Is Aragorn Actually the Rightful King?

Warning: Contains politics.

I was going to write this as a fake court decision because the last one was fun to write, but it turns out that U.S. law doesn’t actually apply in Gondor and their supreme court decisions are only rarely available on the Web. And I considered writing it as “historical” fiction, but then I’d have to write characters. So I’ll just explain it directly.

Aragorn, for the none of you who don’t already know, was the Heir of Isildur, the descendant of the old kings who used to rule Gondor literal thousands of years earlier, and is remembered as one of history’s great legendary heroes. In the volume titled “the Return of the King,” he returned and started kinging. But the book skipped over the bit where that was questionably legal.

I’m not just talking about the fact that history is written by the victors (Although, the book that we call the Lord of the Rings was written by a professional scribe hired by Aragorn and based on notes taken by friends of Aragorn, so there is that.) It’s a little-known fact that someone else had tried to claim the throne of Gondor for precisely the same reasons, and got denied because his claim wasn’t good enough.

A thousand years before Aragorn, King Ondoher of Gondor died without an heir. There was a man called Arvedui, a prince of Men in the North, and when he heard that Gondor was short one king, he decided to go claim the throne. He could do that because he was the Heir of Isildur…sound familiar? The problem was that Isildur had been king of Arnor, a kingdom best known for not being Gondor. His brother Anarion ruled Gondor. So Arvedui, descended from Isildur, lost the throne to a second cousin of the recently dead king. (Second cousin once removed, if you’re keeping score.)

Isildur had actually been high king of both kingdoms for a while, but then he gave Gondor to his nephew, meaning there was a bit of confusion about whether the nephew, Meneldil son of Anarion, was king or regent. In 1945 (Arvedui’s lifetime), the Council of Gondor, the closest thing Gondor had to a Supreme Court, said that Meneldil had been king. And so the throne belonged to the nearest living relative of Anarion’s line. By all accounts Earnil was actually a good king, so happy endings all around. (At least for one more generation until the Witch-King annihilated the kingdom of Arnor in the North leaving only a few Rangers and also rendered Earnil’s successor missing-presumed-dead so that Gondor had no king and was ruled by Stewards. Other than that.)

Point is, according to established precedent, being the Heir of Isildur was not enough to claim the throne of Gondor. But Arvedui had another claim: His wife, Firiel, was the daughter of the late Ondoher, so she should become Ruling Queen. And then he would get to be King Consort or something. This was because in Numenor, the lost ancient forerunning kingdom of Gondor and Arnor, women could inherit the throne, so Firiel should inherit the throne of Gondor. This is rather like if someone tried to make an argument from what the legal system was like in Atlantis. The law in Gondor had not yet been settled, but the Council decided to stay sexist. They installed war hero Earnil instead.

About a thousand years later, Aragorn came by with exactly the same claim. He was the Heir of Isildur, he was descended from Arvedui and Firiel, so he was in the direct line from both Isildur and Anarion, and he was a war hero. Unfortunately for him, those exact claims had already been weighed and found wanting when his ancestor tried them.

The Council had said that Arvedui couldn’t be king, so being descended from Arvedui must not be good enough. And Firiel couldn’t rule, so Aragorn couldn’t inherit the kingship from her side either. He argued that he was the heir of Elendil, who was the father of Isildur and Anarion and king of both nations, but since Aragorn was from Isildur’s side of the family and that side has no claim to Gondor’s throne, that shouldn’t have helped. He got away with it because Faramir took his side (Arvedui definitely didn’t have the luxury of being allied with the Steward), but history ultimately forgot about the sketchy legal details.

Aragorn’s claim was ultimately that he might not have been descended from the kings of Gondor, but he was descended from the kings of the United Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor from before the split. And after everybody accepted that claim, he re-founded Arnor and ruled the Re-United Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor. Historically, that wasn’t a good enough claim (remember, it failed when Arvedui tried it), but let’s assume that it was.

Gondor and Arnor were founded by Elendil and his sons when they escaped from Numenor. Numenor was something like Atlantis: A formerly great island nation that descended into less-than-greatness and eventually sank in unusually impressive display of divine retribution. Only the good guys made it out, led by Elendil, and they founded the newer kingdoms to try to preserve some of the good stuff about Numenor. Even in Aragorn’s time, men of Gondor would always look west before every meal, because they were remembering how much better Numenor was.

So if they were going to accept claims of being related to pre-Gondor royalty, why should they have stopped at Elendil? They could have found an heir of Elros Tar-Minyatur himself, the legendary founder of Numenor from before it was corrupted. All the most noble leaders of Men including Aragorn had nearly pure Numenorean blood, and Elros was the original Numenorean. Elros had been dead for most of human history, but his brother was still around. (His brother was an Elf. Don’t ask.) Clearly the most royal ruler possible would be whoever had the nearest kinship to Elros.

