Curtana, also known as the Sword of Mercy, is a ceremonial sword used at the coronation of British kings and queens. One of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, its end is blunt and squared, said to symbolize mercy. It is linked to the legendary sword carried by Tristan and Ogier the Dane.
A coronation sword named "Curtana" is first documented during the reign of Henry III of England as one of the three swords employed in the coronation of Queen Eleanor of Provence in 1236. The name is probably intended to imply "shortness", as the end is cut off. The coronation tradition involving three swords dates back at least to Richard I, though the individual swords' meanings changed over time.
Henry III's Curtana was said to have been the sword of the legendary knight Tristan. This connection may have come about due to its broken end, as Tristan was said to have left a piece of his sword in the skull of Morholt. A sword named "Cortana", "Curtana", etc., was also attributed to Ogier the Dane, one of Charlemagne's paladins in the Matter of France. According to the legend, it bore the inscription "My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal." The 13th-century Prose Tristan states that Ogier inherited Tristan's sword, shortening it and naming it Cortaine; this suggests the author knew the tradition connecting Henry's Curtana to Tristan.
The meaning attributed to Curtana and the other two British coronation swords shifted over time. During the coronation of Henry VI, Curtana was evidently considered the "Sword of Justice", while a second sword was the "Sword of the Church". Eventually, however, Curtana's blunt edge was taken to represent mercy, and it thus came to be known as the Sword of Mercy. Henry VI's coronation featured Curtana as the Sword of Mercy along with two other swords: the Sword of Temporal Justice and the Sword of Spiritual Justice; these designations remain today.
Until the 14th century, it was the job of the Earl of Chester to carry the sword before the monarch at his or her coronation. Today, another high-ranking peer of the realm is chosen by the monarch for this privilege.
- Christopher Harper-Bill; Ruth Harvey (1990). The Ideals and Practice of Medieval Knighthood III. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 132–134. ISBN 978-0-85115-265-3.
- Leopold George Wickham Legg (1901). English Coronation Records. A. Constable & Co. pp. 23–25. ASIN B002WTYP2Q.
- Thomas Bulfinch (1999). Bulfinch's Mythology: Legends of Charlemagne. Random House. p. 1247. ISBN 978-0-679-64001-1.
- Edmund Garratt Gardner (2003). Arthurian Legend in Italian Literature (1930). Kessinger Publishing. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-7661-5870-2.
- Sir George Younghusband; Cyril Davenport (1919). The Crown Jewels of England. Cassell & Co. p. 38. ASIN B00086FM86.