person’s bonnet. For example, the various branches of Clan MacDonald wore a sprig of common heather as their badge. So while our armies are kilted in various types of tartan, these tartans are not supposed to specifically represent any of the clans who joined the Jacobite cause.
The tartan kilts we’ve adorned our troops with are a mixture of third party custom pieces and our own creations, made from cuts of ordinary craft-shop ribbon. While we prefer to stick with official LEGO parts as much as possible, the only official LEGO kilt made to date is the one that came with the Bagpiper from Collectible Minifigure Series 7, way back in 2012. These are no longer in production and currently go for in excess of £2 on the seconds market and only in very small numbers; they are therefore wildly impractical for the purposes of army building and as such the compromise had to be made.
Another major compromise was with regard to the Jacobite blue bonnet. The bonnets, which were worn not only by the army of the “Forty-Five” but also by those of previous risings, and indeed by earlier Scottish armies, are an iconic item of clothing and so this was important to address. The trouble is LEGO, having naturally never produced Jacobite playsets, have never produced a piece of headgear that closely resembles the bonnets; we were therefore immediately forced to look for an alternative. Fortunately, while it may be a different colour, LEGO do produce a piece which has alternatively been presented as a ‘beret’ or ‘flat cap’, in black. As far as minifigures go the difference between beret and bonnet is pretty much non-existent and so these pieces were identified as a suitable substitute. We did find a third-party company who made blue berets for LEGO minifigures, such as those worn by UN peacekeepers, but decided that this would result in too many non-LEGO pieces in the model.
To achieve the army’s variable appearance, we drew upon a wide range of minifigures from a wide range of sets. Perhaps the most useful of these was the Highlander minifigure, released in 2012 as part of Collectable Minifigure Series 6. While the obviously stylised appearance of the minifigure is more Braveheart than Outlander, it does come with some extremely useful pieces, namely the torso itself, which is ideal for representing the plaid of the period and a round shield, known in the Highlands as a ‘targe’. The other benefit of the Series 6 Highlander is that it’s parts are still relatively cheap and so ideal for buying in large numbers. Obviously, we did not want the entire army to be dressed in the same way and so other torso designs were sought. Proving ideal were those from LEGO’s Pirates sets, Pirates of the Caribbean sets, Lord of the Rings and Hobbit sets and various Collectible Minifigure lines, including Series 14’s Zombie Pirate Captain.
Weaponry and equipment were also an important consideration and it is worth noting that they changed considerably in the 57 years between the start of the first and end of the last Risings. The equipment of the army even changed across the course of the Risings; for example, in 1745 the Jacobites had little in the way of artillery and relatively few muskets, while at Culloden they fielded eleven 3-pounders and one 4-pounder and ran into battle armed with muskets and pistols captured during earlier engagement. Our aim was to strike a balance between these two points and so while the majority of our army is armed with sword and targe, there are a reasonable number of men carrying muskets and other fire arms. Swords, targes and firearms were of course relatively expensive items and in the early days at least, many Jacobite soldiers would not have had access to them. Many marched into battle carrying other much cheaper weapons, including the Lochaber Axe. The axe was a heavy polearm type weapon of about five or six feet in length and typically used as a defence against cavalry or a pike against infantry. At the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 it was used to great effect against General Hope’s horse and is thought to have been a crucial element in the Jacobite victory. Naturally therefore, there are a number of axe wielding soldiers present in our army .
It’s easy to forget that the Jacobite army of the ”Forty-Five” was more than just its foot and that it in fact had a number of small cavalry units, including hussars and dragoons. We have not tried to recreate each of these units as it would result in a slightly unbalanced force. Instead, we have chosen two, namely the Scotch Hussars and the Prince’s Life Guard. Both represent distinctive elements of the Jacobite army and, fortunately, are easy to recreate in LEGO form using a mixture of Hobbit and Pirate pieces.
Another easily forgotten fact is that the Jacobite army of the ‘Forty-five’ wasn’t just made of kilted Highlanders. Lowlanders were also present in the army, albeit in much smaller numbers, and these men would not have worn the kilts and plaids of their Highland counterparts. Following the invasion of England around 300 Englishmen joined the Jacobite army to form the Manchester Regiment. The involvement of many of these men was however short-lived, as following a failed attempt to hold Carlisle Castle, they would be captured and brutally punished. While these recruits would have joined the army in the clothes they were accustomed to wearing, there is evidence to suggest that the Jacobites tried to harmonise the appearance of their army by ordering replacement clothing in the Highland fashion.
Finally, the international contingent of the Jacobite army needs to be recognised. While French support for the ‘Forty-five’ never met the hopes and expectations of the Scottish Jacobites, it nevertheless existed. Much of this was provided in the form of detachments from the Irish Brigade, which had originally been formed when five Jacobite regiments were sent from Ireland to France during the Williamite War in Ireland in exchange for a larger force of French infantry. The ‘Irish Picquets’, as they were known, saw action at the Battle of Falkirk and Culloden, and were valued for their training and discipline. Interestingly, the uniform of this unit were red, much like those of the government force, but designed and cut in the French style. Other troops provided by the French were the Royal Scots (Royal Ecossais), who were originally formed as bodyguards for Valois Charles VII of France in 1418. The Royal Scots did not arrive in Scotland until late in the Campaign, landing in Montrose on 7th December 1745. French soldiers were also present in smaller numbers as engineers and gunners who would operate the Jacobite’s small collection of artillery.
Talking of artillery, we have also created a number of guns to place on our battlefield. LEGO of course have their classic moulded cannons that have appeared in their Pirates sets since the early 1980’s, but these aesthetically don’t accurately reflect the field artillery of the day and so we decided to build our own. Building artillery is great fun and our guns went through a number of iterations before settling on a final design. The main aim was to build something compact that would represent a gun somewhere in the 3-6 pound range and would look good at a minifigure scale of about 1:40.
With the army assembled, all that remains now is to place them in the field; stay tuned to the blog to find out how. If you want to find out early, our LEGO Jacobites will be unveiled as part of The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne at Manchester’s Bricktastic show this July; why not be the first to see it?
We'll be doing a guide to building the government army of the "Forty-five" later in the summer, follow us on Facebook or Twitter to see it first!
Finally, a big recommendation needs to be given to Maggie Craig's excellent book 'Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the '45' which has provided us with a great deal of information and inspiration for our model. We also love the name of the book and found it a perfect into for this blog on our own bare arsed banditti. If you want to find out more about the rising of the "Forty-five" then get Maggie's book, it provides the perfect introduction.
BLOG TO THE PAST
On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past