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Are there any explanations ever given why the stewards of Gondor never tried to claim the throne officially? It was nearly 1000 years after Eärnur died before Aragorn eventually claimed the throne.

I understand that the stewards were basically the kings and were set up to rule forever continually. However, it seems odd that none of them attempted to take the throne and make themselves kings after a few hundred years. I imagine the men in that position enjoyed the power and would have loved to claim the title officially. But I don't see anything that dictates why it never occurred. Loyalty to tradition seems like an odd explanation for that length of time. It also seems very likely that someone would attempt to make themselves the king after a while.

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    I vaguely remember reading something to the effect that it was simple piety: they weren't heirs of Elendil/Isildur/Anárion, so they didn't think it proper to claim the kingship. If you think about it, that's not really any harder to believe than the fact that the "Elrosian" dynasty lasted with minimal challenges for 6000+ years.
    – chepner
    Sep 9 at 18:02
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    This question is very closely related: Was Aragorn's claim to the throne legitimate?
    – fez
    Sep 9 at 20:32
  • It's also worth noting that to the Numenoreans, the kings ruled literally by divine right. There's no way feasible way to justify seizing the throne if the legitimacy of the royal bloodline is back by actual gods. EDIT: also the Gondorians are descended from Numenoreans who fled the destruction of Numenor because their leaders broke sacred laws, they're probably less inclined to do so as a result. Sep 10 at 17:50
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    Roman emperors might serve as a real-world analogy. Augustus specifically refused to accept the title of a king, and at least until Diocletian the emperors maintained the facade of being leaders of a republic rather than sole rulers. If calling yourself "king" comes with a lot of historical baggage, it might actually not be the most desirable title available to you, even if you have the power to take it. Sep 11 at 13:35
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In "The Window on the West," Faramir recounts how Boromir himself asked this question of their father:

'And this I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not? " he asked. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," my father answered. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice." Alas! poor Boromir. Does that not tell you something of him?'

So the answer, according to Denethor — who is in a better position to know than anyone — is that in Gondor, with its ancient and noble tradition, it would be contrary to the principles and traditions of the state to claim the kingship illegitimately. In the view of Denethor and his ancestors, there was more honor to be had by following the old traditions scrupulously and remaining stewards than in claiming the kingship.

The "window" in the chapter title is both literal (there is a gap through which they can watch the sunset from Henneth Annûn; indeed the name "Henneth Annûn" means "Window of the Sunset") and metaphorical. During the time Frodo and Sam spend there, in the company of Faramir and the other rangers of Ithilien, they get to know something about the Gondorian character, which preserves the noble traditions of the Númenóreans and Edain of old — including valuing perfect fealty to their oaths above any personal aggrandizement.

Furthermore, according to Appendix A:

Each new Steward indeed took office with the oath 'to hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return.' But these soon became words of ritual little heeded, for the Stewards exercised all the power of the kings. Yet many in Gondor still believed that a king would indeed return in some time to come; and some remembered the ancient line of the North, which it was rumoured still lived on in the shadows. But against such thoughts the Ruling Stewards hardened their hearts.

Nonetheless the Stewards never sat on the ancient throne; and they wore no crown, and held no sceptre. They bore a white rod only as the token of their office; and their banner was white without charge; but the royal banner had been sable, upon which was displayed a white tree in blossom beneath seven stars.

It would, therefore, have been a violation of their oaths for the stewards to claim kingship explicitly. However, while they prized loyalty to these ancient oaths, the ruling stewards were apparently willing to rely on legalistic sophistry to preserve their rule. ("But against such thoughts the Ruling Stewards hardened their hearts.") The heirs of Elendil still existed, even if they no longer ruled in the northern kingdom of Arnor, but without positive proof of Eärnur's death, the stewards were content to await the king's return through the generations, rather than choosing a new king from the royal house, as had been done not long earlier after the death of King Ondoher. Denethor himself evinces that he views his position as lord of Gondor as unassailable, not really subject to displacement by any kind of returned king.

