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In a recent post to The Toast, Austin Gilkeson argues that Aragorn, son of Arathorn's claim to Gondor's throne is invalid. The author goes into various details, but the core argument is:

Gondor’s own laws and rulers even recognized how ridiculous Aragorn’s claim was. Arvedui, the last king of Arnor before he drowned in a shipwreck, once claimed the throne of Gondor, but the Council of Gondor rightly rejected him, saying the royal line of Gondor was descended from Anárion, not Isildur. Aragorn, like a many an illegitimate dictator before him, was only able to seize power due to the breakdown of law and society during the great crisis of the War of the Ring. Even then, with the doom of Gondor looming, Denethor the Steward of Gondor told Gandalf he wouldn’t bow to Aragorn, “last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.” (Denethor may have been Middle-earth’s Worst Dad Ever, but he had a point there: Aragorn came from royal stock, but the only thing his family had administered for a thousand years was a forlorn wilderness full of ruins, wolves, and trolls that talked like Victorian gutter urchins.)

Is this assessment accurate? Was Aragorn's claim to the throne invalid, and his ascendancy to King-hood only successful due to the chaos of the war? Or would he have become King if the laws of Gondor were applied normally?

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The claim would have been invalid, but he had the right sword. A shaky claim to the throne is insufficient on its own, but a shaky claim PLUS the right sword is all you need to become king. – Wad Cheber Jan 20 at 0:57
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@WadCheber Strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony! – user1027 Jan 20 at 0:58
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@Keen Not in Middle Earth. As it happens, though, Aragorn certainly had a mandate from the masses, much more than Denethor ever did. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 20 at 4:37
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Also, Denethor killed himself, so he's not around to complain any more. Nobody else seemed to have a problem with it. – Darrel Hoffman Jan 20 at 14:41
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I suppose this question is asked in-universe, I will add nonetheless that I would assume Tolkien considered it legitimate. I doubt he wrote 1000 pages to plant a usurper on the throne of Gondor. – Dan Barron Jan 21 at 22:45
up vote 242 down vote accepted

TL;DR Version: Yes, it was absolutely, without question, certainly legitimate, and in any case, there were no other potential claimants to compete with him.

Aragorn's claim isn't as strong as one might wish for, but it is unquestionably legitimate. And besides that, he has something his predecessors didn't - popular support, both among the commoners and the lesser royalty and nobles of Gondor and Rohan, and the Dúnedain of the North. And more importantly, he is the only option; unlike Arvedui's situation, there is no rival claimant. It's Aragorn or nothing.

The suggestion that Aragorn's claim is illegitimate rests on the idea that kingship in Gondor was solely dependent upon the male line, not the female line (i.e., father to son, not father to daughter). As we will see below, this simply isn't true - the lineage of the kings of Númenor, and their descendants in Gondor and Arnor, was legally passed down through both male and female descendants, although the former was usually preferred; this had "never [been] observed" in Gondor and Arnor, but there is no reason to believe it was no longer the law.

When Arvedui's claim to the throne was rejected on the basis of his lineage via a female, he made exactly this argument, and the Steward Pelendur and the Dúnedain, who were responsible for choosing the heir, didn't respond (because they knew he was right) - they simply chose his rival because they liked him more. This chain of events is impossible in Aragorn's case, because there is no one arguing against him, and his claim is unchallenged - he has no rival. If Gondor rejects Aragorn's claim, it is highly unlikely that it will ever be ruled by a king again.


Long version:


Word of God:

Aragorn thus claimed the right to take the Orthanc-stone into his possession... because he was de jure1 the rightful King of both Gondor and Arnor.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales: The Palantíri

Obviously, this is enough to prove that Aragorn's claim was legitimate, but I've never let a simple sentence that amounts to a conclusive Word of God answer stand in the way of a long-winded diatribe, so I'll keep going.


