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In The Return of the King, after Denethor burns himself on his pyre and while Faramir lies in the Houses of Healing, it is Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth who is acting Steward.

The Prince of Dol Amroth is in command in the absence of the Lord,' said Gandalf

-- "The Houses of Healing" (The Return of the King)


'As for me,' said Imrahil, 'the Lord Aragorn I hold to be my liege-lord, whether he will it or no. His wish is to me a command. I will go also. Yet for a while, I stand in the place of the Steward of Gondor, and it is mine to think first of its people.'

-- "The Last Debate" (The Return of the King)

I found this curious and would have expected Húrin, Warden of the Keys to stand in for Faramir.

Do we know by what right Imrahil was exercising control over Gondor? Was he the strongest Lord of Gondor? Was he standing in for his nephew?

Is there anything published on the line of succession to the office of Steward?

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up vote 21 down vote accepted

As near as I can tell, the exact reason why is never explained. However, I can think of at least one plausible explanation.

The Steward isn't merely the person in control of Gondor; he's the official representative of the King. That's not a job you give to just anyone, especially when the Steward is a hereditary position, not an appointed one (as presumably the position of Warden of the Keys is).

As the Prince of Dol Amroth, Imrahil is one of the post powerful lords of Gondor. But, more than that, he's related to the Steward; according to Return of the King (emphasis mine):

[L]ast and proudest, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came.

Return of the King Book V Chapter 1: "Minas Tirith"

The nature of the relationship is described in The Peoples of Middle-earth, where we learn that Imrahil's father was named Adrahil. We've heard Adrahil's name once before, in Appendix A (emphasis mine):

When Denethor became Steward (2984) he proved a masterful lord, holding the rule of all things in his own hand. He said little. He listened to counsel, and then followed his own mind. He had married late (2976), taking as wife Finduilas, daughter of Adrahil of Dol Amroth.

Return of the King Appendix A: "Annals of the Kings and Rulers" I "The Númenórean Kings" (iv) Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion: The Stewards

So Imrahil is Faramir's uncle; Tolkien would call Faramir Imrahil's "sister-son," which is the same relationship between Théoden and Éomer.

If Faramir were to die, childless, the Stewardship of Gondor would almost certainly pass to Imrahil. From that perspective, it makes perfect sense for Imrahil to take command of Gondor; just in case the Stewardship needs to pass on, they may as well have the successor doing his job.

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+1; I concede :-) (I even saw a passage in the book about Imrahil being related to Denethor, while looking up quotes, but didn't think to mention it. Too tired.) – Rand al'Thor Feb 4 at 3:49
    
+1 for a very logical explanation. Wouldn’t this make Imrahil Denethor’s brother-in-law, though, rather than his nephew? If Finduilas was the daughter of Adrahil (of Dol Amroth, btw, not Dot Amroth), and Imrahil was the son of Adrahil, Finduilas and Imrahil would be brother and sister. Presumably, Denethor was quite a bit older than both, but then he did marry late in life, and I’m guessing Finduilas was probably still quite young when he did so. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 4 at 3:51
    
@JanusBahsJacquet Yes, you're right; thanks for the catch. Evidently I, too, am too tired. And yes, there's 20 years between Denethor and Finduilas – Jason Baker Feb 4 at 3:53
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Appendix A also says that after Húrin of Emyn Arnen (appointed in 1621) the Kings always chose their Stewards from amongst his descendants. That's only 400 years before Eänur died in 2050 and with the Dúnedain leading natural lives of around 150 years, that's not a lot of time to create a "right". I think it's reasonable to assume that the Kings were choosing the son of the previous steward as a de facto heritable office until someone but the bullet and made it actually inheritable. – ubersejanus Feb 5 at 4:57
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@ubersejanus That would be King Eärnil II who made the Stewardship hereditary and it remained such under King Elessar nearly 1000 years later. – Belegorn Feb 6 at 16:45

It could be because Aragorn said so.

As King-to-be while not yet desiring the hassle of proclaiming himself as King, Aragorn needed to delegate charge of Minas Tirith to somebody else. Imrahil, as a noble lord of Gondor who was present in the city and respected by all, seems an obvious choice. Here's Aragorn delegating to Imrahil:

But Imrahil said: "So victory is shorn of gladness, and it is bitter bought, if both Gondor and Rohan are in one day bereft of their lords. Eomer rules the Rohirrim. Who shall rule the City meanwhile? Shall we not send now for the Lord Aragorn?"

