2 Removed reference to some later events and clarified my argument that Maedhros was "keeping his eyes on the prize(s)"
source | link

Maedhros relinquished the High-Kingship of the Noldor because it was the best chance to recover the Simarils

The majority of the Noldor would not follow the Sons of Fëanor, and Maedhros knew that. He also knew that, especially when news of the Kingslaying reached the Sindar, his relationship with them would be incredibly strained (if not destroyed outright.)

Maedhros' reason for travellingthat Maedhros travelled to Middle-earth was to recover the Simarils, and the best chance he had to do this was to unite the Eldar (and later the Dwarves and the Edain) under the one banner. It didn't necessarily matter who was the one waving that banner, so long as those following brought down Morgoth, becaysebecause he and his brothers would be able to regain possession of the Simarils and fulfil the OathOath of Fëanor.

But when they were landed, Maedhros, the eldest of his sons ... spoke to Fëanor, saying: "Now what ships and rowers will you spare to return, and whom shall they bear hither first? Fingon the valiant?"

-- Of the Flight of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

It was by this time also the dying wish of Fëanorhis father that Maedhros and his brothers would recover the Simarils.

[Fëanor] cursed the name of Morgoth thrice, and laid it upon his sons to hold to their oath.

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Even before leaving Valinor, the majority of the Noldor preferred Fingolfin and his family Fëanor. While Fëanor was able to convince 90%most of the Noldor to set out from Valinor, he was not to convince mostthe majority were followers of his peoplebrother Fingolfin (although Fingolfin himself was following Fëanor, in keeping with his recent promise that he should be king"[Fëanor] will lead, and I will follow. May no new grief divide us")

For though he had brought the assembly in a mind to depart, by no means all were of a mind to take Feëanor as King. Greater love was given to Fingolfin and his sons, and his[Fingolfin's] household and the most part of the dwellers in Tirion refused to renounce him.

-- Of the Flight of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

ThisOn top of their initial reluctance was beforethe fact that Fëanor andhad his own people had takensteal the ships of the Teleri from the rest of the Noldor and abandonedthen burn them in Middle-earth, abandoning Fingolfin and the majority of the Noldor, forcing themtheir people to endure a long and dangerous journey through the grinding iceHelcaraxë — a journey which doomed many of the Noldor to perish.

Shortly after Maedhros relinquished the High-Kingship, the Noldor made contact with King Thingol of Doriath through Angrod, son of Finarfin. Thingol was less than impressed that all these new lordsmay also have come from Valinor, seeingforeseen that they will be looking for lands of their own. As "Lord of Beleriand" he granted the Noldor leave to dwell in the unpopulated regions... this pretty frosty welcome angered the more wrathfulwhen news of the Sons of Fëanor.

Caranthir, who is described as the harshest and most quick to anger of his brothers, said thatKinslaying at Alqualondë reached the Sons of Finarfin despite being Thingol's nephewsSindar, they ought to remember that they are the grandons of Finwë — and who madehis relationship with them the Noldor's ambassadors to Thingol anyway? Maedhros rebuked Caranthir, but most of the Noldor, even of the House of Fëanor's own followingwould be incredibly strained, were troubled at Caranthir's outburstif not destroyed outright. 

The greater partThingol was long silent ere he spoke. "Go now!" he said "For my heart is hot within me. Later you may return if you will; for I will not shut my doors against [The House of the NoldorFinarfin], of both followingsmy kindred, that were troubledensnared in heart, fearing the fell spirit of the sons of Fëanoran evil that it seemed would ever be like to burst forth in rash word or violence[they] did not aid. With Fingolfin and his people also I will keep friendship.

-- Of the Return of The Noldor in Beleriand (The Silmarillion) 

FollowingSo this council, Maedehros took his brothers and to the far west of Beleriand, where they would would be separated from the rest of the kingdoms ofis the Noldorway things were as Maedhros stood by Doriath and large mountain ranges.his father's pyre:

There Maedehros and his brothers kept watch, gathering all such people who would come to them, and they had few dealings with their kinsfolk westward, save at need. It is said indeed that Maedehros devised this plan, to lessen the chances of strife

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

  • He had sworn an oath before Ilúvatar to recover the Simarils from Morgoth

  • Fëanor's dying wish had been that his sons would stick to that oath

  • The greater part of the Noldor had been abandoned by the House of Fëanor, and had been led by Fingolfin through icy death to Middle-earth

  • Fëanor and his sons had led their people in murdering the relatives of the Sindar, and word of that was sure to reach the Sindar before long.