Aragorn's ancestry:

Note: For a thorough study of Aragorn's ancestry, see Jason Baker's exemplary answer here: How much Elven ancestry does Aragorn have?

Aragorn's claim to the throne of Arnor can be traced through the tables of the Rangers, Kings of Arthedain & Kings of Arnor. His position as heir to the throne of Arnor is straightforward, for the line is unbroken back to Elendil, the founder and first ruler of the Northern Númenórean 'exile' kingdom. Although Isildur, Elendil's elder son, was first joint King of Gondor, he was on his way to take up the throne of Arnor when ambushed and slain following the death of his father, Elendil. By the time Andúril is reforged for Aragorn, Arnor had of course long since ceased to exist as a kingdom. There are also no other claimants, the lines of the kings of Rhudaur & Cardolan having failed.

Aragorn's claim to the throne of Gondor is less obvious. It rests upon his claim to be the rightful Heir of Isildur, and upon the right of Isildur's Line to claim the throne.

Isildur's departure from Gondor to take up the throne of Arnor following the death of his father, Elendil The Tall, left the throne in the hands of Anárion (his younger brother). From then on the royal lines of both kingdoms effectively split into the Northern and Southern Dúnedain. The distinction is made clear by the argument over the throne of Gondor which arose after the marriage of the last Arnorian king, Arvedui of Arthedain, to Firiel, daughter of Ondoher (the 31st king of Gondor). On the death of Ondoher and his sons, Arvedui believed this gave him sufficient reason to claim the throne of Gondor. The claim was rejected by the Council of Gondor, who chose Eärnil (a descendant of king Telumehtar). In the event, Arvedui could not pursue his case at the time.

Neverthless, Aragorn is the sole direct male descendent of the Line of Elendil. Moreover, Isildur did not renounce the throne of Gondor, which he held jointly with his brother.. The Southern Kingdom was originally divided into two, with Isildur based at Minas Ithil in Ithilien and Anárion at Minas Anor; the building of its capital at Osgiliath in the middle of the River Anduin was a compromise, albeit one which in practical terms could only serve as the demarcation point between the two parts whilst both brothers were present.
- Source

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The case is clear: Aragorn's family tree proves that he is descended from both Isildur AND Anárion. His link to Anárion is through a female ancestor (Fíriel), and if there was a rival claimant who was related to Anárion through a male, Aragorn's claim would be the weaker. But there is no rival, so the gender of his ancestral link to Anárion is irrelevant.

Although this wouldn't have entered into the equation, it is still worth noting that Aragorn has blood not only from the Númenóreans, and not only from the elves via Elros - he also has Maiar blood in his veins. Jason Baker's brilliant answer here says:

Since Lúthien's mother Melian was a Maiar, we can use this same formula to determine that Aragorn is 1/(2^66)=1.355x10^-20=0.000000000000000001355% Maiar.

Considering Tolkien's statement that the Maiar (aside from Sauron) are essentially angels, Aragorn is part angel.


Arvedui, Eärnil, Anárion, and Isildur:

Arvedui's claim was rejected for a couple of reasons:

  1. Because it was deemed (by the Dúnedain) to be inferior to the claim of Eärnil, by virtue of the latter's descent from Anárion; Arvedui, on the other hand, was descended from Isildur.

  2. Because Pelendur the Steward, and the Dúnedain, liked Eärnil more.

On the death of Ondoher and his sons, Arvedui of the North-kingdom claimed the crown of Gondor, as the direct descendant of Isildur, and as the husband of Fíriel, only surviving child of Ondoher. The claim was rejected. In this Pelendur, the Steward of King Ondoher, played the chief part.

