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Bilbo's / Frodo's mithril chain mail was made for an Elven prince, that much is established. A friend now sent me this article: Frodo's Mithril Shirt Once Belonged to Another Lord of the Rings Hero

According to the article, one of the only possible elven princes was Legolas:

The other thing that Bilbo took back with him didn't come from a Troll cave. It was a chainmail shirt that Thorin gifted him before the Battle of the Five Armies. Here's the quote from The Hobbit novel: "With that [Thorin] put on Bilbo a small coat of mail, wrought for some young Elf-prince long ago. It was of silver-steel which the elves call mithril, and with it went a belt of pearls and crystals." That quote holds some hidden proof that the mithril shirt might have been made for Legolas.

For starters, there weren’t a bunch of Elven princes in Middle-earth. All indication was that Legolas was the only Elven prince during the Third Age. That was never said outright, but there were only four Elven realms during the Third Age: Rivendell, Lothlorien, Thranduil's kingdom and the remains of Lindon. Of those realms, only one had a king -- Thranduil. Thus, Legolas was the only "prince" in Middle-earth during the Third Age.

...

So, it's likely that the shirt was made for Legolas, even if Tolkien didn't originally plan for the overlap when he wrote The Hobbit.

Is there any back up for this theory, that the chain mail was indeed intended for Legolas?

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    It sounds like head-canon to me. We don't have any other information about the origin of this mithril coat. We don't know if Tolkien was being literal with the phrase "some young Elf-prince" or if he used it in a more generic sense to refer to a young high-born Elf.
    – PM 2Ring
    Feb 29 at 21:23
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    The author conveniently forgot about Elladan and Elrohir.
    – Spencer
    Feb 29 at 22:58
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    Also, why assume the coat / shirt was made in the 3rd age? That's pretty implausible: there were no major wars, so not much demand for mail. And the great crafts had diminished. It's far more likely to come from the 2nd or perhaps the 1st age. Besides, when Tolkien says "long ago", he's generally talking about previous ages.
    – PM 2Ring
    Mar 1 at 1:03
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    If it had been made for Legolas, surely he would have mentioned it when it was finally revealed on the way to Lothlorien. "Gee, that looks like the one my father ordered for me when I was a child."
    – FlaStorm32
    Mar 1 at 16:59
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    @MichaelFoster Not at all. Even if we assume it was part of the armory and not something that was added after Thror died (perhaps brought by Smaug from another source, perhaps already at the Lonely Mountain, etc), that still provides no evidence that it wasn’t an existing piece that was acquired long after it had been crafted. Mithril is known to be absurdly durable and resistant to the ravages of time, so adding a possibly centuries old piece of mithril armor that’s still in good condition to an armory is perfectly reasonable. Mar 1 at 18:17

2 Answers 2

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We have no idea, but in some earlier drafts and notes it was said to be for "an elf-king’s son" or for the sons of "Girion king/Lord of Dale".

Tolkien never gives any indication as to which specific elf the mithril coat was made for. We can of course speculate random characters, but it could have just as likely been a character who's not mentioned.

There's not a lot else to say about that idea, so let's take a look at the manuscript history of this passage and see what we do know.

We can trace the development of what would become the mithril coat through some of Tolkien's plot notes and drafts for the Hobbit. (Do note though that all of this long predates the significance of the coat being of Mithril. That detail was invented for The Lord of the Rings, and only added to The Hobbit through a revision to the text in 1966.)

In some plot notes Bilbo dons a suit of mail that was made for "an elf-king’s son" (who does not seem to be the king of the wood-elves in the story).

With an army – a battle is gathering in the west. B[ilbo] puts on the a suit of silver mail made for an elf-king’s son, and goes with the wood-elves to battle.
The History of the Hobbit - The Second Phase, Plot Notes B

In some plots written a bit later, this idea drops, but not now we instead get told of silver mail suits made for Girion's sons. (Girion's jem is the precursor for the Arkenstone.)

B[ilbo] goes back and talks to dwarves. Warns them dragon knows of exit. Asks them about plans. They are a bit flummoxed. They tell him of the Jem of Girion king of Dale, which he paid for his sons’ arming in gold & silver mail made like steel.
The History of the Hobbit - The Second Phase, Plot Notes C

These coats for Girion's sons then make their first narrative appearance in the first manuscript draft of the "Conversations with Smaug" chapter, (written right after those notes), as something the dwarves tell Bilbo about.

There they sat and the talk drifted on to things they remembered, that must now be lying in the hall below ....and most fair of all the white gem of Girion Lord of Dale, which he paid for the arming of his sons, in coats of dwarf mail the like of which had never before been made of silver wrought the power and strength of steel
The History of the Hobbit - The Second Phase, Chapter XII

And then in the first manuscript draft of the "Not At Home" chapter, we actually see such a coat, though this time one made for "some elf-prince", in what would eventually become the passage we're familiar with.

