I was listening to a novel from the St Mary’s Chronicles, and a plot hook linked to Cornwall emerged. Let’s harvest it for the gazetteer.

Curtana, the sword of Tristram, Prince of Lyonesse, was in the English royal treasury until 1215 when it was lost, along with most of the portable wealth of King John, as his baggage train tried to cross a marshy area, called the Wash, during a storm. The sword was taken by the waters, as well as the king’s hopes of defeating his many enemies, and he died slightly afterward.

This was one of the swords made by Wayland Smith, a faerie god or Sandinavian magus trained by dwarfs. Its more famous brothers are Joyeuse, which was wielded by Charlemagne, and Durendal, which was carried by Roland. In the Roland cycle is is carried by Ogier the Dane, and called Cortain. It had an inscription stating it was made at the same time, of the same metal, as the other two. It’s hard to understand how Durendal, which had the power of splitting boulders, and Curtana, which left part of its tip in a man’s skull, could be of the same metal, but this missing chip is one of Curtana’s defining characteristics.

Curtana is named from the Latin “curtus”, which means “short”. A copy of it, under the same name, is still used in the regalia when crowning a monarch of the United Kingdom: it’s the Sword of Mercy, with the tip squared off. In 1220 it did not represent mercy. In the time of Henry V (1400s) it was called the Sword of Justice. Onje modern scholar suggests it was used in the proclaiming of (then prince) John as lord of Ireland in 1177 because the tip was said to have been left in the head of a gigantic Irish knight.

Finding the lost treasures in the Wash is a plot hook I’ve sold to Atlas before, and I believe David put it in The Heirs to Merlin as well. People can’t just leave about  that much money lying about without roleplaying authors putting monsters on top of it and suggesting your characters buy a boat. The interesting idea which came up in the St Mary’s series is that the treasure was not lost, it was stolen by John himself, to allow him to pay his mercenaries without being seen to give away his grandmother Matilda’s Imperial regalia. The St Mary’s story has a caper within a caper where some time travelling historians steal the sword from John’s removalists.

The author, Jodi Taylor, doesn’t cite her sources, but even the most cursory research indicates that John’s son, Henry III, used a sword he claimed was the same when he married, and then crowned, Eleanor of Provence in 1236. How could he have a sword his father claimed was lost n the Wash? It’s unlikely to be one of the faerie swords that turn up around heroes, because the process of coronation always occurs in a high Divine aura, surrounded by relics. The brother swords also both have potent relics in their pommels (the tooth of Saint Peter and the spearhead of Longius among other things) Henry might have just had a second one made. Possibly, though, Taylor’s story has the right or it: John stole his own crown jewels.

Tristram’s sword seems a useful tool in the quest for Lyonesse. Can a sword be a key, allowing the rightful prince to return to the sunken realm? How do you steal or borrow it from the king?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons



One thought on “Cornwall: The Sword of Tristram

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