The Alferes and his Harness – The Armour of Duarte de Almeida (P. 2)

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

(This article was originally written for the page  Repensando a Idade Média, which I invite you to have a look at here)


To call Duarte de Almeida’s scattered pieces a “harness” is being generous. A harness is a set of steel protections, which cover a combatant’s body from head to toe. In Duarte’s case, we have only a piece of headgear (a capacete), torso protection (a cuirass), and a set of limb protections (a leg harness). None of the three pieces matches the other two, stylistically speaking, which is perfectly normal – unlike the homogeneity of other knightly depictions, such as portraits or effigies, a knight chose his equipment for battle based on comfort or performance, from a personal arsenal containing several assorted pieces.

Duarte 1
The different pieces of Duarte de Almeida’s harness, according to Mann, J. (1933). “Notes on the armour worn in Spain from the tenth to the fifteenth century”,  p. 298.


That these pieces belonged to the Portuguese alferes seems to be uncontentious amongst Portuguese and (particularly) Castilian sources, practically since the battle itself [1]. After all, we’re talking about a trophy of war, a memento of triumph over the enemy and a memory to be preserved and passed on. In spite of the unanimity and, in several instances, contemporaneity of records on the harness, it would be scientifically remiss of me if I didn’t mention Mario Arellano García’s short study, in his article “Armadura del Lugarteniente de Alférez Mayor de Castilla”. In his analysis, García attributes the harness to a certain Alonso de Sosa in accordance with a rather dubious interpretation from a 16th century letter. Without dwelling on the study itself, which is not relevant for the purposes of this post, I don’t believe the attribution has any kind of merit; not only does the letter postdate the harness for about a century, it also contradicts all previous chronicles (and attributions) for no reason [2].

Duarte 00
Duarte’s harness. Photo taken from “Afonso ‘the African’ and his Army: The Pastrana Tapestries as a Visual Encyclopedia for the Study of Arms and Armour” (all rights reserved to the original authors).


Let’s now look at the pieces themselves, starting with the head. Duarte de Almeida’s capacete (in Portuguese; cabasset in Castilian) [3] follows typical Iberian models from the end of the 15th century. It consists of an iron or steel skull fitted to the head, with a slightly elongated top, and a broad brim. A decorative brass band 20mm in width, with floral motifs, runs along the base of the skull; this band stretches partially towards the ridge of the helmet, at the forehead and at the back of the head. Another, thinner band (10mm) runs along the edge of the brim. José Andrés Godoy, the author of what is so far the best study on Duarte’s harness, that the capacete is “missing a small segment of the first band in front and a bit along [the ridge] (…), a dent caused by a heavy blow” [my translation] [4], which is not surprising; we are talking about a helmet that has seen some action, after all. This capacete shows maker’s marks commonly associated with the armourers of Calatayud, in the Spanish province of Zaragoza, one of the great Iberian armour production centres during the 15th century. Stylistically, it is similar to various pieces made in the area, including the 1977-167-64 capacete of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the practically identical 35.192 capacete from the Museo del Ejército in Madrid. Duarte’s helmet is, therefore, a typical example of domestic production for the Iberian market.


Duarte de Almeida’s cuirass (image courtesy of Per Lillelund Jensen).

The cuirass is undoubtedly the best piece of the ensemble, and (in my humble opinion) the most beautiful. It consists of three main parts: a backplate, which protects the back; the breastplate, which protects the front of the torso – and which in itself is subdivided into a thorax, which protects the chest, and a plackart, which protects the stomach; and, lastly, a fauld, of which only three front lames remain. This is a singularly noble example of so-called “export armour” made by Italian armourers for the Iberian market. In fact, we know from is marks that this cuirass would have been made by Milanese armourers, possibly helpers of the Missaglia, the largest family or consortium of armourers of the age [5]. Judging by the marks, the same armourer(s) who made this cuirass also created several other masterful pieces, among them the A 152 armet at the Wallace Collection in London, or the armet of the B1 harness at the Diocesan Museum of Mantua, among others.

The B4 harness’ cuirass in Mantua. Notice the straps either side of the plackart, under the armpits.

