After Maedhros was rescued by Fingon, he gave up his title of High King of the Noldor to his Uncle, Fingolfin. Why would he give up the lordship of his people? Was it because he wanted to continue fulfilling his fathers oath to reclaim the Silmarils or something?

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    Realizing that THE OATH [dramatic sound] is leading to the downfall of Fëanor's sons inevatibly isn't the best precondition for kingship, is it? Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 9:17

3 Answers 3


Guilt and an attempt at reconciliation

Maedhros was unhappy when Fëanor and his host sailed away in secret, abandoning Fingolfin's host at Alqualondë following the kinslaying.

But when they were landed, Maedhros the eldest of his sons, and on a time the friend of Fingon ere Morgoth’s lies came between, spoke to Fëanor, saying: “Now what ships and rowers will you spare to return, and whom shall they bear hither first? Fingon the valiant?"

Then Fëanor laughed as one fey, and he cried: "None and none! What I have left behind I count now no loss; needless baggage on the road it has proved. Let those that cursed my name, curse me still, and whine their way back to the cages of the Valar! Let the ships burn!” Then Maedhros alone stood aside, but Feanor caused fire to be set to the white ships of the Teleri.

The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor"

Fingolfin's son Fingon was part of this host and was a good friend of Maedhros:

Fingon had been close in friendship with Maedhros; and though he knew not yet that Maedhros had not forgotten him at the burning of the ships, the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart.

The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor"

This probably led to Maedhros feeling some guilt for the actions towards his friend, and the fact that he didn't do anything to stop his father.

This guilt would most likely have been compounded when Fingon rescued Maedhros from Thangorodrim, as Fingon had risked his life whereas Maedhros left Fingon to his fate crossing the Helcaraxë.

By turning over his kingship of the Noldor to Fingolfin Maedhros is making amends for the wrongs done to Fingolfin's people and by this action helps to heal the rift between the two groups.


The reason that Maedhros travelled to Middle-earth was to recover the Silmarils, 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 Silmarils 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 Silmarils.

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

—"Of the Flight 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.

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)

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 Silmarils 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 Silmarils 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 Silmarils. To an Elf who has sworn an oath before Eru Ilúvatar to recover the Silmarils, that's no choice at all.


there was an earlier discussion of elfin succession laws and their uncertainty. Elves don't die naturally and can be given new bodies if they are considered good enough. On the other hand, because of the dangers of Middle-earth it is considered likely that the first leaders of the elves died before the Great Journey began. On the third hand, the leaders selected for the Great Journey were said to be the first Elfin kings, and once they reached the UNDYING LANDS it was expected they would live forever and there would be no need of succession laws.

So nobody knows what the succession laws were - if any - when Maehedros ceded the high kingship to Fingolfin or how strong Maehedros's claim to the high kingship may have been.

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