Aragorn was a descendent of Elros. History does not record the exact number of generations between them, but it was at least forty-eight. In the year that Aragorn assumed the crown, there was one nearer mortal relative. Elros’ brother was too much of an Elf to want to rule over Men, but his niece was human. (I said don’t ask.) She was more royalty than Aragorn was, and by ancient Numenorean law she could have inherited the throne.

You might think it’s a problem that Aragorn was a descendent of Elros and she wasn’t, but even he isn’t in the direct line of heirs. (One of his ancestors was a sister of the heir and never inherited the scepter). If Aragorn’s claim was being considered, then it must already be decided that it was perfectly fine for the ruler to be from a line of ancestry that diverged from the original way back in the distant past. And if that was acceptable, then the same logic would lead a bit further and point to a different candidate.

You heard it here first, people: Arwen for Queen!

OK, I should probably explain which parts are serious. All the genealogical facts should be accurate. Any mistakes are actual mistakes. The Arvedui incident did happen that way, but since the Council of Gondor doesn’t work by stare decisis, it doesn’t have to be considered binding precedent. So the present Council can ignore the last one if they want to.

(Although, I don’t remember anything in the books about the Council even being asked to confirm Aragorn as king. Maybe it happened off-page, but if it didn’t happen then that would be a big problem. Seems like a mistake that Aragorn wouldn’t make, so I’ll assume it did happen. If it did, that would entirely take care of the legitimacy issue, so it seems like something that shouldn’t have been left out.)

Aragorn is the best available candidate for king, but if they’re going to be a monarchy then he’s probably not good enough. That’s because he isn’t actually descended from Anarion. It would be like if the British royal line died out and they gave the crown to that guy in Australia who’s descended from an alternative line of succession. Except worse. Faramir was the guy who really had the law behind him if he wanted to rule (only as Steward, not king), but he recognized that having Aragorn on the throne would be the best thing for Gondor anyway. And since Aragorn is awesome and I’m not a strict monarchist, I’m not going to say Faramir was wrong.

About Arwen, well, I don’t actually think she has a real claim to the throne of Gondor. Claim to the throne of Numenor, debatably worth mentioning, (if Numenor still existed), although that would actually belong to Aragorn since he’s at least somewhere on a straight line of descent from the kings of Numenor. Or more realistically, there’s some minor character that we’ve never heard of who is also descended from Numenorean royalty (That describes, like, everyone in Gondor) but from a branch that split off later than Aragorn’s did. My point with bringing Arwen into this is that when you start creatively interpreting the law to allow the result you want, it might go a bit farther than you expect. Aragorn is still the best available that we know of.

Elros is irrelevant to the throne of Gondor and was only brought in because I had to make a case for Arwen somehow. But if you’re going to go back before Meneldil to Elendil, there’s no obvious reason why you couldn’t also go back further to Elros. Aragorn still wins, though, because his ancestry diverged from the relevant kings only three thousand years ago, and that’s more recent than anyone else can prove. He really is the best candidate there is, and Arwen’s family tree is just an interesting bit of trivia.

Of course, anyone who managed to slog through all the names probably already identified the problems with Arwen’s “claim,” plus a few more that I don’t know about besides.

Long live the King!


7 thoughts on “Is Aragorn Actually the Rightful King?

  1. Adam H

    I actually already knew this, and IMO it’s one of the more interesting things about the plot of LotR. It answers questions like “why were Denethor and Boromir publicly dismissive of Aragorn” and “why didn’t one of Aragorn’s ancestors become King” and even “why aren’t all the other rangers helping Aragorn?” (because it’s not their fight). Also, Denethor really did have reason to hate and distrust Gandalf.

    So yeah, Aragorn basically was a conqueror more than anything.

  2. Kevin

    very interesting read, somewhat reminds me of the British and French monarchy’s claim over Normandy, (Richard the Lion heart and Edward) so on and so forth:p

  3. ir#

    well if Aragorn wasn’t to be the king then Gondor would never have a king because everyone else descending from Elendil was dead. I believe they simply recognised that having a (very capable) king through a female descendant of Anarion was better than no king at all.