The breastplate includes a block for the placement of the lance-rest, on the thorax, marking it as a mounted combatant’s armour [6]. But the most salient feature is undoubtedly the tall “fishtail” plackart, with its scalloped edges. These plackarts, observable in almost very type of artistic medium [7], are found almost exclusively in the Iberian Peninsula, since at least the middle of the century [8], and this specimen if one of its best examples. Though today it is riveted to the thorax, it would originally have been fastened to the inside of the chest plate by means of two straps, one either side, whose buckles can still be seen. This configuration, which allowed for a small degree of flexibility, is similar to that of other coeval Italian breastplates, for example the B4 harness, also in Mantua [9]. The breastplate and backplate are joined by two hinges on the left side and two buckles on the right side.

Duarte de Almeida’s backplate (image courtesy of Per Lillelund Jensen).

The backplate, too, has quite a few Italian counterparts. It consists of five overlapping plates, the bottommost of which extends a little over the buttocks, as the beginnings of a fauld. With the exception of the top plate, which covers the shoulder blades, the upper edges of the four other plates are topped by three “wedges” each, in which are the rivets that join the whole piece together. A good example of this configuration is an Italian cuirass in Lucerne (Historisches Museum, HM11), made by the armourer Bernardino di Carnago.

Only three of the fauld’s lames remain, attached to the bottom of the breastplate. The bottom lame is missing. These too are similar to the ones on the HM11 cuirass (among others). We also don’t know what type of tassets this cuirass would’ve been paired with, although they shouldn’t have been much different from the ones shown in the Pastrana Tapestries.

HM11 cuirass at the Historisches Museum of Lucerne, Switzerland.

This is a relatively small cuirass, though it doesn’t look it. Duarte de Almeida was moderately broad-shouldered – 38cm from armpit to armpit, in a straight line, according to Per Lillelund Jensen’s measurements – and thin of waist – 23cm from side to side, in a straight line. This means his cuirass is relatively similar in dimension to the cuirass of Ferdinand the Catholic (A 645), kept at the Hofjadg- und Rüstkammer in Vienna.


Finally, the leg harness. If the cuirass is the best piece of the ensemble, the leg harness is undoubtedly the most mysterious. Just like the other pieces, the leg harness is stamped with a maker’s mark, but so far no-one’s been able to tell exactly whom it belongs to [10]. Godoy suggests it might’ve been made in Portugal or one of the other Iberian kingdoms; nothing in it contradicts that hypothesis.

We can divide the leg harness in three parts: the cuisses, which protect the thigh; the poleyns, which protect the knee; and the greaves, which protect the shins. The cuisses, which only protect the front of the leg, feature a series of scalloped lames near the top and immediately above a protrusion, called a stop-rib, meant to deflect strikes. Originally, the cuisses would’ve had a leather band riveted to the top, which would be used to fasten the whole leg harness to an arming doublet or a lendenier with arming points. Regarding the poleyns, it should be said before anything else that the right poleyn, as seen today, has been assembled upside down: the external side, missing its fanplate, is facing the inside of the leg [11]. On the left poleyn we can see the surviving fanplate, vaguely tear-shaped, with a pronounced central ridge. Both poleyns have three lames above the knee, and three lames below; these too are decorated with small scalloped edges. The bottommost lame, a demi-greave, has two smooth lines of fluting and a row of holes along its bottom edge, no doubt for attaching a maille strip [12]. Finally, regarding the greaves, notice the physiognomy of the calf and the central ridge, from the knee to the top of the foot, much like the fanplate’s. The bottom of the right greave, next to the heel, was crudely repaired after breaking off. The greaves are also missing backplates which would’ve enclosed the calves, the lack of which can be inferred by the holes where rivets would’ve been. There are also two holes either side of each greave, which would have allowed for the attachment of sabatons.

The tooth-like decoration featured prominently on the whole leg harness is curious. It seems to have been particularly popular in the Peninsula: see the Iberian spaulders on one of the harnesses of the Georges Pauilhac collection in Paris, the spaulders of João de Albuquerques’ effigy in Aveiro (Portugal), or the pauldrons on the effigy of Pedro Vázquez de Acuña y Albornoz in Dueñas (Spain).


And thus we conclude our list. But what about the rest of the harness? Duarte de Almeida wouldn’t have gone to battle with his arms and hands unprotected, not to mention other complementary equipment  – maille voiders and skirts, bevors, sabatons, etc. Considering the extent of his injuries, it is possible that whatever bits of armour he might’ve worn on his arms and hands were hastily removed in order to bandage him, or outright discarded or lost on the battlefield. We simply don’t know whether there were other pieces of this harness, and, if there were, what happened to them.

