An outline theory is given for the strengthening in polycrystalline and ‘single crystal’ multilayers. The model is based on the Hall-Petch theory applied to both the soft mode (in plane) and hard mode (cross plane) of deformation. In this theory the parameters to be evaluated are a Taylor factor M, the shear stress τ0 to move a dislocation within a multilayer and τ*, the shear stress needed to push a dislocation over a grain or interphase boundary. All three parameters are material- specific and attention is focussed on coherent multilayers of γ TiAl with micron thick layers and Cu-Ni with nanometer thick layers. M and some components of τ* are estimated classically. The remaining components of τ* and some components of τ0 are estimated from embedded atom simulations. The model captures the main experimental facts, that γTiAl is plastically very anisotropic with a rising yield stress as the lamellar thickness is refined and that Cu-Ni displays a peak in the yield stress at a layer thickness of approximately 10nm.