In Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers, we learn some things about Aragorn's family tree. There are basically two facts that together are confusing me:

  1. The Kingdom of Arnor comes to an end in TA 1975 after the Dúnedain are basically wiped out battling the forces of Angmar. But the line survives in Aranarth, Aragorn's great-to-the-power-of-thirteen-grandfather.
  2. The line of the Kings of Gondor comes to an end in TA 2050, when Eärnur dies with no sons and they can't find a pure-blooded Dúnedain to rule after him.

However, Aranarth is alive at this time (He doesn't die until 2106, meaning he's as good a candidate as any to take the throne of Gondor. So why doesn't he?

Showing my work a bit, the Appendix does give a partial answer. In 1944 the King and both his sons are killed in battle, and history tells us:

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.

[Arvedui objects to this on the grounds that he's still descended in direct line from Elendil]

To this Gondor made no answer. The crown was claimed by Eärnil, the victorious captain; and it was granted to him with the approval of all the Dúnedain in Gondor [...] Arvedui did not press his claim; for he had neither the power nor the will to oppose the choice of the Dúnedain of Gondor; yet the claim was never forgotten by his descendants even when their kingship had passed away.

So, okay. Maybe Aranarth (The son of Arvedui) doesn't come forward because he holds a bit of a grudge, or because he figures they'll reject him again. Fair enough.

But there are nine hundred years between when Eärnur dies and Aragorn takes the throne. For all of that time, we know that Gondor expects a King to return, and not just Eärnur himself:

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.

So everybody knows that Gondor is waiting for a King, and apparently the only people who don't know that the Northern Line is still alive and kicking is Gondor herself. So why, in those (again) nine hundred years, did one of them not come forward to claim the throne?

  • 9
    They didn't want to waste a perfectly good dramatic entrance on anything other than an existential crisis for the Kingdom? Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 1:55
  • I would think it was because the elves didn't want a new king. Elrond had control of the fragments of Narsil (the blade that was broken), and it would have required his authority for the elvish smiths to reforge it. It took an existential threat to elves of Middle Earth before he was willing to surrender the essential proof of kingship to Isildur's heir. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 2:23
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    @ImaginaryEvents This is an interesting theory, but it has limited support from the books. Although Elrond's smiths did reforge Narsil, Aragorn had at least two of the pieces on him at the time of the Council of Elrond. More than that it's not clear why the Elves would oppose a Dúnedain king in Gondor; the two peoples have good relations in the Third Age, and the Elves don't seem terribly concerned with the affairs of Men in the first place Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 5:19
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    @JasonBaker, you are correct, Aragorn presents the Sword in the Council of Elrond, and it is in two pieces. Further, he speaks of his heritage, saying "Our days have darkened, and we have dwindled; but ever the Sword has passed to a new keeper." But being broken, its light was extinguished, and it would not have been the token of kingship that the reforged blade became. Truly, the only way any heir could be recognized would be with Elrond's approval. And we are told in the Third Age the elves became very conservative; "They attempted nothing new" (Appendix B). Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 6:05
  • +1 Fascinating. I'd never even considered that before.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 17:18

3 Answers 3


A hint is given in LotR Appendix A, "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen", when discussing Aragorn's youth and upbringing in Rivendell:

...his true name and lineage were kept secret at the bidding of Elrond; for the Wise then knew that the Enemy was seeking to discover the Heir of Isildur, if any remained upon earth.

This shows that Isildur's heir was being kept hidden by Elrond in order to protect and conceal him from Sauron, and there's no reason to suppose that what was true for Aragorn wasn't also true for his ancestors.

In "The Tale of Years" we see that the timing is right; although the White Council didn't confirm for certain that Sauron had returned until TA 2850, they had begun to suspect it as early as TA 2060 (Gandalf made his first visit to Dol Guldur in TA 2063), which was just shortly after the loss of Eärnur.

You should also note that Aragorn's decision to reveal himself as Isildur's heir and claim the kingship wasn't a case of just waking up one morning and deciding he'd like to be king; it was a very specific set of circumstances:

But now the world is changing once again. A new hour comes. Isildur's Bane is found. Battle is at hand. The Sword shall be reforged. I will come to Minas Tirith.

