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Who was the rightful owner of the Sword of Gryffindor?

‘So where is it?’ Harry asked suspiciously.

‘Unfortunately,’ said Scrimgeour, ‘that sword was not Dumbledore’s to give away. The sword of Godric Gryffindor is an important historical artefact, and as such, belongs –

‘It belongs to Harry!’ said Hermione hotly. ‘It chose him, he was the one who found it, it came to him out of the Sorting Hat –’

‘According to reliable historical sources, the sword may present itself to any worthy Gryffindor,’ said Scrimgeour. ‘That does not make it the exclusive property of Mr Potter.’

Deathly Hallows - page 109 - Bloomsbury - chapter seven - The Will of Albus Dumbledore

Scrimgeour doesn't go on to say the Sword of Gryffindor belongs to the Ministry, although he does say it does not belong to Harry. Even so, I'm sceptical enough of the Ministry's motives to conclude that a case could probably be made for Harry being the sword's rightful owner. But was he?

Is there a canon answer to this question? If not a direct answer from the books, a speculative answer in the spirit of canon is welcome.

Who was the rightful owner of the Sword of Gryffindor?

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According to the Goblins, it's theirs. But I'm sure that's not what Scrimgeour was about to say. –  Kevin Jul 5 at 23:33
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I'm with Kevin. The sword was made by the Goblins, and as such falls under Goblin jurisdiction and their laws. And according to that, belongs to them. Unless there was a written contract between them and Godric stipulating otherwise, it was a lease, not a sale. –  DVK Jul 6 at 3:23
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@Kevin - I hope you're happy now. –  Richard Jul 6 at 6:55
    
man, I really really really wanted to ask this for soooo long. just dunno what happens to my mind when I get on this site :P –  Awal Garg Jul 6 at 14:34
    
@AwalGarg - Did the answers below satisfy your curiosity or are there other elements you'd have wanted me to address? –  Richard Jul 6 at 15:15

3 Answers 3

Art Repatriation and Cultural Emperialism

Pottermore contains an account of the creation of the Goblin Sword of Ragnuk, commonly (but erroneously) known as the "Sword of Gryffindor".

As you can see below, even though the (human) author has attempted to conceal the true ownership behind a skein of lies and mistruths, it should be immediately apparent that Godric Gryffindor used illegal magic and threats of genocide to prevent its true owner, the Goblin King Ragnuk from regaining possession of it, in full accordance with Goblin law.

The sword was made to Godric Gryffindor's specifications by Ragnuk the First, finest of the goblin silversmiths, and therefore King (in goblin culture, the ruler does not work less than the others, but more skilfully). When it was finished, Ragnuk coveted it so much that he pretended that Gryffindor had stolen it from him, and sent minions to steal it back. Gryffindor defended himself with his wand, but did not kill his attackers. Instead he sent them back to their king bewitched, to deliver the threat that if he ever tried to steal from Gryffindor again, Gryffindor would unsheathe the sword against them all.

The goblin king took the threat seriously and left Gryffindor in possession of his rightful property, but remained resentful until he died. This was the foundation for the false legend of Gryffindor's theft that persists, in some sections of the goblin community, to this day. - Pottermore

One of the modern representatives of the noble Goblin race; a hero named Griphook attempted to convince a group of bigoted young human wizards of the true ownership of the Sword. Their first instinct was to deny this claim, then to make an attempt to cheat the Goblins out of their rightful inheritance;

‘No!’ cried the goblin, bristling with anger as he pointed a long finger at Ron. ‘Wizarding arrogance again! That sword was Ragnuk the First’s, taken from him by Godric Gryffindor! It is a lost treasure, a masterpiece of goblinwork! It belongs with the goblins! Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

We later learn that Goblin law is extremely clear, all goblin-made objects are considered to be sold under lease and should return to the possession of the Goblin maker after the death of their lessor;

‘You don’t understand, Harry, nobody could understand unless they have lived with goblins. To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser. All goblin-made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs.’

‘But if it was bought –’

‘– then they would consider it rented by the one who had paid the money. They have, however, great difficulty with the idea of goblin-made objects passing from wizard to wizard. You saw Griphook’s face when the tiara passed under his eyes. He disapproves. I believe he thinks, as do the fiercest of his kind, that it ought to have been returned to the goblins once the original purchaser died. They consider our habit of keeping goblin-made objects, passing them from wizard to wizard without further payment, little more than theft.’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


The principle of the repatriation of looted artworks and objects of cultural significance is well known and widely accepted across the civilised world. Many consider it undeniable that the Goblin Sword of Ragnuk is one of those items. As such, the sword is the lawful and righful possession of the Goblin people both morally and legally.