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. The crown was claimed by Eärnil, the victorious captain; and it was granted to him with the approval of all the Dúnedain in Gondor, since he was of the royal house. He was the son of Siriondil, son of Calimmacil, son of Arciryas brother of Narmacil II. Arvedui did not press his claim; for he had neither the power nor the will to oppose the choice of the Dúnedain of Gondor; yet the claim was never forgotten by his descendants even when their kingship had passed away. For the time was now drawing near when the North-kingdom would come to an end.
- JRR Tolkien, Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion

This boils down to two justifications for giving Eärnil the crown:

  • He was deemed the better of two candidates, according to the Pelendur Steward's and the Dúnedain's interpretation of the law

  • He was more popular. Note that Gondor didn't answer Arvedui's excellent argument - they just ignored him and gave the crown to his rival. They might as well have admitted the truth: "There is no reason to bar an heir of Isildur from the throne, and the suggestion that descent from Anárion is superior to descent from Isildur is silly - we just don't like you as much as we like him".

Neither of these factors can come into play against Aragorn, because he's the only potential heir, and he is almost universally loved.


Arvedui and Aragorn:

So why was Arvedui's claim rejected and Aragorn's accepted, despite the fact that Arvedui's claim was clearly much stronger? Simple:

  • Arvedui had competition, Aragorn didn't. The circumstances couldn't be more different: Arvedui vs. Eärnil; Aragorn vs. nobody.

    • Arvedui's claim was deemed weaker than Eärnil's because Arvedui's lineage passed through a woman, and Eärnil's passed through a man. Although a male lineage was superior to a female lineage, and a firstborn son is superior to subsequent sons, this isn't relevant in Aragorn's situation, because a closer female lineage and a more distant male lineage is better than nothing at all. Aragorn is competing with no one.
  • Back then, the Steward Pelendur - the chief arbiter of Arvedui's claim - preferred Eärnil to Arvedui; now, the Steward Faramir supports Aragorn wholeheartedly.

    • Were Denethor still alive, he would almost certainly have resisted Aragorn's claim, but he would just as surely be forced to step aside and accept Aragorn as king sooner than later, because there was a phenomenal amount of pressure for Aragorn to take the throne. But Denethor died, of course, and his son Faramir literally owes his life to Aragorn. Even if Aragorn hadn't saved Faramir's life, Faramir wouldn't have opposed him - Faramir is too humble and decent to do something as petty as denying Gondor its long-awaited king just to keep the Stewardship to himself.
  • The Dúnedain supported Eärnil and rejected Arvedui a thousand years ago, but now, they all support Aragorn and reject... not having a king at all.

    • It appears that Arvedui never had the support of the Dúnedain; Aragorn does. Aragorn had the support of the Dúnedain of the North (i.e., the Rangers of the North) all along, and he led them for decades; the Dúnedain of the South (i.e., the Rangers of Ithilien, under Faramir) quickly came to support Aragorn when he showed his merits and defended Gondor. Thus, he had enjoyed the support of half the Dúnedain his whole life, and after Pelennor, he received the support of the rest.
  • Arvedui wasn't popular in Gondor, as far as we can tell, whereas Eärnil was a beloved and celebrated war hero; Aragorn is enormously popular in Gondor after Pelennor, and was indeed a (the?) hero of the battle.

    • Arvedui wasn't particularly important to Gondor. We have no reason to think he had done anything for them, and he certainly didn't do as much for Gondor as Eärnil had. The people of Gondor knew that, without Aragorn's help, they would have been massacred.
  • The nobility and lesser royalty of Gondor appear to have supported Eärnil unanimously, and rejected Arvedui; the nobility and lesser royalty of Gondor (and even Rohan) unanimously support Aragorn.

    • The account of Arvedui's attempt to claim the throne gives one the impression that he had no one on his side. We know for a fact that when Aragorn claimed the throne, everyone who mattered was with him - Prince Imrahil, King Éomer, Faramir the Steward, Lord Elrond, Lady Éowyn, even Gandalf. More on this below.
  • Pelendur and the Dúnedain felt that Arvedui's kingdom of Arthedain was less impressive than Eärnil's exploits as Captain of the Southern Armies against the Wainriders of Rhovanion, the Easterlings, and the Haradrim; Aragorn has achieved victories far more impressive than Eärnil's.


