In Tolkien’s universe, the swords often have names and a history attached to them. This is found in a long list of medieval stories, chronicles and legends. One of the most famous is about the sword Excalibur – the Sword in the Stone. Arthur, who otherwise comes from a poor background, is the only one who can pull the sword out of the stone, showing himself to be the next king of England. In England, Edward the Confessor’s sword, the Sword of Mercy, which was broken by an angel to avoid unjust bloodshed, is still a part of the British coronation ceremony.
Charlemagne also had a famous sword, “Joyeuse”, which according to the Song of Roland (poem from c. 1100) changed colour 30 times a day. It has since been used in the French coronation ceremony. Equally famous are Durendal and Curtana, the swords of Charlemagne’s heroes Roland and Holger Danske. They are said to be forged from the same steel. Curtana was said to have originally belonged to Tristan (from the story of Tristan and Isolde), but was made smaller to fit Holger Danske.
In Scandinavia, Vølsungesaga tells of how Odin sticks a sword through a solid oak beam and no one can pull it out, apart from Sigmund, thus showing himself to be the gods’ chosen warrior. He is later killed by Odin in battle, and the sword breaks. Legend has it that Sigmund’s son will win greater adulation than any other man with the reforged sword. Seen from a Tolkien perspective, there are obvious references to the reforged sword Narsil used by Aragorn to regain his royal title and oust Sauron’s evil.
Finally, there is the Danish Prince Sweyne, who died in Asia Minor during the First Crusade. A poem about the Crusade from the late 16th century tells of the sword of the Danish Prince Sweyne. It was recovered and given to a German knight named Rinaldo to avenge the death of Sweyne. In Rinaldo’s hand, the sword was the first Christian sword to come over the walls of Jerusalem when the city fell to the Crusaders in 1099. The story was fully utilised by Christian IV in Denmark (1588–1648). He had a large painting done, showing the discovery of Sweyne’s sword. It is probably the sword which is part of the chivalric order ordained by the king, called “Den Væbnede Arm” (the armoured arm).