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It's clearly not. This is not the appropriate site to roleplay a Harry Potter goblin supporter. –  TylerH Jul 7 at 6:44
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You say "uncritical reading" as if it's a positive adjective. –  Shadur Jul 7 at 7:24
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Alternately, a powerful man realizing that the kind of people who send a hit squad out to reclaim a possession they believe they own is going to keep sending hit squads until they succeed, likely killing him in the process or at least forcing him to kill many of them, unless he convinces them that the attempt would cost them more than it's worth. –  Shadur Jul 7 at 7:39
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I fail to see the human propaganda in the quoted text. You have a wizard who has drawn up specs for a sword. A craftsman creates the sword to those specifications, and the wizard takes possession of it. And that means that the sword is somehow owned by the craftsman (or craftsgoblin in this case) simply because he changed his mind about keeping it after the sword was delivered? That doesn't make any sense. –  Ellesedil Jul 7 at 17:55
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@Ellesedil All joking aside, Ragnuk trying to take the sword back in Gryffindor's lifetime would not be legal even under Goblin Laws, but since according to HP, all Goblin craft is legally leased for the lifetime of the person who ordered the item and never sold for perpetual possession, once Godric was dead, by Goblin Law the possession would indeed revert to the Goblins. Wizard Law won't ever agree to this, however, because they understand the contract to be one of sale, and they're the ones in charge and the ones who suffer from amending their understanding of the contract. –  Shisa Jul 8 at 10:19

Western Law and the Right of Property

Without a copy of the wizard world's equivalent of the "Commentaries on the Laws of England", it's impossible to determine who the true owner of the sword would be. If, however we assume that the laws are broadly equivalent to English Common Law then the answer is actually pretty straightforward:

Blackstone's commentary states that...

"...things personal...are goods, money, and all other movables which may attend the owner's person wherever he thinks proper to go".

Since Godric Gryffindor was instrumental in creating the Sorting Hat for the exclusive use of Hogwarts and since he subsequently enchanted the Sword to appear within the hat in times of need, it follows that the sword can be treated as a bequest of assets to the School.

As Headmaster, it's highly unlikely that Dumbledore has the authority to dispose of a valuable asset belonging to the School without the express permission of the School's Board of Governors. This means that the most likely answer is that the sword is (and remains) the property of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in perpetuum until such time as it is disposed of in a lawful manner.


With regard to Scrimgeour's decision to take the sword into custody, it's highly likely that the Ministry of Magic has sufficient legal authority to justify (temporarily) confiscating it in a time of national crisis. This wouldn't affect who the ultimate owner was and they could expect to have it returned once the crisis was at an end.

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I don't think that Scrimgeour ever had the sword in his custody. At least he didn't when he came to give Harry, Ron, and Hermione the items left to them by Dumbledore. Thoughts? –  Slytherincess Jul 5 at 23:52
    
No, it was still missing at that point and even if they could find it, there's no reason to assume it wouldn't simply turn up again in the Sorting Hat when required. –  Richard Jul 6 at 0:10
    
It wasn't missing at that point it was in Dumbledore's office (the real one behind the painting and the fake one on display, which Neville, Ginny and Luna try to steal later on) –  user13267 yesterday

If a wand chooses its owner, it stands to reason that any other sufficiently sapient magical object may (and will) do the same. I'd hazard a guess that magical law has a clause somewhere regulating the rights of a lawful owner, in the case that the object under dispute chooses another owner in their place. Think of it as being like a custody case: if a child is old enough, the family court will usually take their preference under advisement when deciding custody.

The fact that the sword "wants" to go to Harry should, by all magical logic, be taken into account by the legal system. Magic obeys its own laws, and a magical object's compulsion to belong to a specific owner can withstand any law to the contrary.

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The sword was enchanted by Godric Gryffindor but unlike the Sorting Hat, there's no reason to assume that the Goblin Sword of Ragnuk is sentient. –  Richard Jul 6 at 6:50
    
I like this theory -- it does make sense in that the Sword of Gryffindor does present itself to any worthy Gryffindor who is in need of its help. It is, it would seem, the sword choosing who is worthy of its use (as do wands), so what you say about the sword choosing its next owner could make sense. It seems convincing that Goblin law does not apply, especially as JKR has said as much (see Simon's comment above), so there must another way the sword claims its owner, for lack of a better way of putting it. +1 :) –  Slytherincess Jul 9 at 5:17

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