Aragorn' support base:

It’s pretty interesting comparing Arvedui and Aragorn, since the two were similar in that both were kings of Arnor (or would have been, in Aragorn’s case), and both made a claim for the throne of Gondor as well. Their reasoning was the same in both cases - Arnor was ruled by the descendants of Isildur. Gondor was ruled by the descendants of Anárion. Since Isildur and Anárion were brothers, one ruling family was related to the other. The difference between Arvedui and Aragorn, though, is how their respective claims were answered.

Arvedui made a claim for Gondor’s throne after the rightful king, Ondoher, died without any sons. Arvedui had even married Ondoher’s daughter, so part of his argument was that she should actually inherit the throne (with the assumption that he would be doing the actual ruling...) With Ondoher gone, the kingdom was being ruled by the Council of Gondor, lead by the steward Pelendur. It was up to them to decide who the next king would be. And Arvedui had a competitor - Eärnil, a distant relative of Ondoher and a military hero in Gondor.

Pelendur favored Eärnil, and eventually convinced the Council to choose him over Arvedui. Their reasoning was thus: Isildur had given up any control over Gondor, and so the heirs of Isildur shouldn’t have any claim to Gondor’s throne. And Arvedui’s wife couldn’t inherit since the throne could only be passed on to sons. Beyond that, at the time Arvedui’s kingdom had been reduced to the much smaller kingdom of Arthedain, which Gondor found to be rather unimpressive, especially compared to the heroic exploits of Eärnil.

Now, fast forward about a thousand years to Aragorn. In some ways, his claim to Gondor’s throne is even worse than Arvedui’s. He isn’t actually king of anything, and even Arvedui’s small kingdom has disappeared. But, unlike Arvedui, Aragorn has no competitors. There is no one else with any claim to the throne. Also, though it’s not the patrilineal inheritance that Pelendur wanted, Aragorn is technically a descendant of Ondoher through Arvedui’s wife.

While Pelendur proved that the steward did have the power to deny claims to the throne of Gondor, it’s likely that he wouldn’t have been able to do so if Eärnil hadn’t also been an option. Likewise, I think that (had Denethor survived), he might have tried to block Aragorn’s claim, but probably wouldn’t have been able to deny Aragorn indefinitely. His problem was that Aragorn was quite popular with many other powerful people. Gandalf may not have been too much help in Gondor’s political scene, but Prince Imrahil would have been. And, after Rohan literally swooped in and saved the day at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, having Éomer’s support would have been helpful as well. And (while I may be biased in this) I have the feeling that Faramir would have supported Aragorn’s claim as well. And if the people of Gondor were impressed by Eärnil’s wartime exploits, then they would definitely have been swayed by Aragorn’s.
- Ask About Middle-earth

Denethor obviously intended to deny Aragorn the throne, and would probably have been justified in doing so. But after Denethor died, there was no one in a position of authority who was inclined to turn Aragorn away. Some of his supporters were quite powerful:

  • Éomer, King of Rohan

    • As ruler of Rohan, and (following Theoden's death) the leader of the Rohirrim forces who had come to Gondor's aid at Pelennor, Éomer's support would have had a significant influence on Faramir and the commoners of Gondor.
  • Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, Denethor's brother in law

    • As Tolkien Gateway points out, "Imrahil recognized that Aragorn was the rightful King, but he agreed that it was wise for Aragorn to wait to enter the city, because he knew Denethor was strong-willed and proud."

    • Imrahil called on Aragorn to take the throne when he learned that Denethor was dead and Faramir (the new Steward) apparently dying; instead, Aragorn healed Faramir and convinced Imrahil himself to temporarily take over the Stewardship until Faramir recovered.

