November 2, 2008

The Swords of Charlemagne

Author: Lady of Aquitaine

charlemagne-1-sized.jpgCharlemagne came to the throne in 768. He was the son of King Pepin and Big-foot Bertha (yes, this is what his mother was called). He was known as Charles the Great, and he was great in many ways—size, political acumen, ambition and prowess. He was 6’4″ tall which was much taller than most of the men of his time.He loved hunting and competitive games, which probably included a game akin to the joust, and he was the best of swimmers. His swimming pool would hold 100 bathers, because he loved the comraderie with all people. He also loved music, and collected Frankish ballads. He was the most powerful man of his time; he expanded the Frankish kingdom to include the Lombards, the Bavarians, and the Saxons. He was a remarkable man with many talents who relished every moment of his life, including his music, his friends, his games, but most of all he loved swordplay. He insisted that a young age his children be instructed in the use of a sword.

 History and lore attribute three swords to the Emperor, Joyeuse, the Flamberge(“the flame-cutter”) and a sabre which is housed at the Kunsthistoriches museum in Vienna.Charlemagne’s swords were romanced in literature and legend as having a life of their own. His best known sword was called Joyeuse which means joy. Here is the description of the sword from the “Song of Roland” which is a an epic poem of the struggles of a young knight.

 [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 color changed thirty times a day “

Joyeuse is almost a mystical blade that possessed magical powers. Many legends are told about this sword. Some say that it was buried with Charlegmagne. Other bards and story-tellers believe that Joyuese is somewhere in the mist of the lake with Excalibur, Arthur’s sword from Camelot. When Arthur returns, Charlemagne will return with him to assist in reestabling Camelot and and then both men will claim their magical swords. 

The hero in the epic poem “The Song of Roland” also wielded a sword that was attributed to Charlemagne.  Legend has it that Charlemagne gave a massive sword to Roland because of his brave service to the crown.  Roland’s sword also had a life of its own like Excalibur and Joyeuse.  The sword was named Durendal.  At Roland’s tragic death he talked with the sword as if it were an intelligent being. Two centuries later this massive type of sword was later named the Flamberge by Egerton Castle who wrote a history of sword play.

Charlemagne because of his assistance to the pope, when he was incapable of protecting the Holy Roman Empire, was crowned Emperor of this realm.  He was presented a magnificent sabre at his coronation.  He was the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  This coronation sword is the only sword associated with Charlemagne that has been preserved.  The “Saber of Charlemagne the Great” is a vital part of European history, being an important artifact in the Insignia of the Holy Roman Empire.  The Medieval Sword is housed today in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.

Charlemagne possessed the qualities of the ideal Medieval ruler.  He was talented as a musician and bard.  He was the first to collect the folk songs and folk lore of his time. He was a superb athlete.  He had empathy for all people unlike some rulers of this age.  He came to the aid of the church when other leaders would not.  He was the true Renaissance man before the term was coined.


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