And the cloaked man spoke and said: "He is come." And they saw as he stepped into the light of the lantern by the door that it was Aragorn, wrapped in the grey cloak of Lorien above his mail mand bearing no other token than the green stone of Galadriel. "I have come because Gandalf begs me to do so," he said. "But for the present I am but the Captain of the Dunedain of Arnor; and the Lord of Dol Amroth shall rule the city until Faramir awakes. But it is my counsel that Gandalf should rule us all in the days that follow and in our dealings with the Enemy."

-- The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter 8: The Houses of Healing (emphasis mine)

However, this quote comes after the OP's quote in which Gandalf says Imrahil will be in command, so this isn't a completely solid argument. Either of the following could be true:

  • Aragorn, as King-to-be, had previously decided that Imrahil would be in charge should the Steward be incapacitated before he could claim the throne, and had told Gandalf as much.
  • Gandalf, as overall commander, had made the decision, and Aragorn went along with it.
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Is he actually giving an (indirect) order here? Or is he simply stating a fact that he already knows? (I don't recall the surrounding dialogue/context of that quote offhand.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 4 at 2:52
    
@JanusBahsJacquet Added a little more context. – Rand al'Thor Feb 4 at 2:54
    
Ah, much clearer! +1 – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 4 at 3:01
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@randal'thor, Gandalf states on his way out of Rath Dínen that the Prince is in command of the city (see quote above.) I think that it is more likely that Aragorn is stating a fact he already knows. Aragorn is not yet King, and while very persuasive he doesn't rule. Otherwise, Gandalf would be in charge of Gondor as your quote says! – ubersejanus Feb 4 at 3:11
    
@ubersejanus Hmm, that's a good point. It's still possible that Aragorn had already decided Imrahil should be in charge in these circumstances and Gandalf was only relaying his instructions, but not as clear-cut as I thought. I'll edit. – Rand al'Thor Feb 4 at 3:15

Yes Imrahil's family were the greatest nobles in Gondor. For example in note 244 it is said:

Also to be Prince of Ithilien, the greatest noble after Dol Amroth in the revived Númenórean state of Gondor, soon to be of imperial power and prestige, was not a 'market-garden job' as you term it. [The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien]

They were kinsmen of Elendil and he installed them as Princes, or perhaps they were installed as such by the Steward Mardil. The first Lord of Dol Amroth in that case. These two traditions are mentioned in Unfinished Tales.

It was given to his ancestors by Elendil, with whom they had kinship. They were a family of the Faithful who had sailed from Númenor before the Downfall and had settled in the lands of Belfalas … the first Lord of Dol Amroth was Galador (c. Third Age 2004-2129), the son of Imrazôr the Númenórean, who dwelt in Belfalas, and the Elven-lady Mithrellas, one of the companions of Nimrodel … the two statements can only be reconciled on the supposition that the line of the Princes, and indeed the place of their dwelling, went back more than two thousand years before Galador's day, and that Galador was called the first Lord of Dol Amroth because it was not until his time (after the drowning of Amroth in the year 1981) that Dol Amroth was so named.

Based on these two traditions they first became lords of Dol Amroth only after there was such a name, Dol Amroth, to be had, but were installed as Princes of that land by their kinsman Elendil 2000 years earlier.

Speaking of Elendil, keep in mind in Númenor his house was likewise the greatest nobility in the land after the king's house. When the last king died they took up the mantle.

The Stewards were a stand in for the Kings. The only option after this would be the Prince, like the Princes did in Cardolan after their Kings died out. Back to note 244 it states:

The chief commanders, under the King, would be Faramir and Imrahil; and one of these would normally be a military commander at home in the King's absence.

You can again see the primacy of the Princes after the Kings.

Let me add in this edit one more passage from The People of Middle-earth. The Stewardship itself could pass in the female line;

if a Steward left no son, the office might pass in the female line, that is to his sister-son, or to his father's sister-son.

The choice was made according to their worth among the near kin by the Council of Gondor. But the Council had no power of choice if there was a son living.

As you can see if there was no son, it could pass to a nephew or a cousin in the female line. See for example the 10th Steward Denether l.

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Elendil’s house was greatest in nobility after the king’s house? But Elendil’s house was the king’s house, wasn’t it? Am I missing something? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 4 at 6:13
    
I was talking about in Numenor. – Belegorn Feb 4 at 6:20
    
Ahh, of course. Makes much more sense now. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 4 at 7:06

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