("The Council of Elrond")

In other words: the decision to come out of hiding was forced on him by the potential pending disaster at the end of the Third Age.

  • 5
    +1. Arvedui was known as Last-King. His descendants no longer claimed the title King of Arnor or tried to exercise authority over its vast area; like Aragorn as "Strider", they kept a very low profile as Chieftains of the Dunedain. It would not have been general knowledge that Arvedui's descendants were still around. Also, many Gondorians (?) would prefer the rule of the Stewards (born and raised in Gondor, and familiar with its society) to a slightly-foreign candidate from up north, even if he was the closest heir by blood. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 9:34
  • At this point I may be picking at plot holes, but there are a lot of holes in this plan. For one thing, as far as pretty much anyone knew, Sauron was gone. Even the Wise were hoping he wouldn't come back. But even granting the threat, surely the Heir would be safes behind the impenetrable walls of Minas Tirith, with the full force of Gondor and (sometimes) Rohan to protect him? Anyway +1 because this is a good answer, but it's not wholly satisfying to me Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 17:48
  • @JasonBaker - see my reference to Tale of Years entry for TA 2060: "The power of Dol Guldur grows. The Wise fear that it may be Sauron taking shape again" - by the time the kingship of Gondor came up for grabs, the Wise certainly had cause to at least suspect that Sauron was not gone. That's not a plot hole.
    – user8719
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 18:01
  • Also, regarding the supposed safety of Gondor, Minas Morgul had already been established by then, the Balrog had already appeared in Moria (so getting to Gondor might have been troublesome), Rohan didn't exist yet. I encourage you to read the Tale of Years entries from approx TA 1976 onwards to illustrate just exactly how dangerous things were in the South. Meantime the North was relatively safe because Angmar had been destroyed and the Witch-king expelled.
    – user8719
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 18:07
  • 3
    Sauron might be gone, but the Witch King of Angmar was not. He had destroyed the Kingdom of the North in the first place and was who the line was hiding from. He was now operating in the South, so activating the King of the West and plunking him within sight of his HQ at Minas Morgul hardly seems like a good plan.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 23:26

The Heirs of Elendil had only one more chance to restore their Kingdoms

Arvedui of Arthedain claimed the Throne of Gondor after the death of Ondoher in TA 1944. Still young at the age of 80, he claimed the throne via two routes:

  1. In his own right as direct descendant of Isildur, King of Gondor

  2. On behalf of his wife, Fíriel, the daughter and only surviving child of the late King Ondoher

But strongly influenced by the Steward Pelendur, the Council of Gondor dismissed both of these claims:

The crown and royalty of Gondor belongs solely to the heirs of Meneldil, son of Anárion, to whom Isildur relinquished the realm. In Gondor this heritage is reckoned through the sons only, and we have not head that the law is otherwise in Arnor.

--- "Gondor and the heirs of Anárion" (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Part IV)

The Crown was instead awarded to the victorious captain of Gondor's Southern Army, Eärnil, the great-great-grandson of Telumehtar Umbardacil (reigned 1798-1850.) Eärnil had defeated the enemy army that had invaded Ithilien from Harad and then headed north, gathered the remnants of the routed Northern Army, and destroyed the eastern invaders, the Wainriders.

A pedigree is less important to the people of Gondor than military success

The memory of the Dúnedain was long. Just as the Heirs of Isildur never forgot their ancient majesty as the High-Kings of Arnor, the Council of Gondor lived in fear of repeating the errors that led to the Kin-strife, Gondor's civil war, which was fought between the factions led by:

  1. King Eldacar, the half-Gondorian (but still legitimate) son of King Valacar.

  2. Castamir the Usurper; Captain of the Ships, and although he was the great-grandson of King Calmacil, one of the closest collateral heirs to the throne.

Valacar was the first Prince of Gondor to wed anyone other than a Númenórean, and rebellion was beginning to stir by the end of his reign. The war was brutal, and it lasted for some time until Osgiliath was taken. Eldacar fled to the northlands and his mother's people, but his heir, Ornendil, was among the many who were slaughtered and the Master-Stone of the South, the Palantír of Osgiliath was lost.

