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Philip IV of Spain, by Diego Velázquez, ca 1633

At some time in the year 1614, Geoffrey Parker tells us [1], a complete set of wooden toy soldiers was presented to the Prince and future King Philip IV of Spain. They had been manufactured on the orders of Alberto Struzzi (latinised: Albertus Struzzus), an Italian banker operating in Flanders. The toy army came with a 24-page brochure [2] in Latin and Spanish which has been preserved in various archives, entitled ‘Copy of the soldiers of the auspicious Ambrosius Spinola, commander of the Belgian troops’.

Sadly, Struzzi’s wooden army was destroyed in a fire in the royal palace in Madrid on July 9, 1884, when wooden lances, weapons, all colours captured from enemies, as well as ‘all the wooden figures’ were burnt [3]. But we still have its description from the brochure. Parker: ‘It included infantry regiments and cavalry companies with their various banners, weapons and equipment; horses and cannon for the artillery; the distinctive shops and tents of the armourers, sutlers and other camp followers; and special materials to construct artificial lakes, forests and pontoon bridges. There was even a toy castle for the ‘army’ to besiege. And this, the first child’s ‘war-game’ known in Europe, was to give education as well as enjoyment. The prince’s splendid toy was in fact a perfect replica of the most famous army of its day, the Army of Flanders, maintained by Spain in the Low Countries since 1567.’

Spinola’s successful siege of Breda, 1625, engraving by Jacques Callot

In his brochure Struzzi wrote that:

This army will be no less useful than entertaining. From it, one may observe the expenditure which is necessary if a king is to emerge victorious, and how if money (which is the sinews of war) fails, the prince’s intentions cannot be achieved.

Ironically Struzzi himself was paid only in 1630 according to an instruction, found in the Archivo General de Simancas, Spain, to pay one ‘Alberto Struçi que truxo el exercito de figuras’ (‘Alberto Struzzi who carved the model army’).

[1] Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, Cambridge University Press, 1972, pp 3-4

[2] Albertus Struzzus, Imago militiae auspiciis Ambrosii Spinolae, belgicarum copiarum ductoris, Brussels, 1614

[3] Don Juan de Valencia, Catálogo histórico-descriptivo de la Real Armería de Madrid, Madrid, 1898