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Old 02-27-2019, 03:55 PM   #1
R.R.J Tolkien
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Please Help me Understand Gondor Stewardship and Kingship

What is the difference between a steward and a king in authority? Why did Aragorn wait to become king and why did not earlier ancestors take the crown in Gondor.
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Old 02-27-2019, 06:37 PM   #2
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The Steward of Gondor was originally sort of an "underking", charged with aiding the King with day-to-day operations and carrying out his orders.
When King Earnur died, no accepted claimant to the throne could be found, so his Steward acted as regent. That continued until the War of the Ring. The Ruling Stewards were legally only regents until a new King was crowned, though most in Gondor by that time probably thought it would never happen.

The realm in Arnor had no Steward or similar position. Upon King Arvedui's death, it was really just a kingdom in name only. His line continued, though they became "Chieftains", owing to the depopulated nature of Arnor.

As for why Aragorn waited so long, he had Elrond, Gandalf, and history, to guide him.

Elrond told Aragorn he could not be wed to Arwen unless he, as the only living Heir of Elendil, could regain the Crown of Gondor and the Sceptre of Arnor, which of course, could only happen after Sauron was defeated.

A reason his precedents never tried to assert their lineage to Gondor goes back to Arvedui. While he was the king of Arnor, he tried to take the Crown as well, as Elendil's heir and the husband of the sister of the most recent (deceased) king of Gondor. His claim was rejected, and Gondor found someone else.

If Arvedui, as King of Arnor, didn't impress the higher-ups of Gondor, a "chieftain" with no capital city, no fortress, and only the shadow of a fighting force, would have had no chance at the Kingship of Gondor.
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Old 02-27-2019, 07:00 PM   #3
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If Arvedui, as King of Arnor, didn't impress the higher-ups of Gondor, a "chieftain" with no capital city, no fortress, and only the shadow of a fighting force, would have had no chance at the Kingship of Gondor.
Indeed; even Aragorn's claim was unpalatable to Denethor, who knew of his coming, calling him "last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity."

It might also be worth pointing out that as far as the Dúnedain were concerned, the King also held the effective role of "priest" (see Letter 156) and this lapsed with the kingship, not being restored until Aragorn took the throne. This was, according to that letter, because the Kings were the descendants of Lúthien, and thus of Melian, and thus of Eru Himself, in a sense.

As such it appears that while the Stewards held the political authority of the King, they did not hold the spiritual authority, which simply did not exist when the realm had no king. EDIT: I might be wrong about this! See the end of my next post.

(I think this also reflects what Professor Tolkien tells us about Denethor's attitude to the war, ie that he opposed Sauron purely for political rather than spiritual reasons.)
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Old 02-27-2019, 07:17 PM   #4
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Very good and thank you. Question, so the King of Arnor rightly also is king of Gondor? but the king or steward of gondor not the rightful king of Arnor had it survived.
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Old 02-27-2019, 09:10 PM   #5
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Very good and thank you. Question, so the King of Arnor rightly also is king of Gondor? but the king or steward of gondor not the rightful king of Arnor had it survived.
If I understand correctly, it's a bit complicated. The heir of Elendil was High King of the Dúnedain. So while Isildur was, after Elendil's death, King of Arnor and High King of the Dúnedain, at a certain point he gave the Kingship of Gondor over to his nephew Meneldil, Anárion's son. Afterwards, the Lords of Gondor would claim that the King of Gondor had to be descended from Anárion since Isildur gave the Kingship to Anárion's son.

Therefore, unless I'm mistaken, the reason Aragorn was able to claim the kingship of Gondor as well as the High Kingship and kingship of Arnor was because he was descended from Arvedui, King of Arthedain, and Fíriel, Arvedui's wife, who was the daughter of King Ondoher of Gondor. He (and the other chieftains of the Dúnedain in the North before him) were thus descended from the royal families of both kingdoms, from both Isildur and Anárion. (The kingship could pass down through both male and female lines; that was Númenórean tradition, hence the Ruling Queens. The Dúnedain of Middle-earth had simply ceased to observe it – as came up when Arvedui tried to claim the throne of Gondor himself).