  • Faramir, Denethor's son and successor as Steward

    • Faramir was a good man, he owed his life to Aragorn, and he was humble enough to recognize that Aragorn was the king Gondor had been waiting for.

    • "Here is Aragorn, ...Elessar of the line of Valandil, ISILDUR's SON, Elendil's son of Númenor." - Faramir

  • Éowyn, Theoden's niece (and essentially, his adopted daughter), Éomer's sister, and later, Faramir's wife and princess.

    • She loved Aragorn and knew he belonged on the throne; she would have been willing to convince Faramir to accept Aragorn's claim, if it was necessary to convince him (but obviously, it was totally unnecessary)
  • The remaining Dúnedain, both of the North and the South.

    • Aragorn had been the Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain for decades, and when he came to Gondor's aid and saved the life of Faramir (Chieftain of the southern Dúnedain), he won their loyalty as well.
  • The Elves under Elrond.

    • How is this relevant? Because the Kings of Númenor, and later Gondor, traced their lineage back to Elros. Aragorn was descended from Elendil, who was descended from Valandil, who was descended, several generations back, from Elros. Elros was the son of Eärendil and his wife Elwing, and the brother Elrond. Aragorn had Elrond in his corner saying "Your kingship is ultimately tied to descent from MY BROTHER, and I assure you, THIS IS THE GUY YOU WANT. He's definitely the dude who is most closely related to the first King of Númenor, my own brother".
  • Gandalf the White

    • It goes without saying that Aragorn had Gandalf's support; although Denethor had probably turned the people of Gondor against "Mithrandir" due to his personal distrust of the wizard, the people quickly learned to love Gandalf when he led the defense of Minas Tirith.

And of course, the people of Gondor were firmly in Aragorn's camp - he had saved them, he had saved their beloved Faramir, and he was the only clear potential heir to the throne. They would have been thrilled by the prospect of having a king and an expanded kingdom again after a millennium of slow decline and loss of status, and the fact that Aragorn was also a noble, admirable, and heroic figure was the icing on the cake.


Word of God regarding the Palantíri:

The Palantír of Orthanc was the rightful property of the rightful king of Gondor:

These Stones were an inalienable gift to Elendil and his heirs, to whom alone they belonged by right; but this does not mean that they could only be used rightfully by one of these "heirs." They could be used lawfully by anyone authorized by either the "Heir of Anárion" or the "Heir of Isildur," that is, a lawful King of Gondor or Arnor.

Other persons also were appointed to visit the Stones, and ministers of the Crown concerned with "intelligence" made regular and special inspections of them, reporting the information so gained to the King and Council, or to the King privately, as the matter demanded. In Gondor latterly, as the office of Steward rose in importance and became hereditary, providing as it were a permanent "understudy" to the King, and an immediate viceroy at need, the command and use of the Stones seems mainly to have been in the hands of the Stewards, and the traditions concerning their nature and use to have been guarded and transmitted in their House. Since the Stewardship had become hereditary from 1998 onwards, so the authority to use, or again to depute the use, of the Stones, was lawfully transmitted in their line, and belonged therefore fully to Denethor.

It must however be noted with regard to the narrative of The Lord of the Rings that over and above such deputed authority, even hereditary, any "heir of Elendil" (that is, a recognized descendant occupying a throne or lordship in the Númenórean realms by virtue of this descent) had the right to use any of the palantíri. Aragorn thus claimed the right to take the Orthanc-stone into his possession, since it was now, for the time being, without owner or warden; and also because he was de jure the rightful King of both Gondor and Arnor, and could, if he willed, for just cause withdraw all previous grants to himself.
- Unfinished Tales: The Palantírí

As if this wasn't clear enough, in Tolkien's Letter 246, he says that Aragorn won his contest with Sauron for mastery of the palantír because:

In the contest with the Palantír Aragorn was the rightful owner.

If the rightful owner of the Palantír was the rightful king of Gondor, and if Aragorn was the rightful owner of the Palantír, then Aragorn is the rightful king of Gondor (QED).


