Britains Swoppet Knights: Equipment.

Go to ...   Belts       Lances       Shields       Heads       Visors       Plumes       Crests      

  Much of the material contained on this page duplicates to some extent information contained in Plastic Warrior's excellent Swoppet Knights Checklist, first produced by Steve Pugh in the 1980s and revised by Peter Cole. However, it has not been the author's policy to slavishly follow that document: indeed, it is hoped my own research will enhance the reader's knowledge of this complex subject still further. Nevertheless, in the interests of uniformity and to facilitate correspondence, this page has adhered to Plastic Warrior's numbering systems. I understand the latest version of the checklist is now available from Plastic Warrior.

Belts.

  The Swoppet Knights' belts consisted of a double ring of flexible plastic. The inner ring was square on the inside, the better to fit against a four-sided shape carved into the leg section at the base of the "poppet" bead, and round on the outside. The outer ring was circular, and fused with the inner at a couple of points on its circumference. There were two loops at opposite sides of the outer circle, one of which contained the scabbard and the other, usually, the dagger. There were three principal colours for the belts: red, sky blue and yellow.

Belts in red, sky blue and yellow
 

  Rather less commonly, belts could be found in purple, and in a sort of mid-gray colour very similar in hue to the "native" shade of the plastic used for the bodies. I'm not too sure about my facts on this, but it seems fair to say that these rarer colours were later additions to the range, and possibly were more often to be found in boxed sets than with figures sold singly. It also appears to me that they were more common in exported version of the Knights than in those supplied to British retailers, but this could just be my imagination.

  On this point, as on everything else, your feedback would be appreciated.

Belts in purple and grey

Mounted figure with royal blue belt - note also rare yellow horse blanket and reins.
Many thanks to Graham Merkert for the photo.   One of the early pieces of most welcome feedback from this site has been confirmation of the existence of a sixth colour of belt, royal blue, which, sceptic as I am, I had hitherto doubted. A quite distinct shade from the common sky blue, and obviously very rare indeed, a photograph has been sent by a correspondent, and is reproduced here with my thanks.

  And it should not be overlooked that some say the story doesn't end there. I have seen a crossbowman with what looks like a brown-coloured belt, admittedly damaged in that the scabbard loop is broken, but it does look genuine in as much as the inner loop has the square shape as described above. Maybe Timpo or other manufacturer produced belts in this colour that were similar in shape to the Britains originals, or maybe this is another rarity?

Dagger, and the two different designs of swords   Each Knight's belt held a red and silver scabbard for a sword (one of two types - see illustration) and (other than the archers #1472 and #1475) a dagger. Figures #1471 and #1452, holding as they did a sword in their hands, did not have an additional sword in their sheaths. The longbowman (#1472) and crossbowman (#1475) carried a sword, but instead of the dagger they were equipped with, respectively, a sheath of arrows and a pouch for crossbow bolts.

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Lances (and Pennants).

  As mentioned on the Models page, the Swoppet Knights' Standard Bearers, on foot and mounted, both carried a pennant on the top of their lances. This could be white or black, with red or white rose (though of course the white pennant with a white rose would have looked a bit cowardly!), and the pennant itself could be either straight or wavey - types (a) and (b) according to the Plastic Warrior document.

Lances with straight and wavey pennants
Lances in red and blue with different pommel guards

  There was also a very subtle variation in the shape of the lances, the type (a) pommel guards being more rounded than the flat type (b) version. I think the type (b) ones were slightly less common, also it appears the lances were slightly shorter overall than type (a)s.

  Of course, the story doesn't end there. Tales about lances in different colours do abound, though many of the supposed rare Swoppet Knights lances must be distinguished from fantasies involving either Timpo models (the "Jousting" Knights in particular) or later Britains specimens such as the Knights of the Sword. A simple way of distinguishing the genuine article is the length (slightly more than 3½ inches) and the fact that there is flattened point at the end of the lance.

  The yellow lance is perhaps one of the hardest Swoppet Knight myths to pin down. The examples pictured appear to be the correct length, and have the flattened point. Are they genuine? I'd be grateful for any advice.

Yellow lances
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Shields (and Roses).

  The shields were in nine basic designs, illustrated below. They were issued in four colours: yellow (called or in heraldic parlance), orange (tenné), sky blue (argent) and black (sable). All the Knights with shields (and only two of them, the Longbowman and Crossbowman, were without) had them decorated (charged) with a rose in either red (gules) or white (azure). To the best of the author's knowledge, there were no restrictions as to which colours went with which shield designs, nor which colours of shields went with red or white roses, although the combinations of red rose on orange shield, and white rose on yellow shield, don't seem quite as visually impressive as others.

