The Stewards and the Royal Family of Gondor: Are They Related?
The Stewards are a very high-ranking family in the land of Gondor, yet they do not have a claim to the throne. Can we/should we accept Tolkien’s note in Peoples of Middle-Earth about the Stewards being of “ultimately royal” origin? Does it contradict the statement in The Lord of the Rings that the Stewards were not of the line of Elendil? Is Michael Martinez’ suggestion for the connection between the two families (in ‘The Men Who Would Be Stewards) plausible?
Lest I be misunderstood, let me hasten to say one thing before I begin: I am making absolutely no claims about anyone’s greatness, and I am not trying to prove that the families are “equal.” I only want to examine the textual evidence concerning the possibility of a blood relationship.
Evidence against a relationship:
I’ll start with this since it mostly comes from The Lord of the Rings and therefore has a better claim to being canonical.
From The Lord of the Rings:
“We of my house are not of the line of Elendil, though the blood of Númenor is in us. For we reckon back our line to Mardil, the good steward….” (Faramir, “The Window on the West”)
“Now the descendants of the kings had become few. Their numbers had been greatly diminshed in the Kin-strife; whereas since that time the kings had become jealous and watchful of those near akin. Often those on whom suspicion fell had fled to Umbar … while others had renounced their lineage and taken wives not of Númenorean blood. So it was that no claimant could be found who was of pure blood, or whose claim all would allow….” (Appendix A) –The point being that if the Stewards had a claim to the throne, they would have made it at this time.
“The House of the Stewards was called the House of Húrin, for they were descendants of the Steward of King Minardil (1621-34), Húrin of Emyn Arnen, a man of high Númenorean race.” (Appendix A)
From Unfinished Tales:
“It was also Rómendacil I who established the office of Steward (Arandur ‘king’s servant’ ), but he was chosen by the King as a man of high trust and wisdom, usually advanced in years since he was not permitted to go to war or to leave the realm. He was never a member of the Royal House.” (Author’s note to “Cirion and Eorl,” p. 319 in my edition)
Evidence in favor of a relationship:
From The Lord of the Rings:
In Appendix A, section ii “The Realms in Exile,” the Stewards of Gondor are listed under “The Southern Line: Heirs of Anárion,” in a separate section from the Kings of Gondor.
From a draft of Appendix A in Peoples of Middle-Earth:
“The names of these rulers [the Stewards] are here added; for though the Hurinionath were not in the direct line of descent from Elendil, they were ultimately of royal origin, and had in any case kept their blood more pure than most families in the later ages.” (“The Heirs of Elendil,” p. 203)
And a slightly different version in another draft:
“These may be added, for though not in the direct line, the Hurinionath, the family to which Pelendur and Mardil belonged, were of Númenórean blood hardly less pure than that of the kings, and undoubtedly had some share in the actual blood of Elendil and Anárion.” (“The Heirs of Elendil” p. 21)
Can these be reconciled?
I think so.
Faramir’s statement that the Stewards are “not of the line of Elendil” at first seems to settle the question. However, on closer reading I think “line” or “house” refers to an unbroken male line of descent in this context, since that was the only way Gondor allowed inheritance of the throne. Consider that Aragorn is descended from Anárion as well as Isildur, through King Ondoher’s daughter Fíriel; yet he is never said to be of the line of Anárion, while much is made of his being of the line of Isildur. (See Denethor in “Minas Tirith,” for example: “Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur.”)
In that case, the two families could be related through a woman of (or descended from) the Royal family who married into the Stewards’ family, as Michael Martinez speculates. Alternatively, the families could have branched apart earlier than Elendil’s time, but that seems less likely because of the word “direct” in the Peoples of Middle-Earth quotes. There would be no need to say the Stewards were not in the direct line of descent if this were the case; they simply would not be in the line of descent, period.
Húrin of Emyn Arnen lived quite a bit after Elendil. Even if no marriages took place between the Royal family and the Stewards’ family after his day, that does not rule out the possibility that such a thing might have happened before then.
In the statement about no suitable claimant being found for the throne, note that it says there was no candidate on whom everyone could agree; this does not mean that there was no one left who was related to the Royal family. The descendants of the Kings are said to be “few” rather than nonexistent. The word “descendants” in this passage also seems to refer only to those who might be eligible to inherit, i.e. those descended through the male line.
More subjectively, it makes logical sense in my opinion for the two families to have some relationship. It simply does not seem possible for the Stewards to have worked so closely with the Royal family for so long and never to have married anyone from that family, or even anyone descended from it. Furthermore, I suspect that all the remaining Dúnedain in Middle-Earth at the time of LOTR can probably trace their ancestry to Elendil in one way or another. It is a limited gene-pool and they have been intermarrying for three millennia.
On the other hand, it could be argued that the inclusion of the Stewards among the heirs of Anárion simply means that they ruled the country, and that if Tolkien had intended the relationship to be explicit, he would have used the wording in one of his early drafts. It could also be argued that none of the notes from Peoples of Middle-Earth can be considered authoritative because the work is not canon.
In the absence of a strong canonical statement on the subject from Tolkien, the question ultimately turns on whether to accept evidence from Peoples of Middle-Earth, and that is a matter of opinion. However, I hope I have at least laid out the evidence clearly and demonstrated that the statements in The Lord of the Ringsand Peoples of Middle-Earthare not necessarily incompatible.
I would also like to thank Sepdet for her intriguing suggestion of a parallel between the Stewards of Gondor and the Lords of Andúnië (the family from which Elendil came). Her comments can be found in this forum thread where an earlier version of this essay was originally posted.