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I've not read any books of Middle-Earth bar The Hobbit, so my knowledge of the setting is severely lacking. From the films and what research I have done, I've found many references to kings, some (perhaps only one) of princes (thinking of Dol Amroth), and "lords" such as Lord Elrond. I am wondering, if there is any other nobility in the writings of Tolkien other than princes and "lords" (I put lords in scare quotes because I am aware that dukes and earls and so on are lords, and even kings can be called lords, but characters such as Elrond are described as nothing more than lords). Did Tolkien ever write a duke, or an earl, or count or baron or anything such as this?

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Contrary to what seems widely believed, Middle-earth is actually not a feudal/medieval society, so one shouldn't go looking for feudal/medieval titles in it.

Some parts of it may well resemble such a society, but on the whole it's well documented (e.g. in Letters) that Tolkien's primary source of inspiration was Dark Ages Germanic mythology.

Duke, Count and Baron are all derived from Latin words, via French (duc, comte, baron) and as such have no place in Tolkien's work. Earl on the other hand is Germanic, related to Scandinavian jarl, and was used in the name Eorl the Young.

Another familiar title is used in the name of Theoden's father: Thengel, related to thegn/thane.

Gondor has knights, but despite that we have no indication of "Sir" being used as a knightly title. Remembering the device of feigned-translation employed by Tolkien, we can speculate that the word "knight" was just used as a familiar reference point but perhaps not intended to evoke modern clichéd images of medieval knights.

In fact Tolkien (in note 17 to Disaster of the Gladden Fields) states that the word "knight" is used to represent Quenya roquen, which contains roch "horse" and quen "person", i.e "horseman". This is indicated (in the same note) to be a purely military rank (above that of ohtar "warrior, soldier") rather than a noble title.

In any event, neither Gondor nor Rohan were medieval societies, per Letter 211:

The Rohirrim were not 'mediaeval', in our sense ... the Númenóreans of Gondor were proud, peculiar, and archaic, and I think are best pictured in (say) Egyptian terms.

One title that Gondor did have was Steward, but that was a very particular rank with a specific purpose rather than a title that could be earned or granted.

  • 3
    Historically, the title "Prince" has sometimes been used for a local ruler of lesser rank than a king, who is not necessarily a member of a royal family. Examples include the Prince of Orange in modern France and the Prince-Bishop of Durham in England. I think Tolkien is using the title in this sense for Imrahil (and also Faramir, who was made Prince of Ithilien by Aragorn). I don't think Tolkien was being entirely consistent there, since he could have easily used a less feudal-sounding title like "Governor". – Royal Canadian Bandit Feb 21 '14 at 14:51
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    @Mac Cooper: Yes. It's worth mentioning that the medieval rulers of Wales used the title of Prince before they were conquered by England. (Afterwards, Prince of Wales was a title assigned to the oldest son of the English monarch, as it still is to this day.) This might have influenced Tolkien, given his interest in Celtic languages and mythology. – Royal Canadian Bandit Feb 21 '14 at 15:45
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    It's also very important to note that Middle Earth is not one homogeneous society. Elves organized and governed themselves very differently from Shire-folk (who so far as we know had no form of government whatsoever), who organized and governed themselves quite differently from the men of Rohan... and the wild men of the North... and the Ents... and the Goblins... and etc. Calling Middle Earth "not feudal" is like calling Asia "not fuedal." ...in fact, it's almost exactly the same as calling all of Europe "not feudal." ;-) – Matt Feb 21 '14 at 15:59
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    @Matt To say that the Shire has no form of government is inaccurate. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayor_of_the_Shire – Brian Lacy Feb 21 '14 at 17:57
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    @MacCooper Yes, the Elves have kings. "Gil-galad was an Elven-king. Of him the harpers sadly sing: The last whose realm was fair and free Between the mountains and the sea." Thranduil is also the "Elvenking" of Mirkwood. – Andres F. Feb 21 '14 at 18:50
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The Shire had Thains, Pippin was made a Knight of Gondor (implying the existence of other such Knights) and Rohan had Marshals of the Mark (e.g. Eomer). All of those are noble titles of one kind or another.