Incidentally it seems that after Isildur's death the "High King" position stopped being used until Aragorn restored it. Maybe it was because the Kings of Arnor by that point had no power or influence over Gondor and the wider Dúnedain people. It seems this was something Meneldil desired, as he hoped that "affairs in the North would keep them [Isildur and his sons] long occupied." (Unfinished Tales)

Then again maybe I'm overcomplicating it and by claiming the High Kingship Aragorn was able to just take back the rule of Gondor as the High King of the whole Dúnedain people.

EDIT: I might also be partially wrong about my "the Steward lacked the spiritual authority" thing, because Cirion called upon Eru at the swearing of the Oath of Eorl as the King's representative. Nonetheless Letter 156 suggests that the Steward did not hold the same "priestly" position as the King.
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Old 02-27-2019, 09:26 PM   #6
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Therefore, unless I'm mistaken, the reason Aragorn was able to claim the kingship of Gondor as well as the High Kingship and kingship of Arnor was because he was descended from Arvedui, King of Arthedain, and Fíriel, Arvedui's wife, who was the daughter of King Ondoher of Gondor. He (and the other chieftains of the Dúnedain in the North before him) were thus descended from the royal families of both kingdoms. (The kingship could pass down through both male and female lines; that was Númenórean tradition, hence the Ruling Queens. The Dúnedain of Middle-earth had simply ceased to observe it – as came up when Arvedui claimed the throne of Gondor himself).

Then again maybe I'm overcomplicating it and by claiming the High Kingship he was able to just take back the rule of Gondor as the High King of the whole Dúnedain people.
My understanding was that Anarion's line was dead, there were no descendants of Elendil left in Gondor. Thus, the closest people to the throne by male lineage were the "northern cousins", Isildur's line. However, perhaps my understanding is overly simplistic, and further analysis of family trees and laws of inheritance would prove me wrong.

In truth though, the most immediate reason for why Aragorn got his kingship when he did and why his ancestors failed is because Aragorn earned it. He was not raised to the throne because of Elendil's blood - though that seems to be a necessary prerequisite - but because by the strength of his will, by his deeds, by his extraordinary skill he proved himself to be above other men, he earned the people's love and he proved himself worthy of their ultimate loyalty. Blood alone would only have gotten him as far as the other Chieftans and late Kings of Arnor who were sneered at by the southern kingdom. Meeting the bloodline "prerequisites" made Aragorn eligible to be King, but he was named King because he earned it with his own life and not just with the lives of his ancestors.
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Old 02-28-2019, 04:44 AM   #7
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My understanding was that Anarion's line was dead, there were no descendants of Elendil left in Gondor. Thus, the closest people to the throne by male lineage were the "northern cousins", Isildur's line. However, perhaps my understanding is overly simplistic, and further analysis of family trees and laws of inheritance would prove me wrong.

In truth though, the most immediate reason for why Aragorn got his kingship when he did and why his ancestors failed is because Aragorn earned it. He was not raised to the throne because of Elendil's blood - though that seems to be a necessary prerequisite - but because by the strength of his will, by his deeds, by his extraordinary skill he proved himself to be above other men, he earned the people's love and he proved himself worthy of their ultimate loyalty. Blood alone would only have gotten him as far as the other Chieftans and late Kings of Arnor who were sneered at by the southern kingdom. Meeting the bloodline "prerequisites" made Aragorn eligible to be King, but he was named King because he earned it with his own life and not just with the lives of his ancestors.
My understanding has always been that Aragorn didn't claim the throne of Gondor per se, but the throne of the entire Dunedain kingdom. That included being king of Gondor, but wasn't the same as claiming to be the rightful heir to Anárion (which would have been a tricky proposition, since Gondor had already rejected that claim once).

As for the rest of your post - I agree. Aragorn earned the goodwill to restore the High King position by his actions, not by his ancestors. As Thingol said to Beren waaaay back in the day, 'a father's deeds, even had his service been rendered to me, avail not to win the [throne of Gondor]'.