Summary:

Aragorn has a legitimate legal claim to the throne; no one opposes him, and everyone supports him. His hereditary ties to the kingship are distant and relatively weak compared to the ties of previous kings, but that doesn't matter, because his ties are stronger and closer than anyone else on the planet. If Gondor had refused his claim, they would never have a king again; and as far as I can tell, Gondor had no legal right to deny his claim. The fact that they had no right to deny him coincided nicely with the fact that they had no desire to deny him (in fact, they were disappointed he made them wait until after the Battle of the Morannon - they wanted him to take the throne after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, but he refused).


Postscript:

We can speculate about what might have happened if someone with a stronger claim to the throne had challenged Aragorn. Say someone who was descended from Anárion showed up and said that Aragorn's descent from Isildur made him a weaker candidate, and that this, combined with the fact that Aragorn's only ties to Anárion came through Fíriel, made him ineligible for the kingship of Gondor. This would be a sort of repetition of the Arvedui/Eärnil controversy, but with one important difference - remember that Eärnil won because of his war record. As noted above, Aragorn has the most impressive, one sided war record in the history of the world. This, compared with his distant but undeniable ancestral claim to the throne, would still tip the scales in his favor.


1de jure is defined as:

adverb
1. according to rightful entitlement or claim; by right.
synonyms: by right, rightfully, legally, according to the law

adjective
1. denoting something or someone that is rightfully such.
"he had been de jure king since his father's death"

mid 16th century: Latin, literally ‘of law.’

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Nice charts. An interesting observation: Arwen is Aragorn's first cousin (many, many times removed). – Nate Eldredge Jan 20 at 3:09
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@NateEldredge - I actually asked a question based on the creepiness of Aragorn marrying his cousin, who also happens to be his sister (via Elrond's de facto adoption of Aragorn). – Wad Cheber Jan 20 at 3:20
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Now I have to play Crusader Kings 2 again. Thanks Chebs. – isanae Jan 20 at 4:23
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One of the best Stack Exchange answers I've read. +1 We can always count on you for the excellent and fully researched LotR and Star Wars answers. – Todd Wilcox Jan 20 at 4:31
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@WadCheber I think it can be added that the healing herb Athelas, or Kingsfoil, is more powerful when used in the hands of the king, and in this way the only cure for the Black Breath, extensively used by Nazgul during Pelennor. Aragorn's use of athelas to heal the wounded led to a rapid spread of rumours among the commonfolk that the king has returned and is among them. I believe that, in this case, athelas served as proof to the people of divine mandate that Aragorn belongs to the line of kings and is thus rightful ruler of the Men of Numenor. His claim is less through blood and more by deed – thegreatjedi Jan 20 at 5:27

"Yes": The TL;DR Version

You aren't going to get a better answer than Wad Cheber's exhaustively cited answer. But you might want a shorter one. ;-)

Here are the arguments:

  • For: Aragorn is the descendant in unbroken male line of Elendil, acknowledged High King over both Gondor and Arnor.
  • Against: After Elendil's day, the two kingdoms had separate kingly lines, descending from Elendil's two sons. Aragorn is the male-line descendant only of the northern branch (Isildur's).
  • For: Isildur was King of Gondor (jointly with Anárion), under Elendil. His untimely death resulted in the de facto split, but it is accepted (by at least some in later days) that he intended to remain High King over his nephew in Gondor, ruling from Arnor as his father had done.
  • For: Aragorn is also the descendant of the southern line (Anárion's) through Fíriel, a princess of Gondor, and there are no male-line descendants to put forth a stronger claim.
  • Against: Historically a claim by female-line descent wasn't just "weaker" in Gondor and Arnor, it was non-existent.
  • For: As the kingdoms of the survivors of Númenor, Gondor and Arnor looked to the laws of Númenor with great reverence, and Númenor practiced absolute primogeniture (male or female) for much of its history.
  • Against: All of these arguments were tried unsuccessfully by Arvedui, when the royal succession in Gondor was clouded once before.
  • For: On that occasion, the crown went to Eärnil, a popular general whose royal descent was undisputed, albeit several generations old. There was no such rival to Aragorn's claim, and hadn't been since Eärnil's line failed.
  • For: Aragorn has popular acclaim on his side, not to mention prophecy and old lore. Basically, in Middle-earth, "divine right of kings" is real and is revealed by numerous signs that Aragorn fulfils.
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It was probably legitimate