  • I missed knights despite referencing the leader of the Swan Knights. Thain is interesting: the wikia states it's a military title, a concept I would never guess from the films (I should read the books); it also states the hobbits made a thain to rule them, so seems a strong parallel to a king; is this accurate? I'm still interested as well in lesser nobles (as in, a baron under the king) unlike the rulers I've seen so far. I read of the Warden of Westmarch made by Aragorn as king as a hereditary title: this seems similar to a vassal; does the Warden have fidelity to the king, as barons would? – Mac Cooper Feb 21 '14 at 12:22
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    Most noble titles started out as military titles; for example "Duke" derives from Dux Bellorum, "war leader". The Thain of the Shire can't be a king, because the hobbits still acknowledge the King of Arnor as their rightful king, even if he's not been seen for centuries. The Thain is a leader of a region under the king, which is exactly what a noble is. – Mike Scott Feb 21 '14 at 15:55
  • I know about noble titles starting as military. I was noting that, according to the wikia, the hobbit's use of the word thain was military and this was interesting based on my knowledge of hobbits (The Hobbit and the films, which do not show the hobbits in general as militaristic). I read that hobbits gave themselves a ruler (thain) and based on that that's a parallel to a king; however thanks for telling me that they still recognise the King of Arnor as their king: that pretty much answers the question: their thain is noble title, at least put simply, albeit one that they gave themselves. – Mac Cooper Feb 21 '14 at 16:02
  • Master was also a title encountered in The Shire, both in polite conversation and in a more official sense. Merry became the Master of Buckland (the head of the Brandybuck family/clan), inheriting the position and title in FA (Fourth Age) 11. – maguirenumber6 Sep 30 '17 at 13:47
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In the Silmarillion it is stated that after the days of Earendur that the Men of the Westernesse, the Dunedain of the North, became divided into petty realms and lordships. Therefore these terms could apply... The reference is only useful in that the term 'petty' implies a disorganized and varied structure of hierarchy which could be analogous to such titles.

  • Do you know what the ruler of the these realms and lordships was called (their title, not their name)? And do you know if the rulers are "under" another ruler, that they have an overlord, like a duke is subservient to a king? – Mac Cooper Feb 21 '14 at 18:02
  • They are only referenced as descendants of Isuildur and fated to perish, probably as a result of their isolation from Gondor. – F. Wingenroth Feb 21 '14 at 18:45
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It's important to keep in mind that Middle-earth is not a single society, but many. Most, if not all, of those societies have a hierarchy, but there was no common system of nobility.

The title "Lord" is used by Tolkien for several people, including Elrond, Denethor and Celeborn. This doesn't imply that they received these titles from some common authority. Tolkien is using "Lord" as a generic title for a ruler or other great person.

Here are notes on titles used by various peoples.

Elves
Before the elves first arrived in Valinor, the heads of their houses were referred to as kings.

Thus Elwë's folk who sought him found him not, and Olwë took the kingship of the Teleri and departed, as is told hereafter.

The Silmarillion: Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 4: Of Thingol and Melian.
Page 55 (George Allen and Unwin 1977 hardback edition).

Gondor
Gondor was originally ruled by Kings. When the King was away, his Steward would rule in his place until he returned. The Stewards were traditionally chosen from a single family, and the post eventually became hereditary.

In 2050 (Third Age), King Eärnur went away and never returned. His Steward Mardil remained in charge, and Mardil's descendants inherited his power "until the King should return".

At the time of the War of the Ring, we read of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, the nephew of Denethor. The origin of his title is not explained, but it may simply refer to the fact that he was the ruler (under the Steward) of Dol Amroth.

Hobbits
The hobbits of the Shire originally acknowledged the authority of the King of Arnor. By the time of The Lord of the Rings, that kingship had died out and the hobbits thought little of it.