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    Worth adding Denethor's thoughts on the line of Isildur: a "ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity". In other words, "Sure, Aragorn is Isildur's Heir, but so what? We rejected Arvedui's claim 1,000 years ago, and he still had a kingdom. His descendants are surly no more worthy."
    – chepner
    Sep 10 at 13:14
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    @chepner Of course Denethor may have been at least partially motivated by old resentments towards 'Thorongil'. Sep 11 at 0:52
  • Worth noticing that for example in Japan, Shoguns ruled for a very long time while there was nominally unbroken line of Emperors from time immemorial. Yet, no Shogun ever attempted to declare himself ad an Emperor.
    – rs.29
    Sep 11 at 22:24
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There is a quotation from Faramir in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that directly addresses this point.

'And this I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?" he asked. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," my father answered. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice." Alas! poor Boromir. Does that not tell you something of him?'

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    There's something vaguely icky about the whole "blood of Numenor" thing, the implication that some families are just inherently better than other people. There's a very medieval divine-right-of-kings business there that clashes with my American all-men-created-equal sensibility. Sep 10 at 13:25
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    @DarthPseudonym And that’s a big part of the reason why Faramir’s character was downgraded in the movies. Why did Aragorn get to be king of Gondor and not Faramir, who was effectively trained for the job from birth? To an English audience in the 1950s, his very remote descent from a king was enough reason, but not to a modern global audience. In the movies, Aragorn had to be the better man.
    – Mike Scott
    Sep 10 at 13:40
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    @Darth Pseudonym You may have noted that you live in a society where people try to acquire wealth and property faster than they lose it, and thus to get more than they need in their own lifetimes and have something extra to leave to their children. The goal is for each generation to inherit more wealth from their parents. And so long as inheritance of property is legal, some people will leave a lot of property to their children and some families will grown wealthier and wealthier over time. And in ancient societies the wealthier naturlaly ruled. Continued. Sep 10 at 16:27
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    @Darth Pseudonym Contined. Hereditary leaders who don't have to do anything to gain power are much less likely to be highly ambitous, power hungry men with big plans. Thus they are much less likely to make big trouble for htier own people and those of other countries. Sep 10 at 16:43
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    I honestly don't think that theory holds any water, because squabbles between various branches of the royal houses of Europe have been a major cause of wars in the last millennium or so, and somehow power-hungry men manage to show up in royal families as well as revolutionary groups. In any case, I'm not going to argue about it because that isn't the point and the comments aren't the place for a deep discussion of the history of power politics. Americans tend to dislike the concept of some people being inherently better, and yes I'm aware of the irony of that in both racial and economic terms. Sep 10 at 18:30
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Simple piety and respect for the line of Elendil.

There were surprisingly few deviations from the father-to-child descent of first the Númenorean crown, then the Gondorian crown, over the 6000+ history of the combined nations.

In Númenor

  • Tar-Meneldur was the only son but third-eldest child of Tar-Elendil. In some sense, Elendil was the "true" heir to the line, as his foremother Silmariën (Tar-Meneldur's eldest sibling) was denied the crown only by the laws of succession at the time. Those laws were altered by Tar-Meneldur's son, Tar-Aldarion, to establish pure primogeniture.

  • Tar-Minastir succeeded his aunt Tar-Telperien

  • Herucalmo, the husband of Tar-Vanimeldë, briefly seized the throne as Tar-Anducal before Tar-Vanimeldë's son regained the throne as Tar-Alcarin.

  • Ar-Pharazôn seized the throne from (and forcefully wedded) his cousin Tar Míriel.

In Arnor/Gondor

  • Elendil "succeeded" Ar-Pharazôn, though as the King of the Realms-in-Exile rather than the King of Númenor.

  • Tarannon was succeeded by his nephew Eärnil I.

  • Narmacil was succeeded by his brother Calmacil.

  • Castamir briefly usurped the throne from Eldacar, beginning the Kin-strife.

  • Telemnar was succeeded by his nephew Tarondor.