We know quite a lot about Gondorian succession, and by all appearances it uses the same rules as the British crown, as set by the Act of Settlement 17011:

  • From the current (deceased) monarch, search down the eldest line until you find a living head to sit upon
  • If you can't find one, back up to the nearest uncle2 and try again

Unless there's a distant relative of another Gondorian King kicking around, that process will eventually take you backwards from Eärnur (last King of Gondor) to Elendil, at which point it takes you straight to Aragorn.

Interestingly, this is one of Arvedui's arguments to the Council of Gondor, which the Council has no good answer to:

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.

[...]

To this Gondor made no answer.

Return of the King Appendix A "Annals of the Kings and Rulers" (iv) Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion

So I guess they just thought Arvedui was kind of smelly, a problem not faced by Aragorn.

However, Aragorn's claim falls apart if there are any surviving nephews or nieces (with the appropriately-ginormous quantity of "great"s prefixed onto that relation) of any of the Kings of Gondor since Elendil. If such a person existed, and we're never told if they do, they would have a stronger claim than Aragorn. Of course that would probably not matter practically speaking, because Aragorn has the benefit of a large number of heavily-armed gents backing him up.


1 Some of them, anyway. The British monarchy has a whole bunch of other baggage around religion, and a thousand years or so of massively complicated succession diagrams, that Gondor doesn't have to worry about

2 Whether this should be a gender-neutral statement is the question Arvedui presented to the Council of Gondor; he evidently believed that it should be, because that's how Númenor did it back in the day. Gondor disagreed, for no adequately explored reason.

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You ninja'd me because I spent time combing through Tolkien's Letters for more clues first ... grr :-P – Rand al'Thor Jan 20 at 1:24
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I just had a flash of myself sitting on the heads of dead royalty, jumping from head to head in search of a live one… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 20 at 4:46
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+1. But all our answers are more complicated than necessary. I just remembered this: "Aragorn thus claimed the right to take the Orthanc-stone into his possession... because he was de jure the rightful King of both Gondor and Arnor." - J.R.R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales: The Palantíri – Wad Cheber Jan 20 at 4:51
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@WadCheber Ah well; overthinking it is what we're here for – Jason Baker Jan 20 at 5:05
    
You forget the third, and arguably most important, rule of British (and all other) monarchy: s/he with the biggest army (or most devious plotters) takes the crown. Numerous examples from William the Conqueror (get the cognomen?) on down to what's his name who was kicked out because he wanted to marry the wrong woman. – jamesqf Jan 20 at 5:30

Yes, it was (probably) legitimate.

The Council of Gondor and the King of Arnor had already debated the issue centuries before:

On the death of Ondoher and his sons, Arvedui of the North-kingdom claimed the crown of Gondor, as the direct descendant of Isildur, and as the husband of Fíriel, only surviving child of Ondoher. The claim was rejected. In this Pelendur, the Steward of King Ondoher, played the chief part.

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 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.’’ 1

To this Gondor made no answer. The crown was claimed by Eärnil, the victorious captain; and it was granted to him with the approval of all the Dúnedain in Gondor, since he was of the royal house. He was the son of Siriondil, son of Calimmacil, son of Arciryas brother of Narmacil II. Arvedui did not press his claim; for he had neither the power nor the will to oppose the choice of the Dúnedain of Gondor; yet the claim was never forgotten by his descendants even when their kingship had passed away. For the time was now drawing near when the North-kingdom would come to an end.

--Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Part I (iv): "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion" (emphasis mine)

It seems that Arvedui's argument was valid (as the Council of Gondor offered no counter-argument), and he should at this point have claimed the throne of Gondor. But being long distant from Gondor, and dead not long afterwards, he never had the opportunity to press his claim.

Instead the Council gave the throne of Gondor to Earnil, great-grandson of a previous king's younger brother. Earnil therefore was closer to the direct line of succession than Arvedui, for whom one would need to go up a great deal more generations to find a common ancestor. Aragorn didn't face the problem of such a competitor, as by his time all other scions of the line of Anarion were dead.

So given that Arvedui had at least some kind of claim to the throne of Gondor, Aragorn's claim (according to the Numenorean laws of succession) must have been even more valid.

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I could have saved so much time if I remembered the Word of God answer sooner: "Aragorn thus claimed the right to take the Orthanc-stone into his possession... because he was de jure the rightful King of both Gondor and Arnor." - J.R.R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales: The Palantíri – Wad Cheber Jan 20 at 4:50
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@Wad Cheber: But that was merely an excuse for public consumption. He was only able to take and use it because he was (barely!) strong enough to do so - a strength developed over many years of wandering. Just as he was able to successfully claim the kingship because he organized a strong army & had many influential allies, including the support of Faramir (who as we see in his talk with Frodo, probably doesn't want the Stewardship anyway). If the War had happened when he was just a young and inexperienced foot soldier, say, no one would have accepted him, whatever the legalities. – jamesqf Jan 20 at 5:38

Any King in the Northern line was legitimately the King of both Gondor and of Arnor. In Gondor the royal line of the younger brother claimed the throne via Meneldur who apparently hoped to lay claim to Gondor as his soley. In Unfinished Tales it is noted he looked forward to Isildur leaving the South to take his seat in the North. What the younger line did in the South was twist what happened. Even though Isildur gave the rule in the South to Meneldur it was not meant to the exclusion of the High King, that is, himself and his line, the elder line. The younger line claimed Isildur relinqushed rule in Gondor to the younger line which was not true. Isildur and Anarion had joint rule in Gondor but Elendil was still the High King and ruled over all.

Obviously even when the line of Anarion failed, from father to son not necessarily in the female line, the nobility still held it true that only someone of the line of Anarion could claim the throne, see Appendix A. Interestingly the elder line in the North went through this after another fashion when the kingdom broke into 3 principalities, Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan. The elder line resided in Arthedain and it was not until Argeleb l that the elder line claimed rulership of all Arnor again. This only occured because the 2 younger lines died out in Rhudaur and Cardolan.

Now Aragorn himself is of the elder line and is legit based on this alone. He was also related to the younger line in another way, the prince in the North married a daughter of the king in the South and from them Aragorn descends directly. This prince was eventually the last king of Arthedain before the kingdom was overrun by the Witchking.

Even with the views prevalent in Gondor about the heirs of Anarion only having a valid claim to the throne it should be noted when looking for someone to take the throne, the Dunedain in the South did talk about the line in the North.

some remembered the ancient line of the North, which it was rumoured still lived on in the shadows. [The Stewards]

It seems due to these circumstances Aragorn tended to refer to his House as that of Elendil, which was true in any case.

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Yes. Aragon's claim to the throne of Gondor is absolutely valid and legitimate. This is according to the old, real rules. It is clear from the LOTR movies. Boromir's father was just holding it for the right person, the rightful heir, which is Aragon.

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As it is, this answer is simply an assertion without an argument to back it up. Please prove that Aragorn's claim is "valid and legimitate", e.g. by citing the "old, real rules" and explaining how Aragorn meets the requirements. – Null Jan 22 at 19:08

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