The head of the Tooks was referred to as the Thain, and he was in charge of the (rarely used) militia. This title is reminiscent of the Anglo Saxon term "Thegn" which referred to a retainer of the King (who usually had a military role).

But in that war the North Kingdom ended; and then the Hobbits took the land for their own, and they chose from their own chiefs a Thain to hold the authority of the king that was gone.

The Lord of the Rings Prologue, Section 3: Of the Ordering of the Shire
Page 8 (Single volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

The head of the Brandybuck family was known as the Master of Buckland. The origin of the tile is not explained in The Lord of the Rings, but as Buckland was outside the original borders of the Shire, it is possible that the Hobbits (or at least the Brandybucks) thought that it needed its own leader.

By the late Third age, the Thain and the Master these were mainly ceremonial titles.

The only real official in the Shire at this date was the Mayor of Michel Delving (or of the Shire)...

The Lord of the Rings Prologue, Section 3: Of the Ordering of the Shire
Page 8 (Single volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

Rohan
Rohan is ruled by a hereditary King. There are also three Marshals, although this appears to be a military appointment rather than a rank of nobility.

  • Can I suggest to get rid of the Valar part, it's irrelevant to Middle-earth. I'm almost certain most Middle-earth races had nobility – Edlothiad Sep 30 '17 at 5:04
  • @Edlothiad Good point about the Valar, I'll remove that part. The closest to a race without nobility that I can think of is the hobbits, but even they have a few titles. – Blackwood Sep 30 '17 at 12:25
  • I'd say the Thain is quite similar to the current UK Queen, she's there but has no real power, and the Mayor of Michael Delving which is effectively Hobbit Prime Minister. – Edlothiad Sep 30 '17 at 14:02
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There are hereditary titles of rule in some Middle-earth societies. Pippin became Thain of the Shire, Meriadoc became Master of Buckland, there was Hurin Lord of Dor-lomin, Amanadil Lord of Adunie, Imrahil Prince of Dol Amroth, Faramir Prince of Ithilin and Steward of Gondor, etc., as well as hereditary kings.

Of course all these titles have been translated from Westron and other ancient languages of Middle-earth into modern English.

So some societies in Middle-earth have positions similar in many ways to what you think of as nobility (even though your ideas of what nobility is are likely to be partially inaccurate if you are not an expert).

But remember that European nobility mostly started in the Dark Ages of 1,500 years ago and changed and evolved as society changed and evolved over 1,500 years until the present.

And the societies in LOTR are not medieval societies but societies in a fictional age about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, and thus at least 4,500 years before the beginning of what we might think of as familiar European types of nobility.

So yes there was semi-quasi-sort of nobility in some societies in Middle-earth.

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Actually in Middle-Earth, people weren't acknowledged on the basis of titles, also they weren't as many titles as Medieval England had. But people were known mostly on the basis of their lineage or blood.

Aragorn could prove his might in battle nevertheless but to be able to command the armies of Gondor and Rohan was only possible because he revealed his true identity as a direct descendant of Isildur and the true heir to the throne of Gondor. So blood mattered a lot and this is what distinguished people. This I was telling about Kingdoms of Men.

Amongst Elves, lineage did make a difference, the right of becoming a High Elven King was passed on to Fingolfin and to his sons only. Elrond, though, the grandson of Idril Celebrindal, daughter to Turgon did not take the lordship over all Elves in Middle-earth, one of the reasons was that he was not a full Elf and not a direct descendant of Turgon. Elves were not governed in the same ways as Men were in Numenor, there the laws could be bent.

Coming to Dwarves, the lordship was there but that was only that of the direct descendants of Durin and those who were suited to be King. In this case the line of Durin wasn't scattered as there were very few dwarf-women.

In the case of Hobbits, Tolkien gave us very light into their world. The lordship was there only of the Mayors or the Thains appointed by the King after the accession of King Elessar.

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