When Angrod related Thingol's permission toShortly after Maedhros declined the lords ofCrown to Fingolfin, the Noldor made contact with King Thingol of Doriath, Maedehros saw the game Thingol was playing: protecting his claim to bewho also claimed the title Lord of Beleriand in. Thingol gave the faceNoldor "permission" to live in a number of all these new arrivalsareas throughout Beleriand — something which annoyed most of Fëanor's sons since they had ended a massive Orcish attack that would have seized control of those lands anyway.

However we get a very different and rather telling response from Maedhros, almost directly after he had passed on his own opportunity to become King of the Noldor.

MaedehrosMaedhros laughed, saying: 'A king is he who can hold his own, or else his title is in vain. Thingol does but grant us lands where his power does not run.'

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Maedhros could seeknew that, thanks to the reckless deeds of his father, he would not be ablehad lost the ability to lead the Noldor in the fight against Morgoth. After abandoning them on the far side of: after their deeds during the Great Seajourney from Valinor, a member of the House of Fëanor could no more claim to be overlord of the people of Fingolfin and Finarfin than could Thingol — and in any case, they were not in Middle-earth to be kings.  

The recovery of the three Simarils was what Fëanor and his sons had sworn to do, and Maedhros at least, knew that their best chance to do so was to defeat Morgoth in battle.

To — and to defeat Morgoth, in battle had already been shown to be beyond the Sonspower of Fëanor and his sons alone.

They would need all the peoples of Beleriand to come together and fight together if there was any hope of wresting the Iron Crown from Morgoth's head. However, after killing the Teleri and then both stealing and burning their ships, the people of Thingol, Fingolfin and Finarfin would not march to battle behind Fëanor's sons. But perhaps they would still fight beside them.

Maedhros hadwas forced to choose between becoming High-King of the Noldor in Exile-in-Exile and anyhis best chance of recovering the Simarils, and to one. To an Elf who has sworn an oath before Eru Ilúvatar to recover the Simarils, that's no choice at all.

Maedhros relinquished the High-Kingship of the Noldor because it was the best chance to recover the Simarils

The majority of the Noldor would not follow the Sons of Fëanor, and Maedhros knew that. He also knew that, especially when news of the Kingslaying reached the Sindar, his relationship with them would be incredibly strained (if not destroyed outright.)

Maedhros' reason for travelling to Middle-earth was to recover the Simarils, and the best chance he had to do this was to unite the Eldar (and later the Dwarves and the Edain) under the one banner. It didn't necessarily matter who was waving that banner, so long as those following brought down Morgoth, becayse he and his brothers would be able to regain possession of the Simarils and fulfil the Oath of Fëanor.

While Fëanor was able to convince 90% of the Noldor to set out from Valinor, he was not to convince most of his people that he should be king.

For though he had brought the assembly in a mind to depart, by no means all were of a mind to take Feëanor as King. Greater love was given to Fingolfin and his sons, and his household and the most part of the dwellers in Tirion refused to renounce him.

-- Of the Flight of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

This was before Fëanor and his people had taken the ships of the Teleri and abandoned Fingolfin and the majority of the Noldor, forcing them to endure a long and dangerous journey through the grinding ice.

Shortly after Maedhros relinquished the High-Kingship, the Noldor made contact with King Thingol of Doriath through Angrod, son of Finarfin. Thingol was less than impressed that all these new lords have come from Valinor, seeing that they will be looking for lands of their own. As "Lord of Beleriand" he granted the Noldor leave to dwell in the unpopulated regions... this pretty frosty welcome angered the more wrathful of the Sons of Fëanor.

Caranthir, who is described as the harshest and most quick to anger of his brothers, said that the Sons of Finarfin despite being Thingol's nephews, they ought to remember that they are the grandons of Finwë — and who made them the Noldor's ambassadors to Thingol anyway? Maedhros rebuked Caranthir, but most of the Noldor, even of the House of Fëanor's own following, were troubled at Caranthir's outburst.

The greater part of the Noldor, of both followings, were troubled in heart, fearing the fell spirit of the sons of Fëanor that it seemed would ever be like to burst forth in rash word or violence.

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Following this council, Maedehros took his brothers and to the far west of Beleriand, where they would would be separated from the rest of the kingdoms of the Noldor by Doriath and large mountain ranges.

There Maedehros and his brothers kept watch, gathering all such people who would come to them, and they had few dealings with their kinsfolk westward, save at need. It is said indeed that Maedehros devised this plan, to lessen the chances of strife

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

When Angrod related Thingol's permission to the lords of the Noldor, Maedehros saw the game Thingol was playing: protecting his claim to be the Lord of Beleriand in the face of all these new arrivals.

Maedehros laughed, saying: 'A king is he who can hold his own, or else his title is in vain. Thingol does but grant us lands where his power does not run.'