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EDIT: I might also be partially wrong about my "the Steward lacked the spiritual authority" thing, because Cirion called upon Eru at the swearing of the Oath of Eorl as the King's representative. Nonetheless Letter 156 suggests that the Steward did not hold the same "priestly" position as the King.
It is entirely possible that Cirion was continuing the Stewards' habit of claiming more authority than he rightfully had. Pelendur started this by rejecting Arvedui's claim to the throne for the far weaker one of General Earnil (and by making his own post hereditary, which seems likely to have been a condition of accepting Earnil's claim); Mardil 'the Faithful' continued it by seizing the throne in all but name when Earnur vanished, and ultimately Denethor II capped the whole thing by attempting to prevent the accession of High King Elessar to the throne. It would not be surprising if Cirion - who was already in the middle of selling off a chunk of Gondor to buy an alliance, and relocating the most sacred site in the nation - didn't quite have the divine authority he asserted he did.

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Old 02-28-2019, 06:31 PM   #8
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It is entirely possible that Cirion was continuing the Stewards' habit of claiming more authority than he rightfully had. Pelendur started this by rejecting Arvedui's claim to the throne for the far weaker one of General Earnil (and by making his own post hereditary, which seems likely to have been a condition of accepting Earnil's claim); Mardil 'the Faithful' continued it by seizing the throne in all but name when Earnur vanished, and ultimately Denethor II capped the whole thing by attempting to prevent the accession of High King Elessar to the throne. It would not be surprising if Cirion - who was already in the middle of selling off a chunk of Gondor to buy an alliance, and relocating the most sacred site in the nation - didn't quite have the divine authority he asserted he did.
Yes it's an interesting proposition. Cirion's part of the Oath of Eorl is presented in quite positive language, though: "his oath astounded those who heard it, and filled them with awe, and was alone (over and above the venerable tomb) sufficient to hallow the place where it was spoken." It seems as if Cirion's act was performed in good faith. I agree, however, that the same can't necessarily be said of all the Stewards.
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Old 03-01-2019, 10:21 AM   #9
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It is entirely possible that Cirion was continuing the Stewards' habit of claiming more authority than he rightfully had. Pelendur started this by rejecting Arvedui's claim to the throne for the far weaker one of General Earnil (and by making his own post hereditary, which seems likely to have been a condition of accepting Earnil's claim); Mardil 'the Faithful' continued it by seizing the throne in all but name when Earnur vanished, and ultimately Denethor II capped the whole thing by attempting to prevent the accession of High King Elessar to the throne. It would not be surprising if Cirion - who was already in the middle of selling off a chunk of Gondor to buy an alliance, and relocating the most sacred site in the nation - didn't quite have the divine authority he asserted he did.
I can't really support your judgement of Cirion. I always had the impression that he was a very wise, competent and responsible Steward. In my opinion the gifting of Calenardhon was not a "selling away" (i.e. an almost treasonous dereliction of duty, at least thats almost how it comes across in your post) but a shrewd political move. Yes, it diminished the Realm, but Cirion had no choice, because Gondor was no longer able to maintain and protect that territory, it had neither the population nor the military manpower, and the Rohirrim were more or less in possession of that territory already. In a way Cirion gave something "away" that would be too costly to keep anyway - so why not "give" it to someone who will feel grateful and obligated for the "gift" (that he already possessed, because he just conquered it ...) and who will protect you in the future? Especially if that someone just saved your country from complete annihilation. It was a win-win-situation. Both countries profited from the pact, and Gondor would have surely lost the Siege of Minas Tirith without the help from Rohan.

As Zigur wrote, I too always had the impression that Cirion and Gondor acted in good faith towards Rohan. Gondor did not exploit Rohan, Gondor was not some imperialist oppressor. It was a relationship on an equal footing. Rohan acknowledged Gondor as the superior civilization, but that was not forced by Gondor. At least that is my impression regarding their relationship. Actually, the diplomatic equality is impressive considering the (even in the late Third Age) rather big gulf (in cultural advancement, technology, economy, infrastructure, military power, population numbers, etc.) between Gondor and Rohan. Its actually quite the difference compared to Numenors behavior towards the Men of Middle-Earth. Numenor would have dominated Rohan with an iron fist, it would not have regarded it as an equal.

