Reproduction of a Leg Harness

Reproducing an existing harness as seen on display in a museum is no guarantee of it's "historical consistency". Many complete harnesses found in European museums are combinations of pieces originating not only from different workshops but sometimes from different countries or different periods. The origin of some specimens is rather tricky to define precisely if the makers marks is absent or hasn't yet been identified.

For this reason, Mathieu's project was particularly interesting to me. In order to have a consistent reproduction of a Milanese export leg harness from around 1470, he preferred to assemble a complete leg from several pieces scattered in different museums rather then copying an existing one. He made sure that all pieces were of the same typology by taking references on contemporary artworks. The greaves (shin protection) were taken from Armour B2 of the Museo Diocesano d'Arte, Mantua, the poleyn (knee protection) stems from the Historisches Museum der Stadt in Vienna and the cuisse (thigh protection) from the Musée de l'Armée in Paris.

The various parts of the leg harness (Graphic by Mathieu Harlaut)


The orginal cuisses in the musuem showcase. The poleyns and the articulation lames are probably older and have been added to the cuisses more recently. (Photo by Mathieu Harlaut)

An original leg harness of a similar type exposed during an exhibition at the Higgins Armory Museum. (Photo by unknown photographer)

The greave of armour B2 (Photo from "Le armature di s. Maria delle Grazie di curtatone di Mantova e l'armatura Lombarda del 400" by Lionello G. Boccia)

The poleyn on display in the Historisches Museum der Stadt in Vienna (Photo by unknown photographer)

Although this Saint George has been painted a German artiste Friedrich Herlin, he wears a full Milanese "export" harness. Fluting have been added to suit the German taste. Harness made for the Italian market have plaine surface. The legs are similar to the ones reconstructed here. (Image Imareal DB, Stadtmuseum Nördlingen)

Many craftsmen consider the greave as the most complex part to be made in an armour. It needs to fit exactly the curves of the calf and shin of the wearer to hold itself without compressing the leg, nor should it impede movements of the ankle. The sequence of curves of that part of the body increase the difficulty to obtain a perfect match between the two halves.

The work started with a complete mould of Mathieu's leg, which he sent to my workshop. The shape of the shin and of the calf on the plaster will be used as a template to put the metal in shape. Once the greave is finished, it will not be possible to put the greave directly on the moulding. The plaster being harder than the flesh and muscle of a human leg if it was made to fit the moulding it would be too large for the wearer.

The right greave from the front coming straight from the forge. (Photo Georges Jolliot)

The metal is put into shape with an alternance of hot and cold blows in order to obtain the curve of the calf, followed by a cold evening out of the bulges caused by the hammer blows. The most important stage, the fitting of the hinges, regulates the pressure that will be exerted on the calf. This is therefore to be carried out in the presence of the client.

The same greave from the side. (Photo Georges Jolliot)

The poleyn is a very nice example featuring flutings on the wings. The original, on display in a museum of Vienna, is mounted on composite harness that may have been subject to several modifications. The legs themselves might even have been reassembled in the 19th century with pieces of different provenances.

A poleyn and its fluted wing has been put into shape. (Photo Georges Jolliot)

The file marks along the edges are likely to have been made at this period to give a visual unity to whole leg. It was then a common practice to reassemble suits of armour from heterogeneous parts to embellish private collections and curiosity cabinets with complete gothic harnesses.

The greave and the plates below the knee do not appear to have been made for one another, the fitting is rather loose. It is certainly the best indicator of a late reassembly. Therefore it was decided to reproduce only the poleyn of this leg harness. The most distinctive feature of that part, the prominent blade-like rib of the kneecap, required hot working in order to maintain the thickness and strength of the metal.

The various parts of the left leg are assembled for the first time with nuts and bolts. (Photo Georges Jolliot)

The main difficulty with the wings resides in the flutings made as series of ridges. Apart from its decorative property this feature stiffens the surface and helps to glance off striking blades.