  Note particularly the similarities and differences between the two designs with rounded sides, II and IV: the former has a pattern (two rows of three shallow crescent shapes) at each of the two flat ends, whereas the latter has decorations on three of the four sides (crescent shapes alternately concave and convex, some with triangles inside and some without) as well as the distinct notch on one of the corners. This last feature was probably meant to represent an à bouche shield, used at tournaments to allow a knight to hold his lance in place on the shield while charging. The missing corner on design V may have a similar purpose.

Shield design I in yellow - wide triangular with two chevrons

I

II

Shield design II in yellow - circular with rounded sides
Shield design III in sky blue - narrow triangular with crown and cross

III

IV

Shield design IV in orange - round with notch
Shield design V in yellow - small triangular with fleur-de-lys pattern and notch

V

VI

Shield design VI in orange - oval with two zig-zag patterns
Shield design VII in sky blue - small with two notches and 6-leaved flower patterns

VII

VIII

Shield design VIII in sky blue - small triangular with diamond shapes at corners
Shield design IX in sky blue - triangular with ornate border

IX

 

  Many authors, including the Plastic Warrior document, maintain that the shield colours did not stop at yellow, orange, sky blue and black, adding "dark grey" to the list. Steve Pugh says this was not meant to be a deliberate colour variation, and I must say the ones I've seen, very dark grey with perhaps just the tiniest hint of purple, are hard to distunguish from black.

Shield design IV in dark grey
Cherry red shield

  Oppositite is a picture of a Knight with a cherry red shield. I have an open mind about its authenticity, but it shows no signs of having been repainted, nor is it unique. Opinions? I have seen Knights with royal blue shields for sale on eBay in recent times, but these do not look anything like the real deal to me. There are tales of shields in yet other colours, white and green being mentioned.

  However, one might assume that the roses would not be found in other than white and red. Well, I have a photo of an axeman sporting a pale green shield bearing a yellow rose, which both seem to have been made of inferior plastic, and so I can't believe for one moment they were in any way genuine - unless perhaps the history books were all wrong and Texas took part in the Wars of the Roses?

Shield design V in pale green with yellow rose
Green rose

  Rather more interesting is the standard bearer with an emerald green rose on white flag. My own examination is far from conclusive, but I must say the rose looks identical in every way to the Britains originals, except of course for the colour, and I'm inclined to believe this may actually be an intentional twist in the tale.

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Heads.

  Plastic Warrior lists a total of ten types of heads, not entirely coincidentally the same as the number of figures. Let's start with the easy ones.

  The Longbowman (#1472) and Crossbowman (#1475) each had a distinct head, illustrated below. The latter, the only bareheaded Knight, came with either brown and black locks.

Head design I - Longbowman

I

II

Head design II - Crossbowman

  For the remainder of the range, although certain heads tended to come with certain models, it is difficult at this distance to say with confidence what, if any, were the rules about the association between model and head. Nevertheless, design III often came with the dismounted Knight "With Standard" (#1470), IV the "With Pike" (#1473), V the "With Sword" (#1471) and VI the "With Axe" (#1474). All are pictured below, with the visors removed to aid clarity. Note especially the distinctive open mouth of design V and the moustache of VI.

Head design III - Knight with Standard

III

IV

Head design IV - Knight with Pike
Head design V - Knight with Sword

V

VI

Head design VI - Knight with Axe
Head design VII - Mounted Knight Charging with Lance

VII

VIII

Head design VIII - Mounted Knight Attacking with Sword
Head design IX - Mounted Knight Defending

IX

X

Head design X - Mounted Knight with Standard(?)
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Visors.

  As the "Longbowman" (#1472) and "Crossbowman" (#1475) of course did not have a visor, this leaves eight types, illustrated below. The implication of the Plastic Warrior numbering would seem to be that, as issued, visor type III belonged to head type III and so on. But, given that every collection (including the author's) has been swopped so much since the 1960s, it is hardly possible to confirm this.

Visor design III

III

IV

Visor design IV
Visor design V

V

VI

Visor design VI
Visor design VII

VII

VIII

Visor design VIII
Visor design IX

IX

X

Visor design X
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Plumes or Trappings.

  The plumes came in six basic designs, and were issued in four colours: green, purple, yellow and sky blue. They are illustrated below. (Again, the numbering follows Plastic Warrior.) Note the subtlety of the differences between the four "two-trappings" designs: the thickness of the pattern is the only discernible variation between II and III, while IV is thinner than the others, and V has the only "square" trappings. Though all designs were available in all four colours, it does seem that some designs were slightly rarer than others.