After reading UT I did not get the impression that Cirion was overstepping his bounds or that he acted irresponsible. His invocation of Eru added the necessary weight and gravitas - and maybe he also did it a bit to impress Eorl, but there is nothing wrong with that, a bit of pomp and grandeur is always helpful in diplomacy. But that doesn't mean that the Oath was a bluff or mere theatrics, it seemed to me like an honest religious act - Cirion was not an imposter or some Easterling, he was a faithful Numenorean, he would not take the Name of Eru (and Elendil) in vain. And if I remember correctly, Tolkien wrote that the Stewards exercised "all the power of the Kings".

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Old 03-01-2019, 10:41 AM   #10
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I can't really support your judgement of Cirion.
I agree, actually -- but.

But, Tolkien wrote a lot of his works as in-universe texts, which means 'Cirion and Eorl' may be presumed to come from a Gondorian source friendly to the steward (who, as you say, cemented a vital alliance by the oath). It would hardly portray him in a negative light - particularly since one of his descendants was still holding the position.

But, while Cirion was absolutely right to do what he did, and granting that he seems to have had the best and purest of motives... that still doesn't mean he had the right to do it. If I ask you to look after my house - or rather, if I ask you to look after my house while I'm away, and then I get kidnapped so you just keep on doing so - that doesn't give you the right to sell off my garden to developers, or move Grandad's ashes from the fireplace to the bedroom. Cirion may legally have had the authority to do what he did, but in a spiritual-ethical-moral sense, I'm not at all sure he did.

Taken to extremes: if Denethor II had made an alliance with Sauron and declared war on Lothlorien, on the grounds that it was in Gondor's best interests, would Aragorn have been bound to honour that alliance, because Denethor had the legal right to make it?

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Old 03-01-2019, 11:37 AM   #11
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I get what you mean, but your analogy is not quite right. You cannot compare the Rohirrim with Sauron. Cirion made a pact with good Men, he did not betray his Faith, the founding mission of Gondor and the vision of Elendil. Elendil would approve, at least thats what I think. An alliance with Mordor however would contradict everything the Faithful Numenoreans, the Founders of Gondor, stood for, it would be the ultimate betrayal. So one could argue that, theoretically, Cirion, as Steward of the King, as a caretaker of the Realm and of royal property, did not have the right to give away territory. So he maybe acted against the letter of his "contract" as a steward, but he did not act against the spirit of his "contract", because the pact between Rohan and Gondor did align with the ethos and the culture of the Faithful. You argued in your post that Cirion may have been right in a legal sense but wrong in a moral sense. But one could also argue that the opposite was the case: that Cirions action was, strictly speaking, maybe legally wrong, but in a spiritual-moral sense right.

It is a matter of perspective. We also have to remember that the good relations between Gondor and the Northmen predated Cirion and existed at least since the Reign of King Romendacil II, who further deepened the relationship between Gondor and the Norhmen and even sent his son Valacar to the North, to learn the language and culture of the Northmen. Valacar even married a northern woman (Vidumavi), and their son King Eldacar won the civil war against the usurper Castamir with the help of said Northmen. Thats over a thousand years prior to the Ride of the Rohirrim! And all the Kings after Eldacar seem to have supported that relationship, for we know that the Northmen helped Gondor multiple times in the Wainrider-Wars (and maybe Gondor would have perished then and there without that help). If we take that long and positive relationship between Gondor and the Northmen into account, a relationship that was started and promoted by the Kings (long before Hurin of Emyn Arnen even became the first Steward from the House of Hurin!), then it seems that Cirions action was more or less the logical endpoint of a (thousand year) long foreign policy direction of Gondor.

And what were the alternatives? What should Cirion have done differently? Just give the Rohirrim some gold and then send them their way? Large parts of Calenardhon were still infested with enemies, it would have taken Gondor several years to completely clear the territory, and after all that labour Gondor would not even have been in a position to effectively maintain Calenardhon. If Cirion had acted that way, then Gondor would have been (on paper) larger in territory, but it would have been weaker overall. And it is also quite possible that the good relationship between Gondor and the Northmen would have suffered if Cirion had demanded that they return home. I guess that Cirion rightly anticipated that it would only be a matter of time until the Easterlings renewed their attack to populate the now almost completely empty Calenardhon. And what will Gondor do then? Again call for the Northmen? How willing would they be then to come again to the help of Gondor? Who would be the better neighbor? Better invite the Rohirrim now, than to risk a perhaps unavoidable takeover by the Easterlings in a few decades. In my opinion it was the more prudent decision to accept the Rohirrim as neighbors now, than to leave the territory empty, a defenseless victim for a future takeover.

