©2005-2012 S.L. Kellaway. All rights reserved.

Suit of Armor Close-Up: The Medieval Harness

The battle-ready medieval knight was attired in a suit of armor referred to as a "body harness." A common construction technique utilized "lames" or strips of metal which overlapped, somewhat like the shingles on a roof. These laminations were often used in the collar, shoulder, and abdominal areas to facilitate movement.

Underneath the suit of armor a cushioning gambeson may have been worn, a quilted jacket stuffed with tow (short flax fibers), wool, grass, or horse hair.

Some of the basic elements of the plate harness are illustrated below:

Parts of a Suit of Armor
Parts of a Suit of Armor

Head and Shoulder Armor


 — An extension from front to back across the top of the helmet which helps strengthen the helm’s structure. During the Renaissance period this helmet component could be very large and ornate.


 — Armor for the head.


 — A pivoting plate attached to the front of the helm providing protection for the face. Frequently the visor contained “breaths,” holes or slits for ventilation, which also provided some extra visibility.


 (pronounced GOR-jet or gor-ZHAY) — Armored collar made from hinged plates or laminations.


 — Vest-like shoulder armor which added some protection over the breastplate and across the upper back.

Torso Armor


 — As its name implies, this plate protected the upper chest area.


 — An armored reinforcement covering the lower half of the breastplate. Depending upon the design, the plackart might cover nearly the entire breastplate.


 — Armor, usually composed of lames, which attached to the breastplat> (and plackart), serving to protect the abdomen.


 (TAS-et) — Solid Armor plates or a skirt of lames hung from the fauld to cover the gap between the fauld and the thigh armor.

Arm and Leg Armor


 (REER-brase) — Armor shielding of the upper arm. The rerebrace is also referred to as the upper cannon.


 (COW-ter) — Armored elbow guards.


 — Forearm shielding. This term is sometimes used to refer to the entire arm defense, which is divided into upper and lower cannons. Similarly the term "bracers" can refer to the entire arm defense or components such as the shielding that protects an archer's forearms from the bow string.


 — Armored glove.


 (KWIS) — Armor of the thigh.


 (PO-lane) — Cup-shaped armor knee-guards, often equipped with fan-plates.


 — Heart- or fan-shaped guards for the side of the knee, extending from the poleyn.


 (GREEV) — Armor of the lower leg.


 (SAB-a-ton) — Articulating foot armor. Some designs even included long dagger-like toe projections.

©2005-2012 S.L. Kellaway. All rights reserved.

Other Body Harness Types

Chain Mail

  (aka Chain Maille) — Metal rings woven to create a flexible protective “fabric.”

Scale Armor

 — Small overlapping metal plates (resembling scales) attached to cloth or leather.

Splint Armor

 — A suit of armor, considered a simplified version of plate armor, where metal plates were riveted to leather underpinnings.

Ring Mail

 — A fabric of rings, larger than those used in chain mail, attached to and enhancing a leather armor.

For information on other armor or weapons see our main Armor and Weapons page.