  • Ondoher was succeeded by Eärnil, who was not a close relative of Andover, but nonetheless was a descendent of Telumehtar. (Arvedui, King of Arthedain, had also claimed the throne, but was rejected by Gondor. As Arvedui himself was the last king of Arthedain, itself the last remnant of Arnor, no further claims to the throne from the North would be forthcoming.)

So aside from the above minor hiccups, the line of Elros had ruled essentially uninterrupted for 5000 years, from the beginning of the Second Age until 2050 T.A. This provides some background for the mindset of the people of Gondor: there really is a divinely appointed line that is meant to rule, and it is not for others to take its place, even in its absence.

Following the death of Eärnur, son of Eärnil, in 2050 T.A., Appendix A has this to say:

So it was that no claimant to the crown could be found who was of pure blood, or whose claim all would allow; and all feared the memory of the Kin-strife, knowing that if any such dissension arose again, then Gondor would perish.

So basically, politics as we know it simply did not exist in Gondor, all agreed (or any dissension was quickly and quietly suppressed) that no one outside the line of Elendil should claim the throne, or that it was better to set aside your claim if you couldn't get a large enough consensus.

(Mike Scott provides the quote that really attests to this attitude, though.)

Aragorn finally succeed in reuniting the two kingdoms, due to his status as the rightful Heir of Isildur in the North, final acclamation from the people of Gondor as a "suitable" claimant, and the lack of any external enemies that would prevent him from re-establishing the kingdom of Arnor in the North.


There is some precedence for this in the real world. The Ruling Stewards were kings in all but name, just as the Consul(s) of the Roman Republic were kings in all but name, despite the Roman's distaste for monarchy.


Elros himself had been appointed by the Valar as the first king of Númenor. But aside from this divine stamp of approval, Elros was already the hereditary chief of all three Houses of the Edain, as the eldest (or possibly last) remaining descendent of Barahir, Hador, and Halmir. (See the family trees given in The Silmarillion.)

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    Elros was much more than the chief of all three Houses of the Edain. The sons of Eärendil were 10/32 Teleri, 5/32 Vanyar, 3/32 Noldor, 2/32 Maia and 12/32 from all three Houses Of Men, likely the largest percentage coming from the House of Beor although we do not have a precise ancestry. So while Eärendil was precisely half-elven, Elrond wasn't. I guess "Elrond the half and one sixteenth elven" just don't have the same ring to it :P
    – chx
    Sep 10 at 5:32
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    Yes, but i'm not considering that relevant for who gets to be king of Númenor.
    – chepner
    Sep 10 at 11:30
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    @chx Half-Elven is not a question of fractions. You are either Half-Elven and get the choice of Doom, or you are not.
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 10 at 12:42
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    Rome's use of Caesar instead of Rex is also interesting. Rome wasn't ruled by petty kings. Even when it had hereditary Emperors for centuries, they where not Monarchs, but caretakers of the increasingly weak Republic. The real issue I'd think would be pretenders attempting to be more legitimate than the Stewards. But over time, people pretending to be King would be ridiculed; the Steward claiming the mantle of King would be assuming a ridiculous position, not a good plan.
    – Yakk
    Sep 10 at 18:28
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According to Tolkien, the men of Númenor, from whom the men of Gondor were descended, were made of nobler stuff than ordinary mortals. They lived longer than other men, and so had longer memories. Such people would know one another very well, well enough not to perform rash actions that were not supported by others. They would also be more ruled by tradition. To give a contrasting example, the noblemen of Europe had a much shorter average lifespan and for hundreds of years drank alcohol in preference to water; it is not surprising that their history was turbulent. The few who lived to a ripe old age included some wise and crafty characters, though!

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    The presence on the continent of elves is likely to have added to that effect. A traveller or scholar from Númenor would sometimes have the opportunity to meet someone who remembered some of the kings and could verify the history personally. Even if such meetings were rare, they would tend to cement a belief in the traditions of the city. Sep 10 at 9:04
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Tradition and loyalty, but also politics.