Whatever the case, we are left with the remnants of Duarte’s beautiful and peculiar ensemble, enough for us to see how a Portuguese knight would’ve been armed in 1476 – with a mixture of Iberian (possibly Portuguese) and foreign equipment, true and top of the line specimens of the art of steel in Portugal.


[1] Hernando del Pulgar, in his  Crónica de los Señores Reyes Católicos Don Fernando y Doña Isabel de Castilla y de Aragón, is one of the first to tell us: “Many Portuguese were also taken captive, among them the Ensign who carried the Royal Banner of the King of Portugal, who was brought to the city of Zamora. The King and the Queen commanded that the captured Ensign’s harness be put in the Chapel of the Kings of [the Cathedral of] Santa María de Toledo” [my translation] (“Fueron así mismo presos muchos portugueses, entre los cuales fue preso el Alférez que traía el Pendón real del Rey de Portugal e traído a la cibdad de Zamora. El Rey y la reina mandaron poner el arnés de aquel Alférez que fue tomado en la Capilla de los reyes de Santa María de Toledo”), in Crónica de los Señores Reyes Católicos Don Fernando y Doña Isabel de Castilla y de Aragón, p. 88. References to the harness abound after Pulgar, like this one in the Tesoro de la lengua castellana, o española of Sebastian de de Covarrubias y Orozco: “In the battle of Toro there was the alferes Duarte de Almeida, carrying the Royal Banner, and the Castilians, in trying to take it from him, and him and the Portuguese in trying to defend it, tore it to shreds; and so, after the aforementioned Duarte de Almeida was killed or captured, instead of the banner they brought his armaments to Castile, and they are the harness set up by the entrance of the Chapel of the New Kings in the Cathedral of Toledo” [my translation] (“En la batalla de Toro, se hallo por alferez  com el estãdarte Real Duarte de Almeida, y los Castellanos por quitarsele, y el y los Portugueses por defenderle le hizieron pedaços, y qdando muerto, o preso el dicho Duarte de Almeida, en lugar del estandarte se truxeron sus armas a Castilla, que es el arnes que està colgado a la entrada de la capilla de los Reyes nueuos en la yglesia mayor de Toledo”), in  de Covarrubias y Orozco (1611), fol. 52. Other examples exists, but these will suffice.

[2] Which García himself quoted, thus undermining his own effort.

[3] Though this type of headgear is often called a war-hat, particularly by Portuguese scholars, I’m using Alvaro Soler del Campo’s terminology: “In accordance with the traditional terminology employed in the study of arms and armour, the term “capacete” applies to pieces with semi-spherical or slightly pointed skulls, fitted with a brim” [my translation] (“Em consonância com a terminologia tradicional da armaria, aplicar-se-á o vocábulo capacete para as defesas com calva semiesférica ou levemente pontiaguda, providas de aba”), in Agostinho, P. (2012). Vestidos para Matar: O Armamento de Guerra na Cronística Portuguesa de Quatrocentos. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, p. 76.

[4] “Falta un pequeño segmento de la primera banda en el frente y más arriba (…), abolladura causada por un fuerte golpe”, in Godoy, J. (1994). “Armadura de Duarte de Almeida”. Em La Paz Y La Guerra En La Epoca Del Tratado De Tordesillas. Madrid: Electa, p. 308.

[5] Regarding the Missaglia, see, for example, Williams, A. (2003). The Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages & the Early Modern Period. Boston: Brill Publishers, pp. 57-58.

[6] The lance-rest would allow a knight to couch his lance, an essential part of cavalry charges during the Late Middle Ages. Therefore, the lance-rest wouldn’t have been present in a cuirass designed solely for foot combat.

[7] In Portugal, the “fishtail” plackart is depicted in the Saint Vincent Panels, particularly on one of the knights in the Panel of the Archbishop; and in the Pastrana Tapestries. In Spain, it turns up on a multitude of effigies (one of the best example of which is the effigy of Don Juan Núñez Dávila in the  Cathedral of Ávila, from 1469), for example. One of these cuirasses can be seen today at the Musée de l’Armée, in Paris, as part of a composite Iberian harness, one of three from the Georges Pauilhac collection.

[8] The oldest depiction of it I managed to find was the one on the effigy of García Laso de la Vega, in the Convent of Santa Clara in Zafra, Badajoz province, dated to 1456.

