I was answering this question, which made me curious about the succession rules for the High Kingship of the Noldor.

Based on my analysis, it seems as though succession works on a variation of Salic law, where female heirs are excluded from the line of succession

I say this mainly because Fingolfin succeeded Finwë as High King of the Noldor, despite having an older sister (Findis). This same thing happens with the next High King; when Turgon dies, the Kingship passes not to his aunt Írimë (whose fate is admittedly unknown; it's possible she's dead at this point), but to the heir of Írimë's younger brother Finarfin.

However, I'm curious if Tolkien ever formalized these rules of succession. So here's my question:

What, if anything, did Tolkien write regarding the rules of Elvish succession?

  • Interesting question, but I am reading (again) the Silmarillion right now, and I found interesting the idea that Turgon was made high king of the Noldor after Fingon's death, even though he was out of reach in his hidden kingdom of Gondolin and quite incapable of giving orders to people at the mouth of Sirion for exemple... so the title was more honorific than anything else. – Joel May 11 '15 at 14:03

I'm not aware of Tolkien creating rules for Elvish succession, and I doubt he ever discussed it in detail. The main reason is that Elves, under normal circumstances, do not die. Therefore, succession is not even supposed to be an issue. After the Noldor rebelled, left Valinor, and formed kingdoms in Middle Earth in opposition to Morgoth, then the deaths of kings in battle did require that leadership be passed on. But, from an Elven point of view, all "succession" is emergency succession. If your father is the king, if everything goes well, you will never become king. And unless you hate your father, you prefer it that way. Legolas is a prince, but he never shows any sign of expecting to becomg king one day. Elves simply don't think like that.

Most of the individual instances where female Elves did not succeed male relatives to the High Kingship included extenuating circumstances. Yes, Findis was passed over for rule, but she remained in Valinor after the rebellion of the Noldor, so she could not have succeeded Finwe as their leader. And as you said, Irime's fate is unknown. Succession to the High Kingship is so rare that it would be difficult to draw a general principle from these incidents alone. I think that, if the Elves were to draw up laws of succession (which they do not seem to have done), a form of Salic law would be likely, given how few female leaders are among the Elves.

Still, there are other possibilities. Succession is, after all, only necessary because Middle Earth is in a state of war. (Even leadership is necessary, in part, because of the war--had the Noldor remained in Valinor, there would have been no High Kings.) Given the very physical nature of combat at that time, most female Elves would not have been successful warriors--a problem which would lead many Elves to prefer male leaders. Females who could provide protection--Melian, for instance, and later Galadriel--were a different story. Galadriel ultimately becomes, with her husband Celeborn, joint-ruler of Lothlorien--which passed into their hands after the death of Amroth. Amroth was a Sindarin Elf and had no direct relationship to either one. Celeborn was at least Sindarin. Yet Galadriel became a ruler of Lothlorien as well, when she was one of the Noldor. Fewer Elven women become leaders than Elven men, but the Elves seem to have no difficulty accepting Galadriel's leadership. They recognize the protection her wisdom offers them and value it.

In sum: succession to the High Kingship happens only a few times throughout Elvish history, so it is difficult to determine a set of rules that govern it. Succession rules among the Elves in general seem to vary. Some Elven leaders succeed others because they are male relatives. Some are male relatives who happen to be close by when disaster strikes. Some are chosen simply for their wisdom. It depends on who is being succeeded, who is doing the choosing, what the political situation is, and what candidates are available. In all cases succession is considered unfortunate.

According to The Silmarillion, Fingon son of Fingolfin rescued his cousin and long time friend Mahedros, the eldest son of Feanor, from Thangordrim soon after the Noldor returned to Middle-earth and soon after the death of Feanor.

In a council, Mahedros gave up his claim to be the high king of the Noldor to Fingolfin, father of Finrod, to atone for Feanor abandoning the people of Fingolfin in Aman. He also said that Fingolfin was the rightful king anyway as the oldest member of the family.

That line suggests that the Noldor might possibly have had succession laws, perhaps made before they left the dangers of Middle-earth in the Great Journey. After all, none of the first three leaders of the elves seemed to have been alive at the time of the Great Journey.

I don't know of any other statement about elvish rules of succession or who should be the heir, and it is possible that Mahedros made up that rule on the spot.

Fingolfin was succeeded by his son Fingon, and Fingon by his brother Turgon, and I don't know if Fingon or Turgon was older than Mahedros. Finrod, King of Nargrothrond, was younger than Fingolfin, Mahedros, Fingon, and Turgon, since he was said to be the youngest of the great lords of the Noldor. Finrod never got to be the High King.


The account of Maeglin at Gondolin states that he wanted to marry King Turgon's daughter Idril who was his heir. It doesn't say whether she was heirss to Gondolin, or heiress to the high kingship of the Noldor, or both.

  • Maybe the Annals of Aman in the History of Middle earth series give birtdates in Years of the trees for Mahedros, Fingolfin, Fingon, Turgon, and Finrod to show the elative birth order. – M. A. Golding May 12 '15 at 4:18

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