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Maedhros could see that thanks to the reckless deeds of his father, he would not be able to lead the Noldor in the fight against Morgoth. After abandoning them on the far side of the Great Sea, the House of Fëanor could no more claim to be overlord of the people of Fingolfin and Finarfin than could Thingol — and in any case, they were not in Middle-earth to be kings.  

The recovery of the three Simarils was what Fëanor and his sons had sworn to do, and Maedhros at least, knew that their best chance to do so was to defeat Morgoth in battle.

To defeat Morgoth, the Sons of Fëanor would need all the peoples of Beleriand to come together and fight together. However, after killing the Teleri and then both stealing and burning their ships, the people of Thingol, Fingolfin and Finarfin would not march to battle behind Fëanor's sons. But they would still fight beside them.

Maedhros had to choose between becoming High-King of the Noldor in Exile and any chance of recovering the Simarils, and to one who has sworn an oath before Eru Ilúvatar to recover the Simarils, that's no choice at all.

The reason that Maedhros travelled to Middle-earth was to recover the Simarils, and the best chance he had to do this was to unite the Eldar (and later the Dwarves and the Edain) under the one banner. It didn't necessarily matter who was the one waving that banner, so long as those following brought down Morgoth, because he and his brothers would be able to regain possession of the Simarils and fulfil the Oath of Fëanor.

But when they were landed, Maedhros, the eldest of his sons ... spoke to Fëanor, saying: "Now what ships and rowers will you spare to return, and whom shall they bear hither first? Fingon the valiant?"

-- Of the Flight of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

It was by this time also the dying wish of his father that Maedhros and his brothers would recover the Simarils.

[Fëanor] cursed the name of Morgoth thrice, and laid it upon his sons to hold to their oath.

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Even before leaving Valinor, the majority of the Noldor preferred Fingolfin and his family Fëanor. While Fëanor was able to convince most of the Noldor to set out from Valinor, the majority were followers of his brother Fingolfin (although Fingolfin himself was following Fëanor, in keeping with his recent promise that "[Fëanor] will lead, and I will follow. May no new grief divide us")

For though he had brought the assembly in a mind to depart, by no means all were of a mind to take Feëanor as King. Greater love was given to Fingolfin and his sons, and [Fingolfin's] household and the most part of the dwellers in Tirion refused to renounce him.

-- Of the Flight of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

On top of their initial reluctance was the fact that Fëanor had his own people steal the ships of the Teleri from the rest of the Noldor and then burn them in Middle-earth, abandoning Fingolfin and the majority of their people to endure a long and dangerous journey through the Helcaraxë — a journey which doomed many of the Noldor to perish.

Maedhros may also have foreseen that when news of the Kinslaying at Alqualondë reached the Sindar, his relationship with them would be incredibly strained, if not destroyed outright. 

Thingol was long silent ere he spoke. "Go now!" he said "For my heart is hot within me. Later you may return if you will; for I will not shut my doors against [The House of Finarfin], my kindred, that were ensnared in an evil that [they] did not aid. With Fingolfin and his people also I will keep friendship.

-- Of the Noldor in Beleriand (The Silmarillion) 

So this is the way things were as Maedhros stood by his father's pyre:

  • He had sworn an oath before Ilúvatar to recover the Simarils from Morgoth

  • Fëanor's dying wish had been that his sons would stick to that oath

  • The greater part of the Noldor had been abandoned by the House of Fëanor, and had been led by Fingolfin through icy death to Middle-earth

  • Fëanor and his sons had led their people in murdering the relatives of the Sindar, and word of that was sure to reach the Sindar before long.

Shortly after Maedhros declined the Crown to Fingolfin, the Noldor made contact with King Thingol of Doriath, who also claimed the title Lord of Beleriand. Thingol gave the Noldor "permission" to live in a number of areas throughout Beleriand — something which annoyed most of Fëanor's sons since they had ended a massive Orcish attack that would have seized control of those lands anyway.

However we get a very different and rather telling response from Maedhros, almost directly after he had passed on his own opportunity to become King of the Noldor.

Maedhros laughed, saying: 'A king is he who can hold his own, or else his title is in vain. Thingol does but grant us lands where his power does not run.'

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Maedhros knew that, thanks to the reckless deeds of his father, he had lost the ability to lead the Noldor: after their deeds during the journey from Valinor, a member of the House of Fëanor could no more claim to be overlord of the people of Fingolfin and Finarfin than could Thingol.

The recovery of the three Simarils was what Fëanor and his sons had sworn to do, and Maedhros at least, knew that their best chance to do so was to defeat Morgoth in battle — and to defeat Morgoth in battle had already been shown to be beyond the power of Fëanor and his sons alone.

