Law of Succession in Númenor
The Law of succession in Númenor determined who would inherit the Sceptre at the end of the current Ruler of Númenor's reign. Tar-Aldarion was the first ruler to set forth a formal law on the subject; his law was known as the new law and the former custom became known as the old law.
The old law
The old law was an inherited custom, not a written law. The custom was that the King would surrender the Sceptre to his eldest son when he became too old to rule. If the King had no sons, he would pass the Sceptre to his nearest male relative of male descent from Elros Tar-Minyatur.
Under the old law, it was customary for the King to proclaim his successor "King's Heir" when the latter reached one hundred years of age.
Tar-Elendil, the fourth king, was the first whose oldest child was a daughter rather than a son. When he retired, he passed the Sceptre to his second child and eldest son, Tar-Meneldur. His first child Silmariën did not inherit the throne, but was given the Ring of Barahir, an heirloom of the royal house. She and her husband Elatan founded the House of the Lords of Andúnië, which survived the Downfall as the House of Elendil.
The new law
Tar-Aldarion, the sixth king, had a troubled relationship with his Queen and she bore him only a daughter, Ancalimë. Tar-Aldarion's relationship with his daughter was also fraught, and "for reasons of private concern, rather than policy" he proclaimed Ancalimë King's Heir when she was only nineteen years old.
It was at this time that Tar-Aldarion made his law of succession, with the advice of his Council. Under the provisions of this law, the right to the Heirship proceeded as follows:
- The eldest son of the King was first in line.
- If the King had no sons, his eldest daughter would be offered the Heirship, but she was free to refuse.
- If the King's eldest daughter refused, the King's nearest male kinsman — whether by male or female descent — would become King's Heir.
- If the eldest daughter of the King became King's Heir, she would have to resign if she remained unwed beyond a certain time.
- Any potential King's Heir who wed outside the Line of Elros would become ineligible for the Heirship. ("It is said that this ordinance arose directly from Aldarion's disastrous marriage.")
For many years, Ancalimë refused either to decline the Heirship or to marry, much to the consternation of her father. Though the order of events is unclear, Ancalimë eventually wed Hallacar and Tar-Aldarion rescinced the provisions of the new law that a female King's Heir must marry and that any King's Heir must marry in the Line of Elros. However, the idea that the King's Heir should marry in the Line of Elros persisted, and became a "custom of pride" in the royal house and "a symptom of the growth of the Shadow."
In justifying Tar-Ancalimë's accession to the Sceptre, the law of Tar-Aldarion is elsewhere stated as "the eldest child of the King, whether man or woman, should receive the sceptre." Many millennia later, this exact formulation of the law would become important to the Realms in Exile (see below).
It is unknown when exactly the law took this form, but it must have done so before the death of Tar-Ancalimë. Tar-Ancalimë's only child and successor, Tar-Anárion, had two daughters before the birth of his only son (who would become Tar-Súrion). Both of Tar-Súrion's elder sisters are said to have been offered the Heirship and to have refused it out of dislike and fear of their grandmother Tar-Ancalimë. Tar-Ancalimë must have been alive at the time her granddaughters refused the Heirship, because it's said that as revenge for this slight, she forbade them to marry.
Realms in Exile
After the Downfall of Númenor, the surviving Númenóreans (led by descendants of Silmariën) founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor in Middle-earth. The Dúnedain of these realms did not follow any law of Númenor that provided for the succession of women.
In T.A. 1944, King Ondoher of Gondor perished with his sons and was survived only by his daughter Fíriel. Her husband Arvedui, heir to the throne of Arthedain, wrote two letters to Gondor to press his claim to its crown. Part of his claim rested on the Númenórean law:
- "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 sons of Ondoher died childless."
- ― from Arvedui's second letter to the Council of Gondor
Gondor made no answer to Arvedui's second letter. With the Steward Pelendur and the Council of Gondor having rejected Arvedui's claim, Eärnil II made his own. Eärnil was Captain of the Southern Army of Gondor and had recently won a great victory over the Wainriders. Moreover, he was a fourth-generation descendant of King Telumehtar Umbardacil in the male line. The crown was granted to him with the approval of all the Dúnedain of Gondor. Eärnil himself seems to have viewed his accession as entirely legitimate, as he sent word to Arvedui that he had "received the crown of Gondor, according to the laws and the needs of the South-kingdom."
The Kingship of both Gondor and Arnor eventually passed to Arvedui and Fíriel's descendant, King Elessar.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife", The Further Course of the Narrative
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Line of Elros: Kings of Númenor", entries IV Tar-Elendil and V Tar-Meneldur
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "A Description of the Island of Númenor", "Notes", note 2
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife", "Notes", note 26
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife", "Notes", note 27
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Line of Elros: Kings of Númenor", entries VI Tar-Aldarion and VII Tar-Ancalimë
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", (i) Númenór, p. 1036
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion", entry for King Ondoher, pp. 1049-1050