Plume design I

I

II

Plume design II
Plume design III

III

IV

Plume design IV
Plume design V

V

VI

Plume design VI

  Much mystery surrounds the additional colours which, tradition has it, were added to the range of plumes in the Swoppet Knights' later years. It seems universally agreed that there was a royal blue plume - the Plastic Warrior document lists it as available with designs I, III and VI, and the Author can confirm the existence of royal blue plumes in designs II and V, so it seems fair to say it was more or less universal. However, the red plume, listed by Plastic Warrior as available in design II only, seems much harder to track down.

  A lot of the problems in this area stem from the proliferation of cheap impersonations of Swoppets in the 1960s, and the worst culprits seem to have been a firm called Wilton of Chicago. This company apparently had copies made of Swoppet Knights at a factory in Hong Kong, using the original figures as moulds, and added a few colour variations of their own in a bid to boost sales. The figures were, inevitably, much cheaper-looking than Swoppets, the plastic markedly more brittle and the colours a bit more shiny. They seem to have made a plume in red, copying design I, and made at least one other colour (sky blue) in this pattern. (They also caused confusion with their crests and reins, as will be discussed later.)

Royal blue plume, design II.
Plume design II in royal blue
 
Red plume in design I, but is it Britains or Wiltons?
Plume design I in red

  So, to sum up, most authorities seem to concur that Britains genuinely made plumes in royal blue and red, but care must be taken not to mistake them for substitutes. As for other colours, your feedback is awaited...

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Crests.

  Even by the standards of the Swoppet Knights, the variety of the crests that were placed on top of the Knights' - and horses' - heads was utterly astonishing. There were no less than (at least) eighteen different designs, some "real", others rather fanciful. They fed the imagination of many a child, and capitalised quite cleverly on a child's ability to suspend disbelief: the armour and weapons looked realistic, after all, so would not these crests also be genuine? And anyway, if a sceptical parent pointed out that one or other was not quite heraldically correct, who was really bothered? We were just kids, after all, though no doubt the urge to collect all eighteen crests drove on many an adult collector too - and perhaps still does. The concept of these interchangeable crests was perhaps the greatest single factor in the creation of an aura of sheer magic of the Swoppet Knights. If it now seems some obvious that certain designs were overlooked (the "Sun in Splendour" of Edward IV, the falcon and fetterlock of the Duke of York, and of course that Castilian tower as worn by Charlton Heston for the duel in El Cid), there was still more than enough material to give scope for the invention of plausible accounts of the origin of a distinct family crest for every Knight in a child's collection.

  Note that all the pictures are of red crests, to increase picture clarity, but all the designs were also available in white. The Britains catalogues of the late 1960s, rather bafflingly, show illustrations of what seem to be yellow and blue crests, but no evidence has reached the Author that these ever existed as genuine Britains items. That notorious firm Wilton Toys does seem to have made crests in yellow, copying some of the Britains designs, and these impersonations only serve to confuse the collector still further.

  No doubt, some of the designs were rarer than others, though none were inordinately difficult to track down (unless of course there are some which I don't know about...), and the rule was that a mounted Knight had the same crest on his head as on his horse, though there seems to have been no correlation between the colour of the crest and that of the rose on his shield.

  They are described and illustrated below, taking the Plastic Warrior guide as a starting point and amplified as best I am able with my poor knowledge of heraldry - if anyone has any information to add, please feel free to share it.

Crest design I - Mastiff

I - "The Mastiff"

  Steve Pugh refers to this as a "mastiff", but I wonder if it may be the greyhound, one of the emblems of Henry Tudor?

II - "The Bear & Ragged Staff"

  This is of course the motif of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, the notorious "Kingmaker" of the Wars of the Roses. One of the most easily-recognised images of the period is of the Warwick Ragged Staff, with or without the dancing bear - the modern-day Britains Warwick Castle Knights, for example, wear this logo on a red tabard.

Crest design II - Bear and Ragged Staff
Crest design III - Wyvern

III - "The Wyvern"

  The Wyvern was an emblem of the Earl of Lancaster in the early 14th Century, more than 100 years before the Wars of the Roses. Some of us would perhaps like to believe this was in fact the Welsh Dragon, the device most often associated with the Tudors. But the distinctive two-legged appearance of this creature means it's probably meant to be a Wyvern - a dragon has four legs.