So, even if Cirions decision might have been "wrong" in a legal or moral sense, he could not have taken another decision from Gondors perspective. Cirions decision safeguarded the future existence of not only Gondor but of all the western lands behind the Anduin. Cirion is a mortal, he lived in the here and now and he was responsible for millions of humans. He simply did not have the luxury do expel the Rohirrim only to satisfy some legalist interpretation of his responsibilities without any real-world benefits. How would that have helped the People of Gondor?

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Old 03-01-2019, 06:24 PM   #12
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I feel that Cirion's choice to give away Calenardhon is only immoral if you consider Gondor's ancient borders as something sacred or set in stone, something that cannot be changed. But what's in a border? What use are the old borders to a country that's shrunken to a third - if not less - of its size? Gondor already gave up most of its land, in fact if not in law. They old borders mean something in their tradition - Boromir's horn is supposed to be heard anywhere inside the old boundaries, and Faramir gives Frodo leave to pass on old Gondorian lands that really aren't in their control anymore. But the reality is that Gondor lives on a fraction of its former land, and land without inhabitants cannot be claimed by said inhabitants. The old boundaries mean something in tradition, but they are a relic that did not reflect the newer times - and will not reflect Aragorn's times either since it seems like his realm would be much wider and possibly eventually include all lands west of Rhun. So is there anything inherently unchangeable about Gondor's borders?

If the issue in question is not in the borders themselves but in Cirion - that it was not within his rights to give away land that was not his - I would argue against that for two reasons. First, the Stewards are not supposed to preserve Gondor in a cocoon and prevent any change, to keep it exactly as it was in the days of the king. They are supposed to rule Gondor as a king would rule it, and to rule it in its best interests. Best interests don't always include territorial expansion. Secondly, I see the gift not as giving away land, but as gaining an ally. Gondor could not populate Calenardhon. The land is or will soon be lost anyways. But the oath Cirion and Eorl gave makes Rohan an eternal friend to Gondor. So yes, the land is given to a new set of inhabitants, but if you think about is in terms of political alignment rather than race Cirion actually made Gondor stronger. Where it used to have the power of one nation, it now has two, and someone to cover their back. The land is still serving Gondor's prosperity even under the complete control of the Rohirrim by nature of their oath. It's not really a gift, and it's not a lease, but it's something in between that hangs on the good faith of the rulers of both countries.
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Old 03-01-2019, 09:47 PM   #13
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Cirion's decision was realpolitik. He granted Calenardhon to Eorl because he could not hold it. Better to gain fealty from an ally than have the land overrun by Easterlings. Cirion's decision proved farsighted. It's certainly not something a Denethor II would have done.
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Old 03-02-2019, 07:29 AM   #14
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Cirion's decision was realpolitik. He granted Calenardhon to Eorl because he could not hold it. Better to gain fealty from an ally than have the land overrun by Easterlings. Cirion's decision proved farsighted. It's certainly not something a Denethor II would have done.
Well, Cirion and Eorl does acknowledge that Cirion didn't make the offer solely from the goodness, of his heart; he did, though, genuinely have an affection for Eorl and his people, and wanted to give them some great reward.

I think Denethor might have done the same, though the potential benefit to Gondor would have been the driving factor.
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Old 03-03-2019, 05:18 PM   #15
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Pelendur started this by rejecting Arvedui's claim to the throne for the far weaker one of General Earnil
Far weaker? Not at all. Earnil was a direct descendant of Anarion, which Arvedui wasn't. Note that while Arvedui's son theoretically might have claimed distaff descent via his mother, Arvedui could hardly do so in right of his wife. Besides, as far as mighty Gondor was concerned, Arvedui was already "last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity." It was probably seen as nearly as risible as some Holy Roman Emperor claiming the Byzantine throne.

