The Sword of Charlemagne


I originially intended to title the book The Sword of Charlemagne.  Eventually I decided Betrayal in the Louvre was more fitting.  Nevertheless, the Joyeuse in the Louvresword plays a big role in the story.

The Sword of Charlemagne was made for Charlemagne, and is the sword in the epic poem “Song of Roland.”

There are a considerable number of stories and legends surrounding the famous sword of Charlemagne. Some claim that it was forged to contain the Lance of Longinus within its pommel. The Lance of Longinus being the weapon noted in John 19:34.

“One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water.”

Longinus was a Centurion of the Roman Legions. The lance, also known as the “Spear of Destiny”  Spear of Destiny

It supposedly gives its holder incredible power and makes him or her invincible in battle.

Others claim the sword was smithed from the same medal as Roland’s Durendal. Dunendal being the sword given to Charlemagne by an angle. Charlemagne then gave Dunendal to Roland, who held off and army of a hundred thousand Muslims, allowing Charlemagne and his army to escape a trap. (Apparently, no one ever asked why Charlemagne didn’t turn and attack since one man was doing so well against a hundred thousand…hummm.)

Somewhere along the line the sword was given the name “Joyeuse” or “happy” in French. A fairly lame nic-name for a sword but it’s what we have.

The Song of Roland describes the sword like this:

[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.

Others claim it changes color fifty times a day.

This epic poem describes the Battle of Roncebaux Pass. The battle, fought in 778 is noted for the heroics of Roland, the prefect of Breton March who gallantly gave his life defending the rear of Charlemagne’s army. The Song of Roland was written in the 11th century and is the oldest major work of French literature.

Apparently, Charlemagne was pretty well versed in sword play. Charlemagne supposedly used Joyeuse to behead the Saracen commander Corsuble, saving all of Europe in the process.

He also used the sword to knight his comrade Ogier the Dane. Ogier being the son of Geoffrey, king of Denmark and an ol’ college friend. Knighting Ogier was significant. It seems Charlemagne’s son Charlot had killed Ogier’s son in a fight over a girl. Ogier got upset and tried for seven years to kill Charlemagne. Apparently, they both went to counseling and made up. 

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. In thanks, Charlemagne granted him an estate named Joyeuse. This demonstrated that Charlemagne was a good and loyal friend to his men. The man who rescued the sword was without inheritance and otherwise would have no property. In short, it made for good press.

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. Scientists and historians all have their opinions about the pommel, blade, grip, jewels and other parts of the sword. Some say the sword couldn’t possibly be that of Charlemagne, others aren’t so sure. Me? I like to believe in this sort of thing, after all, when you stop believing in Santa Clause you only get clothes for Christmas.