Castamir had not long sat upon the throne before he proved himself haughty and ungenerous. He was a cruel man [...] love for Castamir was further lessened it became seen that he cared little for the land, and thought only of the fleets and purposed to move the king's seat to Pelagir. [...] when Eldacar, seeing his time, came with a great army out of the north, and folk flocked to him

--- "Gondor and the heirs of Anárion" (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Part IV)

So, after ten years of brutal rule by Castamir, Eldacar took his chance and was able to recapture the throne. He killed Castamir, but his sons and many of his supporters escaped to Umbar, which remained a dangerous enemy of Gondor until it was finally recaptured by Aragorn II.

Paradoxically, thanks to the Kin-strife killing off so many of the "best and brightest" of Gondor, the Kin-strife itself led to the very thing it had been fought over. The Kings kept their close kin under suspicion, and those same kin would either flee to Umbar or renounce their status and take wives who were not of Númenórean blood. So by the time of Eärnil's death, there was no acceptable claimant to the throne.

The people of Gondor had some very strong ideas about who should be King

The prophecy that gave Arvedui his name foretold that the Dúnedain would face long suffering, but would rise again before they would be reunited.

"Arvedui you shall call him, for he will be the last in Arthedain. Though a choice will come to the Dúnedain, and if they take the one that seems less hopeful, then your son will change his name and become king of a great realm. If not, then much sorrow and many lives of men shall pass, until the Dúnedain arise and are united again."

--- "Gondor and the heirs of Anárion" (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Part IV)

Prophecies in this world have been shown to be serious business. But between the Fall of Arthedain and the Return of the King, there were no substantial changes to the fortunes of the Dúnedain.

They know that prophecies are real, and should not be ignored

When the Council of Gondor denied Arvedui's claim, he made this response:

"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 kings of the Dúnedain. While Elendil still lived, the conjoint 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 forever.

"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 sibs if Ondoher died childless."

--- "Gondor and the heirs of Anárion" (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Part IV)

The Council of Gondor made no response to this, but went ahead and gave Eärnil the crown.

The years grew longer, but the fortunes of the Chieftains of the Dúnedain had only slipped further. No longer the Kings of Arthedain, they were now forgotten by most and now led their people from the shadows.

"How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?" [Boromir] asked. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," [Denethor] answered. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."

--- "The Window on the West" (The Lord of the Rings, Book IV, Chapter 5)

This is the kind of attitude that the Heirs of Isildur would have faced had they made another attempt to claim the throne. Would a people who would wait ten thousand years for the return of their king accept a "such a [king], last of a house long bereft of lordship and dignity," to use the words of Denethor?

"Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this Realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar, of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, Elendil's son of Númenor. Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?"

--- "The Steward and the King" (The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter 5)

Aragorn II was the first Chieftain of the Dúnedain to have the achieved such success. He defeated the forces of Mordor, led the victorious armies of Gondor and her allies, and reforged the sword of Elendil. The Line of Anárion had come to its end hundreds of years ago, but with all his achievements, and the ol' "I'm actually the Heir of Elendil instead of the Heir of Isildur" dodge,

Aragorn II was the first since Arvedui to have any chance to reclaim the Crown


I think the Heirs of Isildur were in hiding for so long to trick Sauron into thinking there was no royal blood left. Also, Arnor was safer than Gondor because there was no one to attack them in Arnor, whilst Gondor was often attacked. Minas Morgul was full of enemies, Mordor was also close to Minas Tirith. Gondor lost Ithilien so Gondor was a dangerous place for the Heirs of Isildur.

Aragorn was the first to come forward because the War of the Ring would only have one surviving army, Sauron or Gondor. If Gondor fell it was only a matter of time until they reached Arnor, and then the Dúnedain would finally fall. It was all or nothing, now or never.

  • Welcome to Science Fiction and Fantasy SE, take a look at our tour to get an idea of the answers we're looking for. Although a good answer, can you cite any sources that may have inspired your thought?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:12

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