(About) The Sword That Resurrected Rome
Charles, King of the Franks, King of the Lombards and Emperor of the Romans is better known to us today as Charlemagne. His enormously energetic 48-year reign marked a watershed in European history, spurring the Carolingian Renaissance and accelerating the end of the obscure Dark Ages: inheriting a burgeoning Frankish kingdom, he conquered Lombard Italy, becoming protector of the Papacy; he invaded Moorish Iberia; he brutally Christianised the Old Saxons to the east; he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 CE, becoming the first recognised inheritor of Roman institutions and culture in the West for more than three centuries. According to later legend, the name of Charlemagne’s sword was Joyeuse, ‘Joyful’, – and a sword purporting to be this very same blade resides in the Louvre today, part of the French imperial regalia that was used in coronations for six centuries. Our Charlemagne Sword is the best Charlemagne sword for sale, since it painstakingly recreates the Louvre Joyeuse, the closest link we have to the great ruler himself.
A Modern Blade for an Ancient Sword
The blade of our Charlemagne Sword has been hand-made by the master swordsmiths at Darksword Armory, as shown by their dragon sejant stamp visible just below the crossguard. Its shape is an early-medieval configuration of Oakeshott Type XII: a long blade with a narrow fuller and edges that are almost parallel, with a somewhat tapered tip. This form of blade would have been familiar to almost all warriors in Europe in the early Middle Ages; it was a deadly weapon of its age, since it would have faced only the light armors of impoverished early-medieval Europe: padded cloth, leather and occasionally a suit of middling-quality mail. It was adapted from Roman spathae by Frankish smiths, and would become notorious as the ‘Viking sword’ in the following centuries.
Darksword Armory use 5160 chromium spring steel in all of their sword blades. But they have a trick up their sleeve – differential tempering. Instead of uniformly heat-treating their blades like they used to, Darksword now treat the cores of their blades to 48-50 HRC, with a hardness of 60 HRC at the edges (equivalent to Category A, professional grade). This means they are able to spring back into shape from a bend of up to 140 degrees! This likely far outstrips any punishment Joyeuse was ever subject to, but it is a fantastic feature for a modern hard-wearing replica.
An Enigmatic Hilt Cast In Solid Bronze
The Charlemagne Sword replica’s hilt is an amazing achievement in itself. Whilst many inferior copies of gold-hilted blades use brass or gold-plated cheap metals, Darksword use the medieval lost-wax process to cast the hilt out of solid bronze, achieving incredible levels of detail. The heavy bar-crossguard features winged monsters; the grip is a lovely geometric pattern, and the exaggerated Brazil-nut pommel features abstract Middle Eastern designs. The sword is made with an extra-wide peened full-tang construction due to its heft. This means that the crossguard, grip and pommel are threaded onto the keyed tang of the blade, and then the end is flattened with a hammer to lock it all securely into place. It also comes with a stunning leather scabbard, and also comes in a range of options: either unsharpened or factory sharp, and with or without a period leather sword-belt.
This sword is a fully battle-ready premium weapon, equivalent in hardness to Category A. Its quality of replication is so painstaking that it would pass in the most stringent re-enactment of the Carolingian court; it would also make a peerless addition to a fantasy costume for a high emperor, and what sword collection could claim to be complete without Joyeuse at its centre? It is one of the very few battle-ready versions of Charlemagne’s sword available, and we are extremely proud to offer it for sale.
The Louvre Joyeuse: the Sword of Charlemagne?
It is a staggering thought that the sword of a 9th-century Holy Roman Emperor could still be on public display more than 1,200 years after their passing. This is precisely what the sword known as ‘Joyeuse’ at the Louvre claims to be, publicly displayed as part of the French royal regalia ever since that royal palace was converted into a public museum during the French Revolution. However, it may be that such a possibility is too good to be true! Academics, archaeologists and historians have locked horns in debate over the veracity of the Louvre Joyeuse ever since. (We could talk forever about Charlemagne’s swords; we have other amazing swords that are inspired more by the myths and legends which surround Charlemagne, such as our Damascus Steel Carolingian Sword – so here we shall be talking exclusively about the historical aspects of the Louvre Joyeuse rather than the fascinating and extensive Carolingian mythology!)
What We Know
We do have a number of solid, documented points where the Louvre Joyeuse touches the historical record. Can we use these points to draw together an unbroken line from Charlemagne to the sword in the Louvre…? No. But we can get pretty close.
A Ghost in the Written Record
Fortunately, Charlemagne is amongst a handful of figures from the Dark Ages (marked by lack of written scholarship rather than cultural backwardness) about who we have good contemporary written sources. By all accounts, Charlemagne sought to create a scholarly and learned court, doubtless with at least one eye on how he would be perceived after his death. One such scholar was Einhard, an Eastern Frank who compiled the Vita Karoli Magni, or the ‘Life of Charlemagne’, a detailed account of Charlemagne’s life. In this, we get astonishingly vivid description of Charlemagne, even down to his habits and dress. We are told that “he always had a sword girt about him, usually one with a gold or silver hilt and belt; he sometimes carried a jewelled sword, but only on great feast-days or at the reception of ambassadors from foreign nations”. The Louvre Joyeuse is a magnificently gilded weapon, but it contains no jewels (aside from a later scabbard) – could it be one of Charlemagne’s functional ‘daywear’ swords?
Joyeuse In The House of Capet
Exactly what happened to Joyeuse after the death of Charlemagne in 814 CE is frustratingly obscure. It is in this historical gap that Charlemagne’s legend grew; indeed, the name Joyeuse for the Charlemagne Sword originates in this period, well after Charlemagne’s death, in the French epic poem the Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland) written in the second half of the 11th-century.