When Earnil's son Earnur died without issue, matters had changed because apparently "descendants of Anarion" was now a null set. But by this time Arvedui was dead and Arnor no more.
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Old 03-25-2019, 03:33 AM   #16
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It is entirely possible that Cirion was continuing the Stewards' habit of claiming more authority than he rightfully had. Pelendur started this by rejecting Arvedui's claim to the throne for the far weaker one of General Earnil (and by making his own post hereditary, which seems likely to have been a condition of accepting Earnil's claim); Mardil 'the Faithful' continued it by seizing the throne in all but name when Earnur vanished, and ultimately Denethor II capped the whole thing by attempting to prevent the accession of High King Elessar to the throne. It would not be surprising if Cirion - who was already in the middle of selling off a chunk of Gondor to buy an alliance, and relocating the most sacred site in the nation - didn't quite have the divine authority he asserted he did.
While I do actually agree with the various points that have been made in response to this, including William Cloud Hicklin's point that the utter lack of female inheritance in Gondor means Arvedui really didn't have much of a claim on the throne through his wife, and the ragged state of Arthedain meant a high kingship claim wasn't going to fly... I have just uncovered yet another possible instance of the Stewards of Gondor overstepping their bounds.

It's 1636. Two years ago, King Minardil was killed by the great-grandsons of Castamir the Usurper, who pulled off a highly successful raid on Pelargir. His son, Telemnar, is on the throne... but the Great Plague hits. Telemnar and his family die. His brother, Minastan, also apparently dies. The heir to the throne is his son, Tarondor, who never expected to hold it.

Except... Sangahyando and Angamaitë, Castamir's descendents, also have a claim. They too are a younger branch of the royal line, one that branched off a few generations earlier. Unlike Telemnar, they have only Numenorean blood - that was the whole point of Castamir's revolt, that by marrying a princess of Rhovanion his cousin Valacar had sullied the bloodline (and you know, you know that there were still Gondorians who agreed with that). And at a time when Gondor was crippled by plague, Umbar was still strong - it had, after all, taken a military victory over Gondor just two years earlier.

There are no direct hints in Tolkien's writings that the Steward considered handing the throne to the Umbar line. Except... other than his death, one of the only things said about Minardil on the wiki is that after his reign, the kings 'always chose their stewards from among Húrin [of Emyn Arnen]'s descendants'.

It does not take a lot of imagination to picture Steward Húrin going to Prince Tarondor, hiding from the plague in Minas Anor, and saying, "There's a faction - a powerful faction - that wants to pass you over. The Usurper's descendents are strong - they could renew the watch on Mordor, and repopulate Osgiliath - and then there is the matter of your however-many-times-great grandmother.

"Of course I'm on your side - of course I am - and I'm sure I can bring the council around. But first... first I need you to promise something."

Of course, it could be a coincidence that the two changes in the hereditary nature of the Stewardship both come at times when the direct royal line is extinct, and there's a decent second claimant available. But I'm not sure I'd bet a silver castar on it.

hS, Chair of the Committee for Stewardly Misconduct (I guess)
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Old 03-26-2019, 04:10 PM   #17
William Cloud Hicklin
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It's rather an interesting question whether the Kingdoms in Exile continued the Numenorean practice of straight primogeniture, or rather adopted a full- or semi-Salic rule. It does appear that when Earnil died, there were descendants of Anarion kicking around but they were disqualified; I doubt this was due to "impure blood," given Valacar, so I think it could only be explained by distaff descent.

Unlike Numenor, Arnor and Gondor were kingdoms perpetually at war and their kings were expected to lead their armies. This being the Tolkienverse, there weren't going to be warrior queens Xena-ing their way through the legions of Orcs. (T. himself neatly sidestepped the issue by providing every king/chieftain with an eldest son, or no children but a nephew).

It's worth recalling that the rather surprising change to the Numenorean succession law in the time of Aldarion was Tolkien's awkward way of making a retroactive case that Silmarien was kinda sorta the true heiress and so Elendil had a spiritually superior title to Pharazon.

It does appear that the Noldor practiced Salic succession; neither Galadriel nor Idril's grandson/Elwing's son Elrond ever claimed the crown. Of course, it could simply be that after Gil-Galad's fall there weren't enough Noldor left to constitute a kingdom, sort of like the northern Dunedain after Arvedui.
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