[9] About this harness, see the faultless and lavishly detailed study in Boccia, L. (1982). Le armature di S. Maria delle Grazie di Curtatone di Mantova e l’armatura lombarda del ‘400. Busto Arsizio: Bramante, pp. 255-260.

[10] Donald la Rocca points out a mark resembling this one on a cuirass in the Art Institute of Chicago, no. 1982.2536. See footnote 3 in La Rocca, D. (2011). “Afonso ‘the African’ and his Army: The Pastrana Tapestries as a Visual Encyclopedia for the Study of Arms and Armour”, p. 40. Mark no. 35 in the article “Notes on the armour worn in Spain from the tenth to the fifteenth century” (Mann, 1933, p. 304) is also quite similar to the one on Duarte’s legs, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to track down a picture of the cuirass it is supposedly on.

[11] The full body photograph which accompanies this post, taken from the article by La Rocca, somehow manages to display each leg harness on the wrong leg. Alas.

[12] Regarding these maille strips, called valances in English or balzae in Italian, Tobias Capwell states: “The role of Italian armour as a form of body-art comes to the fore when we turn our attention to the mail valances or balzae, short fringes of mail commonly hung below the main poleyn plates on Italian leg armour. These pieces were intrinsically Italian– they almost never appear outside of Italy, except in areas of immediate Italian influence, such as eastern Spain, and in a few cases, the Netherlands. They are emblematic of domestic Italian fashion and set it apart from all other styles”, em Capwell, T. (2017). “Mail and the Knight in Renaissance Italy. Part I”. Em Armi Antiche – Bollettino dell’Accademia di San Marcian. Torino: Chiaramonte, pp. 9-85. In this particular instance, Doctor Capwell seems to have limited the field a bit too much, considering that Portugal wasn’t under “immediate Italian influence” when it came to armour. Let us not forget that the Panel of the Archbishop, of the Saint Vincent Panels, also shows us these valances being worn by a Portuguese knight.


Blair, C. (1958). European Armour circa 1066 to circa 1700. London: B. T. Batsford

Boccia, L. (1982). Le armature di S. Maria delle Grazie di Curtatone di Mantova e l’armatura lombarda del ‘400. Busto Arsizio: Bramante

Breiding, D. (Outubro 2002). “Famous Makers of Arms and Armors and European Centers of Production.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Capwell, T. (2017). “Mail and the Knight in Renaissance Italy. Part I”. Em Armi Antiche – Bollettino dell’Accademia di San Marcian. Torino: Chiaramonte, pp. 9-85.

de Covarrubias y Orozco, S. (1611). Tesoro de la lengua castellana, o española.  Madrid: Luis Sanchez. Disponível em-linha em

García, M. (2004). “Armadura del lugarteniente de Alférez Mayor de Castilla”. In Toletum: boletín de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes y Ciencias Históricas de Toledo (50), pp. 145-176. Available online at

Godoy, J. (1994). “Armadura de Duarte de Almeida”. Em La Paz Y La Guerra En La Epoca Del Tratado De Tordesillas. Madrid: Electa, pp. 308-3011.

La Rocca, D. (2011). “Afonso ‘the African’ and his Army: The Pastrana Tapestries as a Visual Encyclopedia for the Study of Arms and Armour”. In Ibarra, M. A. de B. (2011). The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries, pp. 29-41

Mann, J. (1933). “Notes on the armour worn in Spain from the tenth to the fifteenth century”. In Archaeologia, V. 83, pp. 285-305. London: Society of Antiquaries of London

Pulgar, H. (1780). Crónica de los Señores Reyes Católicos Don Fernando y Doña Isabel de Castilla y de Aragón. Valencia: en la Imprenta de Benito Monfort (date of the first edition: 1490)


(I’d like to acknowledge and thank the efforts of several persons without whom this article wouldn’t have been written:  João Brito, my best mate and companion, for providing me with access to Godoy’s article; Per Lillelund Jensen, for the lovely images and for drawing my attention to Mario García’s article and providing me with valuable measurements;  Santiago Miravalles, for helping me get my hands on a few obscure bits of info; Callum Tostevin-Hall, for certain details on the legs; and to my mates and fellow scholars of Iberian armour, Stan Roberts, Peter Kalkman and Martim Gervais, who provided me with precious details and hours of excellent debate which helped structure the article)



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