There is speculation that the sword had reappeared by the mid-12th-century and was used at the coronation of Philippe II Auguste, but the first cast-iron mention of a sword identified as ‘Joyeuse’ as part of the French regalia was at the coronation of Philippe III the Bold. It was carried by the Constable of France (the formal commander-in-chief of the King’s military), and was unsheathed and kept upright throughout the ceremony – think of it as a sort of symbolic hold-over from the Roman Praetorian Guard giving personal protection to the Emperor.
In 1505, the monks of Saint-Denis, where the sword was purportedly kept, handed the sword over to the monarch’s personal collections, where it appears in an inventory in 1634. By the late 17th-century, we begin to get detailed representations of the Charlemagne sword in its modern configuration. It is depicted at the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV’s hip in a royal portrait in 1701, as well as with every monarch before the French Revolution. When Louis XVI was deposed by the French Revolution in 1793, the sword was moved into the (mysteriously empty) royal palace at the Louvre, which became a national museum to the glory of the French nation. The sword was used by Napoleon in his coronation as Emperor of France, with every acknowledgment of the historical weight that this implied: treading in Charlemagne’s footsteps by recreating the Roman Empire which Charlemagne himself resurrected. It was used again at the Restoration coronation of Louis XVIII, and was finally used by Charles X in 1825.
What We Can Only Guess
What are we to make of this murky timeline? The chain of provenance – from Charlemagne’s sword hand to the Louvre – is patchy at best. There may be other clues to its origin in its construction.
Traces of a Glorious Past?
All historians who have analysed the blade have concluded that the Louvre Joyeuse is a composite, being made from a blade, crossguard, grip and pommel that all originate separately from different time period, and have been much repaired and altered over the centuries. The prospects of this being ‘the’ Charlemagne Sword starts to look thin – but might there be one or two individual parts which date back to Charlemagne’s time in the 9th-century CE?
Adventurer and art critic Sir Martin Conway examined the sword in 1915 and came to the conclusion that the likeliest possible candidate for any possible link to Charlemagne was the pommel. The grip, he said, had been remade by Napoleon in order to rid it of the Bourbon fleurs-de-lys, whilst the blade was likely a 12th-century creation commensurate with its rediscovery (if not also remade entirely for Napoleon). He drew upon the earlier work of French archaeologist Marcel-Ausguste Dieulafoy, who had done extensive archaeological work in the Middle East, particularly on the Sassanian art found at Susa in modern-day Iraq. The pommel of the Louvre Joyeuse, Conway and Dieulafoy say, is entirely alien to any early- or high-medieval tradition, and much more closely resembles the Sassanian art style. If indeed the pommel is the oldest part of the Charlemagne Sword, then they say, it seems possible that Charlemagne, seeking to display his status as a Roman Emperor whose putative dominion stretched from the Atlantic coast of Frankia into the sands of the Middle East, might commission a Frankish goldsmith to make a pommel for his blade which reflected the exotic style of the Orient.
The Devil in the Details
However, other historians have cast doubt on this early origin. Sir Guy Laking, Keeper of the King’s Armory, Inspector of the Armory at the Wallace Collection and the first Keeper of the London Museum, no less, disagrees in his 1920 treatise encompassing seven centuries of martial equipment. Laking attributes the Louvre Joyeuse’s appearance of an early-medieval blade to a much later blade that has merely been ground down with over-cleaning and polishing for centuries. He points to the two-halved hollow construction of the gold pommel to date it at no earlier than the 12th-century, and posits that this sword was made when it was ‘rediscovered’ in the late 1200s CE, in imitation of ‘the’ Charlemagne sword which might have perished due to ceremonial use. This, he says, explains the strange partially-European art style: that it was likely made by high-medieval smiths from the original degraded metalwork, which was itself a Frankish pastiche of 7th- or 8th-century Sassanian artistic style.
You would be surprised if this article had managed to solve a riddle which has puzzled sword experts and amateur enthusiasts alike for centuries, wouldn’t you! We can make some very good educated guesses at some elements of the Louvre Joyeuse’s life, though. We can be pretty certain that the blade in its modern form dates to the time immediately before its inclusion in the inventories amongst the regalia at Saint Denis in 1634 – the most likely culprit for this is Cardinal Richlieu, who, with an eye for public-facing pomp and statecraft, likely had whatever extant Charlemagne Sword remained extensively renovated, but retaining the earlier pommel in a more-or-less unchanged form.
Further back than that, things get murky. It seems very likely that another turning-point for the sword was its ‘rediscovery’ some time in the 12th– or 13th-century before its definite use in the coronation of Philippe II Auguste. It seems equally possible that the sword that was reconstructed by French royal smiths could have been either a whole reproduction, or incorporated elements of an earlier blade. Yet, even if that is the case, there is no way of even guessing whether that sword was ‘the’ Joyeuse! We are rapidly entering the territory of Theseus’ Ship. Given the lack of early sources identifying any specific qualities or even a name for Joyeuse, gut instinct says that the pommel used was probably from a later Carolingian sword, perhaps one from the court of Otto III, whose lineage was much more direct to the Kings of France.
All this is to say – our reproduction Charlemagne Sword is as close as most of us will ever get to the historical sword of Charlemagne which Einhard himself saw at the Roman Emperor’s hip without grabbing hold of the Louvre Joyeuse – and you’d probably get arrested very quickly by the gendarmes for doing that.
- Total Length: 89 cm
- Blade Length: 70.5 cm
- Blade Width: 5 cm
- Blade Material: 5160 carbon steel
- Blade Hardness: 60 HRC at edge; 48-50 HRC at core
- Hilt Material: Bronze
- Weight: 1.87 kg