The legitimacy of the Stewards derived from that of the king. To became kings, the stewards would need to somehow question the legitimacy of the king and that would shake their own, risking their position for no practical gain, since they were de facto kings.

Elevating oneself to king from a lesser position is a risky move that can be a successful or cause one's fall. Pipin the Short tried and succeeded but had to face a revolt that contested his move from majordomo to king. Yuan Shikai ultimate fall was started by his intent to move from president to emperor, which deprived him of the loyalty of his followers.

Then, the Stewards of Gondor could have an stronger hold on power by keeping their status as Stewards instead of trying to become kings.

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Wow, I actually asked the very same question on Reddit some times ago and got some truly enlightening answers. So I think I'm well qualified to discuss this.

As the contributors above have said, the Stewards of Gondor were bound from claiming kingship by both tradition and the security of their position.

Tradition:

"Each new Steward indeed took office with the oath 'to hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return'. But these soon became words of ritual little heeded, for the Stewards exercised all the power of the kings. Yet many in Gondor still believed that a king would indeed return in some time to come; and some remembered the ancient line of the North, which it was rumoured still lived on in the shadows. But against such thoughts the Ruling Stewards hardened their hearts.

Nonetheless the Stewards never sat on the ancient throne; and they wore no crown, and held no sceptre. They bore a white rod only as the token of their office; and their banner was white without charge; but the royal banner had been sable, upon which was displayed a white tree in blossom beneath seven stars."

Tolkien asserted that Gondorians simply will not accept a person (even highborn) as King of Gondor if he's not from the House of Elendil.

Now we've set the ground rules: Not from House of Elendil = No claim to Kingship of Gondor. But was any person from the House of Elendil eligible for kingship?

NO

"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. RotK, Appendix A, I, iv, Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion

The above passage shows that the Stewards of Gondor might not be able to be the King, but they can determine the eligibility of a potential King. And they denied Arvedui of what's supposed to be his birthright.

So in a sense, this does confirm your opinion 'men in that position enjoyed the power.' The Stewards certainly enjoyed being essentially ruler of Gondor. And Denethor II was fully prepared to deny Aragorn's claim.

Security of their position:

The position of Stewards was a position given by the King of Gondor. And that was the ultimate legitimacy of Stewards. They can sit in their chair at the bottom of the High Throne and rule Gondor and none shall question them because the King of Gondor commanded the Stewards to rule in his absence. And the convenient thing about how there hadn't been a King in Gondor for 976 years? It does nothing to disprove the Stewards legitimacy!

Now if a Steward actually declared himself 'King of Gondor', he shall no longer be legitimate -- since the last King of Gondor didn't add 'candidate for the Throne' to the Stewards' job description. The lack of legitimacy would made him vulnerable to political attacks and revolts.

So why move yourself from a perfectly legitimate position to a not-so-legitimate position when you have the same amount of power either way? Why expose yourself to such risks?

Connection with this Earth:

Since Tolkien's actually a human (not Gondorian nor Sindarian nor Dwarven), he actually based his writings on some human societies of this Earth (then idealized them).

Roman Republic, renowned for its distaste of kingship, lasted half a millennium solely on the ideal of democracy -- a kind of reverse parallel to Gondor's empty throne.

Japan, during its Feudal Era, went through a period when its Emperors were basically puppets sitting pretty on a throne and the shoguns controlled the country. But the shoguns themselves never replaced the Emperors, because the Emperors are the 'descendant of the solar goddess Amaterasu' and that bloodline is the only one that may claim the title of Emperor of Japan.

While there might be many cultures that worshipped strength over blood (China's ever changing dynasties being a prime example), we assume Tolkien's Gondor had a culture similar to the ones mentioned above.

And I hope that answers your question!

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There are some titles you don't try to claim. In Gondor, you don't try promoting yourself to king. No real need, and it would not be well received.

In our world, people have grabbed power for centuries. Some became kings. But they didn't claim to be God or Jesus. Such sacrilege would not work to their advantage.

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