Curtana, also known as Sword of Mercy, is a ceremonial sword used in the coronation of the British monarchs. 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 sharply pointed Sword of Justice to the Temporality and the more obtuse Sword of Justice to the Spirituality. These designations remain today.
Curtana and its legendary predecessors have entered into popular culture. The artificial intelligence character Cortana in the Halo video game franchise is named after the historical and legendary sword.
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- Harper-Bill, Christopher, and Ruth Harvey (1990). The Ideals and Practice of Medieval Knighthood III, p. 132, 134. Boydell Press. ISBN 0851152651.
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