They would need all the peoples of Beleriand to come together if there was any hope of wresting the Iron Crown from Morgoth's head. However, after killing the Teleri and then both stealing and burning their ships, the people of Thingol, Fingolfin and Finarfin would not march to battle behind Fëanor's sons. But perhaps they would still fight beside them.

Maedhros was forced to choose between becoming High-King of the Noldor-in-Exile and his best chance of recovering the Simarils. To an Elf who has sworn an oath before Eru Ilúvatar to recover the Simarils, that's no choice at all.

1
source | link

Maedhros relinquished the High-Kingship of the Noldor because it was the best chance to recover the Simarils

The majority of the Noldor would not follow the Sons of Fëanor, and Maedhros knew that. He also knew that, especially when news of the Kingslaying reached the Sindar, his relationship with them would be incredibly strained (if not destroyed outright.)

Maedhros' reason for travelling to Middle-earth was to recover the Simarils, and the best chance he had to do this was to unite the Eldar (and later the Dwarves and the Edain) under the one banner. It didn't necessarily matter who was waving that banner, so long as those following brought down Morgoth, becayse he and his brothers would be able to regain possession of the Simarils and fulfil the Oath of Fëanor.

While Fëanor was able to convince 90% of the Noldor to set out from Valinor, he was not to convince most of his people that he should be king.

For though he had brought the assembly in a mind to depart, by no means all were of a mind to take Feëanor as King. Greater love was given to Fingolfin and his sons, and his household and the most part of the dwellers in Tirion refused to renounce him.

-- Of the Flight of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

This was before Fëanor and his people had taken the ships of the Teleri and abandoned Fingolfin and the majority of the Noldor, forcing them to endure a long and dangerous journey through the grinding ice.

Few of the deeds of the Noldor thereafter surpassed that desperate crossing in hardihood or woe. There Elenwë the wife of Turgon was lost, and many others perished also; and it was with a lessened host that Fingolfin set foot at last on the Outer Lands. Small love for Fëanor or his sons had those that marched at last behind him.

-- Of the Flight of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Shortly after Maedhros relinquished the High-Kingship, the Noldor made contact with King Thingol of Doriath through Angrod, son of Finarfin. Thingol was less than impressed that all these new lords have come from Valinor, seeing that they will be looking for lands of their own. As "Lord of Beleriand" he granted the Noldor leave to dwell in the unpopulated regions... this pretty frosty welcome angered the more wrathful of the Sons of Fëanor.

Caranthir, who is described as the harshest and most quick to anger of his brothers, said that the Sons of Finarfin despite being Thingol's nephews, they ought to remember that they are the grandons of Finwë — and who made them the Noldor's ambassadors to Thingol anyway? Maedhros rebuked Caranthir, but most of the Noldor, even of the House of Fëanor's own following, were troubled at Caranthir's outburst.

The greater part of the Noldor, of both followings, were troubled in heart, fearing the fell spirit of the sons of Fëanor that it seemed would ever be like to burst forth in rash word or violence.

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Following this council, Maedehros took his brothers and to the far west of Beleriand, where they would would be separated from the rest of the kingdoms of the Noldor by Doriath and large mountain ranges.

There Maedehros and his brothers kept watch, gathering all such people who would come to them, and they had few dealings with their kinsfolk westward, save at need. It is said indeed that Maedehros devised this plan, to lessen the chances of strife

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

When Angrod related Thingol's permission to the lords of the Noldor, Maedehros saw the game Thingol was playing: protecting his claim to be the Lord of Beleriand in the face of all these new arrivals.

Maedehros laughed, saying: 'A king is he who can hold his own, or else his title is in vain. Thingol does but grant us lands where his power does not run.'

-- Of the Return of The Noldor (The Silmarillion)

Maedhros could see that thanks to the reckless deeds of his father, he would not be able to lead the Noldor in the fight against Morgoth. After abandoning them on the far side of the Great Sea, the House of Fëanor could no more claim to be overlord of the people of Fingolfin and Finarfin than could Thingol — and in any case, they were not in Middle-earth to be kings.

The recovery of the three Simarils was what Fëanor and his sons had sworn to do, and Maedhros at least, knew that their best chance to do so was to defeat Morgoth in battle.

To defeat Morgoth, the Sons of Fëanor would need all the peoples of Beleriand to come together and fight together. However, after killing the Teleri and then both stealing and burning their ships, the people of Thingol, Fingolfin and Finarfin would not march to battle behind Fëanor's sons. But they would still fight beside them.

Maedhros had to choose between becoming High-King of the Noldor in Exile and any chance of recovering the Simarils, and to one who has sworn an oath before Eru Ilúvatar to recover the Simarils, that's no choice at all.