Charlemagne was born in 742 AD. He grew up to become one of the most memorable leaders of all time. He became ruler of the Franks in 768 with his brother, who died in 771. Charlemagne quickly began warring with the Saxons and the Lombards. Lucky for him, he defeated enemies of the Pope and was declared Champion of the Catholic Church in 774. In 800, he became the Emperor of Rome. Many things about Charlemagne’s reign as King and as Emperor are memorable; among them is the legend of his sword – Joyeuse or “Joyful.” Some believe that sword went on to become the French coronation sword, which is now housed in the Musee du Louvre.
Over time, Joyeuse became clouded in legend. It appeared in many stories and in “The Song of Roland.” One legend regarding the sword is that the Spear of Destiny was forged within Joyeuse. If so, chances are that the sword known as Charlemagne’s sword is not the one in question. It is already unlikely that this legend is true. On top of that, the sword kept in the Musee du Louvre has been altered so many times during its known history that it is nearly certain there are no mysterious objects within it. Chances are that neither Joyeuse nor the Spear of Destiny has survived all this time, if either ever existed. (For the purposes of this article, the sword will be referred to as Charlemagne’s sword, regardless of its authenticity or lack thereof.)
The known history of Charlemagne’s sword in the Louvre began in 1270. That year, it was used at the coronation ceremony of King Philip the Bold. Where it was housed at that time is a mystery. We know that the monks at the Saint-Denis monastery kept it from at least 1505 until December 5, 1793, when it was moved to the Louvre.
The hilt of Charlemagne’s sword is gold. The grip once featured fleur-de-lis, but these were removed for the coronation of Napoleon I in 1801. Two dragons form the cross section. Their eyes are of lapis lazuli. Some believe the blade is of medieval origin, while others believe the current blade was made in 1804. The scabbard is almost certainly from after Charlemagne’s time. It is silver and adorned with gems, fleur-de-lis and purple velvet.
Experts disagree on the age of the coronation sword. The sword would have to be about 1,200 years old to have belonged to Charlemagne. Those who have studied it at the Louvre date it to the early 13th century, which would have it made right about the time it shows up clearly in written history (the coronation of Philip the Bold). Others believe that at least some of the sword is old enough to put it around Charlemagne’s time. Other dates arise in reference to Charlemagne’s sword, as well. Unfortunately, there is no other sword like it, so it is very difficult for experts to date properly. If the design were more obviously of a specific period, it would be easier, but, alas, it is not.
As it stands, Charlemagne’s sword will have to remain the stuff of legend. Even if the Louvre’s French coronation sword is the real deal, we have no way of knowing for sure. Nevertheless, the coronation sword has some rich history of its own, with or without Charlemagne’s name behind it.
Hellqvist, Bjorn, The Sword of Charlemagne, retrieved 11/11/10, myarmoury.com/feature_charlemagne.html