The cuisse is based on an original displayed at the Musée de l'Armée, Paris. It is somewhat similar to the one in Vienna, though more classic. The front part of the cuisse is built in three pieces. The top edge of the main plate features a prominent triangular ridge and the top one has a square hem. The back of the thigh is protected by two vertical plates articulated by hinges. Shaping the cuisse is simple enough, although it is important to give an impression of thinness to the knee. If it was too large the leg would lack elegance. To get that result each plate overlap in a way that keeps the knee narrow enough.
In the same fashion, the plates of the upper part of the cuisse, should be joined following the shape of the leg. Most of armourer's skill goes into adjusting all the small plates of the articulations that will provide maneuverability and elegance as on authentic armours. Like a well tailored suit, a harness should show its wearer in his best light.

(Photo Georges Jolliot)

One of the first difficulties is the shape of the wide and prominent triangular flange at the top of the main plate of the cuisse. It is the first line of defence against any blade sliding upward along the leg, drawing it away from the groin. Another difficulty lays on the plate at the very top of the leg where a square sectioned flange serves to protect the abdomen.

(Photo Georges Jolliot)

Shaping this very effective square sectioned flange is probably one of the most demanding operation of this part of the leg. A lot of material needs to be drawn, and folded on itself at a right angle. A metal wire with a square cross-section has been inserted into the flange in order to guide the shaping. Various authors have theorised about these round or square inserted wires, claiming that they were used to reinforce the metal. I believe that they mostly have a role in the construction process, by helping to put the metal into shape with the hammer. Reinforcement is needless as the shape gives enough strength and rigidity to the metal.

Naturally enough the vertical plates covering the back of the thigh are laid one upon another like tiles to glance off any impact. They are joined with hinges to enable the wearer to put the legs on with ease. It should be noted that sometimes these two plates are riveted together and articulated only where they meet the front plate. This is enough to put the legs. It is a recurrent question about armour : why some parts are made of several pieces riveted together when one could make it in just one piece? I guess that it might have to do with saving metal, a precious substance. Such a practice gives the opportunity to use finer and smaller pieces even to recycle old armour plates.

All plates fully polished, the leg is ready to use. The naturally dyed red leather straps have been riveted in place. (Photo Georges Jolliot)

The whole leg is assembled by means of nuts and bolts of the same diameter as the rivets and tried on by the client. This is the opportunity to adjust or even modify certain parts.

It is clear that numerous fitting would be preferable. Since Mathieu obstinately refused to live in my village during the whole process, the mould was the second best option.

(Photo Georges Jolliot)

At that point, I noted a crucial information in the enthralling book by Lionello G. Boccia, "Le armature di s. Maria delle Grazie di curtatone di Mantova e l'armatura Lombarda del 400". I recommend this book which is probably the most comprehensive on Lombard armours of the 15th century. The weight of each piece of all harnesses of Mantua is precisely listed. The 2 legs of armour B2, relatively similar to ones I just made, have a total weight of 4.8 Kg. By comparison, leg harness made from 1.5 mm metal sheet (as commonly used in reenactment) have a weight of around 8 Kg.
I succeed in reducing the weight significantly after a thoughtful grinding, reaching acceptable level comparable to historical specimens. This illustrates a common tendency of the reenactment armours that are often a lot heavier than there historical counterpart. A Milanese harness reproduction would weights around 35 Kg, whereas armour B2 of Mantua, a complete harness missing only the tassets on the front and faulds in the back, weights no more than 25Kg. Obviously this huge difference in weight has an important influence on the person wearing it. Professional jousters understood that fact long ago.

After the polishing, the last step is to rivet in place the natural dyed red leather straps provided by Karl Robinson.

(Photo Mathieu Harlaut)

(Photo Mathieu Harlaut)

(Photo Mathieu Harlaut)

(Photo Mathieu Harlaut)

(Photo Mathieu Harlaut)

Georges Joliot

By Georges Joliot,
Veteran Company Member

You can contact Georges via his site at

Translated by David Cooke, Veteran Member

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