Then he put upon Bilbo a small coat of mail, wrought for some elf-prince long ago. It was of silvered steel, adorned with pearls, and a belt of pearls and crystals went with it.
The History of the Hobbit - The Second Phase, Chapter XIV

At some point later Tolkien penciled in a change of "some elf-prince" to "some young elf-prince". (John Rateliff suggests that this was because when Tolkien originally wrote it he was envisioning his elves as smaller than human sized, but then by making the elves taller, for the coat to still fit Bilbo Tolkien specified that it was for a young elf.)

This is possibly of significance, because it suggests that Tolkien might have conceived of the elves as somewhat smaller than human size when he originally wrote this passage. Initially, in his early ‘fairy poetry’ such as ‘Goblin Feet’ and ‘Tinfang Warble’ and in The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien had thought of the elves as much smaller than human, but by the mid-1920s came to reject this and envisioned them instead as of similar stature to humans (as in the feys of medieval romance, legends of the Tuatha dé Danaan, and Spenser’s Faerie Queene).
The History of the Hobbit - The Second Phase, Chapter XIV, note 16

And then as first published in 1937, the passage read:

With that he put on Bilbo a small coat of mail, wrought for some young elf-prince long ago. It was of silvered steel and ornamented with pearls, and with it went a belt of pearls and crystals.
The Annotated Hobbit

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Another possibly would be a son of king Bladorthin. Among the treasures mentioned by Thorin & co. were spears made for King Bladorthin but never paid for or delivered.

"... the spears that were made for the armies of the great King Bladorthin (long since dead), each had a thrice-forged head and their shafts were inlaid with cunning gold, but they were never delivered or paid for..."

Since Bladorthin was a king, his sons - if any - would be princes. If King Bladorthin was an Elf king, his sons - if any - would be Elf princes.

Was King Bladorthin a Man, an Elf, a Dwarf, an Orc, or some other type of being?

https://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Bladorthin

Anyway, this is a mention of a King whose unnamed kingdom was at an unknown location in Middle-earth, possibly beyond the southern or the eastern border of the typical map of northwestern Middle-earth.

In "the Shadow of the Past" Gandalf mentioned that many Human kings and warriors were under Sauron's control.

And I say that no one can know how many kings of Men, or Elves, or Dwarves, or Orcs, or other beings, might have existed in Middle-earth at that time.

I also note that Gil-galad was supposedly young during part of the First Age, and his father, a Noldorin king or prince, might have had a coat of mithril mail made for him when he was a small child. And Gil-galad would eventually outgrow it, though it might take him a decade or two longer than a human boy would take. And then it might have been sold back to the Dwarves who made it. And possibly it was sold to the fathers of many young Elf, and Human, and Dwarf, princes over the years. And maybe it eventually passed to the dwarves of Durin's line who kept it and occasionally sold it and bought it back when a prince outgrew it.

And if any Thain of the Shire had ever been rich enough, he might have bought it and passed it down as a heirloom to the adult Thains who followed, but no Hobbit would ever be rich enough to afford it.

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    You appear to be using prince in a modern sense meaning a king’s son, but that is not the sense with which Tolkien usually used that term. It meant a ruler, as in Machiavelli. The textual evidence for this is very strong. Consider the Princes of Dol Amroth and of Ithilien: those were princedoms. Boromir was called a prince of Gondor, but to call him the son of some king would be a grave usurpation of that title. The Prince of Cats was no son to some King of Cats, etc etc. The citation list goes ever on and on. There were many Sindarin princes, and Noldorin ones, and of the Edain.
    – tchrist
    Mar 1 at 13:15
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    You make some good points, but this answer is almost as speculative as the OP's linked article. ;)
    – PM 2Ring
    Mar 1 at 17:07
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    Nolderin > Noldorin (and Gil-galad, if I'm being super pedantic) Mar 2 at 2:47
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    @tchrist Actually the word prince has many meanings. The Prince of Dol Amroth would be the ruling prince of a principality, what is called a furst in German. That is a third meaning besides a kings son and a ruler in general. Once Tolkien decided that Elves were as tall as men, any Elf prince the size of Bilbo would have to be a young one, a child by Elf standards, and so it can be hoped that he was not an orphaned prince in the sense of a ruler in general or the prince of a principality, but the son of a still living ruler.. Mar 2 at 15:28
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    @David Roberts I have made the corrections. Considering the fates of the Noldorin Elves who returned to Middle-earth, it is surprising that I never spell it Moulderin'. Mar 2 at 15:33

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