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See below a passage from Unfinished Tales (The Battles of the Fords of Isen, Note 2, page 364). (I recommend you re-read the first section of The Battles of the Fords of Isen to refresh your memory.)

The Ents are here left out of account, as they were by all save Gandalf. But unless Gandalf could have brought about the rising of the Ents several days earlier (as from the narrative was plainly not possible), it would not have saved Rohan. The Ents might have destroyed Isengard, and even captured Saruman (if after victory he had not himself followed his army). The Ents and Huorns, with the aid of such Riders of the East-mark as had not yet been engaged, might have destroyed the forces of Saruman in Rohan, but the Mark would have been in ruins, and leaderless. Even if the Red Arrow had found any one with authority to receive it, the call from Gondor would not have been heeded – or at most a few companies of weary men would have reached Minas Tirith, too late except to perish with it.[Author’s note.] – For the Red Arrow see The Return of the King V 3, where it was brought to Théoden by an errand-rider from Gondor as a token of the need of Minas Tirith.

Here it is stated that if the Ents had gone to Rohan after rising, despite what they might have done to help Rohan, the Mark would still have been 'in ruins, and leaderless'. How would the Mark have been 'leaderless'? Was Théoden not still alive at the time of the rising of the Ents? Or had he died beforehand? Or, indeed, is the passage referring to the death of Théodred?

Some enlightenment would be appreciated. Thank you.

2 Answers 2

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This extract is from footnote 2, which is attached to this from the main text:

When Théodred was at last slain Saruman's commander (no doubt under orders) seemed satisfied for the time being, and Saruman made the mistake, fatal as it proved, of not immediately throwing in more forces and proceeding at once to a massive invasion of Westfold [...]

The note is saying that if Saruman's army had decided to carry on after their first attack, and invade the Westfold, the only way to have saved the Mark would have been for the Ents to rise up several days earlier - which Gandalf could not have achieved. So in that case even if they still destroyed Isengard, it would have been too late to save Rohan.

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How would the Mark have been 'leaderless'? Was Théoden not still alive at the time of the rising of the Ents? Or had he died beforehand? Or, indeed, is the passage referring to the death of Théodred?

Yes, Théoden was still alive, but you have to consider the timeline. As Daniel Roseman's answer points out, the note you've quoted comments on what could have happened after Théodred's death, if Saruman had immediately invaded the rest of Westfold. According to note 3,

The first battle of the Folds of Isen, in which Théodred was slain, was fought on the 25th of February; Gandalf reached Edoras seven days later1, on the 2nd of March.

That is, at that point Théoden was still only a puppet in Gríma's hands, and Théodred had just been killed. Other than them, very few could have led the Rohirrim.

One was Éomer, but thanks to Wormtongue's subtle manipulation2 he had already fallen in disgrace in the eyes of Théoden, to the point that when he decided to chase the Uruks he did so without the king's consent, and as a result he was accused of treason and arrested. If he had tried to lead Rohan, probably only his éored (120 men) would have followed him.

Éowyn? Nobody saw her as a possible leader, and it's extremely unlikely that she would have done anything against Théoden's will.

Erkenbrand and others? Same problem: they would have had to go against their king.

That's why Rohan was 'leaderless'.


1: February has 30 days.
2: According to the beginning of the chapter,

Gríma therefore tried to play [Théodred and Éomer] one against the other in the mind of Théoden, representing Éomer as ever eager to increase his own authority and to act without consulting the King or his Heir. In this he had some success, which bore fruit when Saruman at last succeeded in achieving the death of Théodred.

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