Joyeuse – King Charlemagne’s legendary sword

Joyeuse – King Charlemagne’s legendary sword

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Joyeuse is the name tradition attributed to Charlemagne’s personal sword. Some legends claim Joyeuse was forged using shards of the holy Lance of Longinus, the spear that was stabbed into Jesus’ side as he hung dead on the cross. Others say the blade was smithed from the same materials as Roland’s “Durendal” and Ogier’s “Curtana”.

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(Joyeuse displayed in the Louvre)

The 11th century Song of Roland describes the sword:

[Charlemagne] was wearing his fine white coat of mail and his helmet with gold-studded stones; by his side hung Joyeuse, and never was there a sword to match it; its colour changed thirty times a day.

Some seven hundred years later, Bulfinch’s Mythology described Charlemagne using Joyeuse to behead the Saracen commander Corsuble as well as to knight his comrade Ogier the Dane. The town of Joyeuse, in Ardèche, is supposedly named after the sword: Joyeuse was allegedly lost in a battle and retrieved by one of the knights of Charlemagne.

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(Joyeuse exhibited with its 13th century sheath at the Musée de Cluny in 2012)

To thank him, Charlemagne granted him anappanage named Joyeuse. Baligant, a general of the Saracens in The Song of Roland, named his sword Précieuse, in order not to seem inferior to Charlemagne

A sword identified with Charlemagne’s Joyeuse was carried in front of the Coronation processionals for French kings, for the first time in 1270 (Philip III), and for the last time in 1824 (Charles X). The sword was kept in the Saint Denis Basilica since at least 1505, and it was moved to the Louvre in 1793.

This Joyeuse as preserved today is a composite of various parts added over the centuries of use as coronation sword. But at the core, it consists of a medieval blade classified as Oakeshott type XII, mostly dated to about the 10th century.

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(Louis XIV with Joyeuse -Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701-)

Martin Conway argued the blade might date to the early 9th century, opening the possibility that it was indeed the sword of Charlemagne, while Guy Laking dated it to the early 13th century. Some authors have even argued that the medieval blade may have been replaced by a modern replica in 1804 when the sword was prepared for the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Louvre’s official website dates the pommel to the 10th to 11th centuries, the crossguard to the 12th and the scabbard to the 13th century.

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