IV - "The Boar's Head"

  Not sure about the head of a boar being used in the 15th Century, but the crouching white boar was one of the badges of Richard III - he favoured the boar rather than the white rose while he was Duke of Gloucester.

Crest design IV - Boar's Head
Crest design V - Maltese Cross

V - "The Maltese Cross"

  Though the Maltese Cross might be imagined to be one of the most recognisable of all devices, this emblem is more accurately known as a cross "patée". Its use in the Wars of the Roses, or indeed English heraldry of any period, is a bit of a mystery. More likely it was used by the Knights of St John, the famous crusaders, whose name became associated with the Mediterranean island which they inhabited during medieval times.

VI - "The Jester"

  Again, no known Wars of the Roses reference to this design has been unearthed by my own research. This was probably an earlier, German crest, selected by Britains simply because it looked convincing.

Crest design VI - Jester
Crest design VII - Prince of Wales Feather

VII - "Prince of Wales Feather"

  The Single Feather was the emblem of the Prince of Wales, which, during the Wars of the Roses, means Prince Edward, son of Henry VI, who died at Tewkesbury in 1471. The title was also held during the 15th Century by the future Henry V during his wars in Wales, and by the future (and uncrowned) Edward V, son of Edward IV, who was of course imprisoned in the Tower by his uncle Richard III before he was old enough to take part in military action.

VIII - "The Heron"

  Another excellent crest in terms of its looks, but rather lacking in historical accuracy, as best I can determine.

Crest design VIII - Heron
Crest design IX - Bull's Head

IX - "The Bull's Head"

 

X - Horse Passant"

  Rearing horse.

Crest design X - Horse Passant
Crest design XI - Bunch of Feathers

XI - "Bunch of Feathers"

 

XII - "The Crescent"

  The Crescent Moon is of course more often associated with the Moslem world, in particular with the Saracens who fought against the Crusaders (see the Britains Deetail "Black Knights" or Turks of the 1970s for example).

Crest design XII - Crescent
Crest design XIII - Swan's Head

XIII - "The Swan's Head"

  A white swan was the badge of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI and leading figure in the Lancastrian cause.

XIV - "The Phoenix"

  Again, if this device truly is a phoenix, its relevance to the mid-15th Century can at best be described as questionable. It may just possibly be meant to represent a falcon, which, with a fetterlock beneath it, was the emblem of Richard, Duke of York, the major protagonist on the Yorkist side during the Wars of the Roses, and father of Edward IV.

Crest design XIV - Phoenix
Crest design XV - Panache of Feathers I

XV - "Panache of Feathers I"

  Three tiers splayed out.

XVI - "Panache of Feathers II"

  Two tiers capped.

Crest design XVI - Panache of Feathers II
Crest design XVII - Lion Statant Regardant

XVII - "Lion Statant Regardant"

  Regally crowned, as Steve Pugh describes it, "statant", ie standing, and "regardant", ie facing the viewer, this is the emblem of the Kings of England, perhaps most famously worn by Henry V at Agincourt. (Cf the 2002 Britains "Knights of Agincourt" Henry V figure.)

XVIII - "Lion Statant"

 

Crest design XVIII - Lion Statant

  The above designs are, it is generally accepted, an exhaustive list of those available. However, there is inevitably some dissent on this point. The Plastic Warrior document lists a nineteenth design, which may be a mis-mould or perhaps a sample of one of the others (XVI?) which has aged badly.

  When looking at pictures of Swoppet Knights, on eBay or elsewhere, it is easy to get taken in by photographs which make the crest look as if it is some hitherto unknown design, when in fact it is just a common one shot from a side angle. Bear in mind also that certain designs are prone to fracture. The top portions of the Maltese Cross (V), Prince of Wales Feathers (VII) and Crescent (XII) can break off to leave what looks like a sphere. The creatures depicted on the Mastiff (I), Lion Statant (XVIII) and (particularly) the Lion Statant Regardant (XVII) can become detached, leaving only a couple of leg stumps. And finally, you should always ensure that the Wyvern (III), Heron (VIII) and Phoenix (XIV) are complete and undamaged before spending large sums of money on them.

Crest designs in green   The rather naff models shown perhaps make an interesting diversion from the study of Swoppet Knights. Made by some copycat firm, in Hong Kong I suspect, the figures resemble the genuine Britains "With Axe" (#1474) Knight, even down to the broken swords lying at their feet, but the main point of interest is the green coloured crests, passable impersonations of the real "Boar's Head" and "Swan's Head" (IV and XIII respectively). Presumably other designs were similarly plagiarised? Note also the red plumes, quite obviously made of inferior plastic.

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