  4. torben

    Very well written indeed.
    But I think, there’s another point to consider: When Arvedui claimed the throne of Gondor, it was the council of Gondor, who said “nope”. In the annals of the kings it is written, that the councils decision was mainly influenced by the steward Pelendur. This remark leads me to believe, that the councils decision wasn’t really in accordance to the law, but that (just like some hundred years later again) Gondor was at that point in desparate need of a capable king who was near and at hand. So it might very well be that the councils decision in the year 1945 was in fact against the law and that Arvedui’s line of argument was perfectly true. In his line of argument he states that Elendil gave Gondor to his sons Isildur and Anarion to rule, but that there was never any intention to separate the two kingdoms. Arvedui claims that when Isildur (who went north to rule arnor which was before ruled by Elendil) left Gondor to his nephew Meneldil he gave it to him the same way Elendil had given Gondor to Isildur and Anarion. That said, Arvedui who is a direct descendant from Isildur is in fact the first in line to inherit the throne of Gondor in his own right. (Second best ruler would have been Firiel, his wife and daughter of dead king Ondoher.)
    And that said, some hundred years later Aragorn, who is a direct descendant from Arvedui is the legally rightful heir to the throne of Gondor (and of Arnor). That also makes clear why Denethor II. and Boromir are a bit pissed when they get to know who Strider really is (=Aragorn).
    And for the question why none of the rangers before Aragorn renewed the claim: On the one hand it’s questionable whether they still knew of their right to be king (since Elrond had to tell Aragorn, who he really was, if I remember correctly). On the other hand time wasn’t yet ready to stand up as new king. There was a very bad guy out in the east and the new king wouldn’t have had the strength to do anything about that – also there was a forsight about the coming of a new king.
    Last point: The annals of the kings are also part of the Lord of the Rings and thus written by Aragorn’s men… so it’s possible that he just invented the part about Pelendurs leading role in the rejection of Arvedui’s claim, so that the stewards are seen in a wrong light and making his claim look even more rightful… but no 🙂
    What do you think about that?


    1. Nate Gabriel Post author

      That it’s a good thing the Council doesn’t actually do binding precedent. If these had been argued in a U.S. court or the ICJ (for some reason), he wouldn’t have had a case. Elendil’s intent is totally on his side, but Arnor’s claim to the throne has already been ruled on.

      That it worked out well for Gondor is pretty clear. Aragorn’s pretty great, and a king who has just won a great battle can usually establish himself without the help of a performing lion (or, since he’s from the Northern Kingdom, unicorn).

      The Pelendur story is almost certainly not fake. Findegil recorded it in F.A. 120, and the Stewards and the King were on great terms by then.

      1. torben

        Being from continental europe I at first didn’t think too much about the possibility that Gondor might have had some form of anglo-american case law (with binding precedent). Here in Switzerland earlier supreme court decisions are oft taken into account in other cases, but the lower courts are only bound to the law, not to the former supreme coourt decisions. The supreme court itself normally sticks to its former decisions (and so can revoke a lower courts decision if the parties take the case to supreme court) unless they assume there has since been a change in the understanding of the law.
        So to me it was a perfectly normal thought that in the days of Aragorn the Council of Gondor didn’t have to come to the same decision as their prdecessors in 1945.
        But thinking about it now I find it almost a little bit strange, since to Tolkien who lived in England was used to the anglo-(american) case law. And it should have been perfectly normal for him to think of the Councils decisions as binding precedents.
        But be it as it may, it’s clear that no one in all of Gondor had any reason to reject Aragorn’s claim after everything had worked out so well 🙂


      2. fantasywind

        I risk the statement that the Council’s ruling was unlawful. First of all Elendil the de facto founder of both kingdoms had status of High King, meaning he was supreme ruler over both realms and when Isildur took up the place of his father, we can say that his descendants, the elder line of the royal family inherited title of High King over Arnor AND Gondor. But since Valandil (the youngest and only surviving son of Isildur) did not try to use that status to influence the governing of Gondor it became customary that both lines ruled separately, but in truth the High Kingship existed. Besides the council had no answer to that very mater, they simply ignored it :).

        “The Council of Gondor answered: “The crown and royalty of Gondor belongs solely to the heirs of Meneldil, son of Anárion, to whom Isildur relinquished this realm. In Gondor this heritage is reckoned through the sons only; and we have not heard that the law is otherwise in Arnor.”
        ‘To this Arvedui replied: “Elendil had two sons, of whom Isildur was the elder and the heir of his father. We have heard that the name of Elendil stands to this day at the head of the line of the Kings of Gondor, since he was accounted the high king of all the lands of the Dúnedain. While Elendil still lived, the conjoint rule in the South was committed to his sons; but when Elendil fell, Isildur departed to take up the high kingship of his father, and committed the rule in the South in like manner to the son of his brother. He did not relinquish his royalty in Gondor, nor intend that the realm of Elendil should be divided for ever.
        ‘”Moreover, in Númenor of old the sceptre descended to the eldest child of the king, whether man or woman. It is true that the law has not been observed in the lands of exile ever troubled by war; but such was the law of our people, to which we now refer, seeing that the sons of Ondoher died childless.”
        To this Gondor made no answer.”

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