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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 3. “When the war with Saruman began Theodred without orders assumed general command.”


Mar 21, 7:28pm

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**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 3. “When the war with Saruman began Theodred without orders assumed general command.” Can't Post

Welcome back to our discussion of Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, specifically his Third Age essay “The Battles of the Fords of Isen.” Having worked through the main narrative of the battles themselves (see the previous two posts of this week), we will now see what we can make of the so-called Appendices.

Appendix (i) begins, “In writing associated with the present text some further particulars are given concerning the Marshals of the Mark in the year 3019 and after the end of the War of the Ring: …” There follows a long paragraph outlining who the three Marshals were (Theoden ex officio, Theodred, and Eomer), their jurisdictions and bases, and the confusion about military authority that followed from Theoden’s descent into incapacity under the influence of Grima Wormtongue. This led to Theodred’s assumption of command when Saruman threatened open war; without orders he called upon Elfhelm to lead many of the Riders of Edoras (nominally the King’s men) to aid him in the defense of the Westfold – as told in the preceding main narrative of the First Battle of the Fords of Isen.

Here are some questions about this first paragraph:

All I remember about the title of “Marshal” in European history is that Field Marshal is even higher than a General, and the rank is considered a rare and high honor for a military man.
A. So first off, what exactly is a Marshal, and why does Tolkien pick this particular title for Rohan’s top generals?

I’m confused about whether Rohan has what I think of as a “feudal” military system, or an “early modern” system. The difference in my mind is that in the former, the lords of the outlying estates owe service to the King, and wage war at his call and under his command but as individual subcommanders using their own fiscal and military resources. Starting with the early modern era, the national Kings organized a professional military with regional general officers directly responsible to, employed and supplied by, the central monarchy.
B. Given that this is fantasy, where is Rohan on this scale of feudal vs. centralized military organization?

C. Was Theoden the First Marshal, or not?

I seem to remember Theoden lecturing somebody in LotR about how things are done in wartime, or about what battle is like. But here it seems to imply that Rohan was at peace during his reign, until Saruman attacked.
D. Am I misremembering? What was Theoden’s battle experience, exactly?

E. Is Tolkien implying that Theodred “broke a few rules” (as Woody put it in Toy Story) when he presumed to command Elfhelm to leave Edoras and head to the Gap of Rohan? (And why didn't Grima have Elfhelm banished for leaving the King undefended etc.?)

F. Can anyone locate “Aldburg in the Folde”? As in, post a map from a reputable source? And can you imagine what Éomer’s ancestral home looked like?

Next, we hear about the eored system: the provision that “in times of war or unquiet” the Marshals kept “quartered under arms at his residence” a small force of Riders “ready for battle” to be used as needed.
G. Who decided when times were “unquiet”? Who decided when they were quiet again, and where did the Riders of the eored go then?

120 men and horses eat a lot, and need to be occupied and entertained as the weeks go by.
H. Does this arrangement speak to the relative amounts of wealth controlled by the aristocracy of Rohan? Was Eomer not just Third Marshal, but one of the richest men in the Mark after the King and his son?

This segues into a rehearsal of the indictment brought against Eomer by Grima in LotR, after he had led his eored out to pursue the raiding orcs in the East Emnet and the Wold.

“I led forth my eored, men of my own household…” – Eomer, in LotR III.2.

The way Eomer says it above, I always assumed they were permanently resident on his estate, but of course not always at Readiness One. This note in UT seems to say the opposite: they're not always resident, but when they are, they are on a hair-trigger.
I. What was the eored, really? Are there real-world examples we can look to?

Finally, we have a note about how Erkenbrand fit into the scheme at the time of the War of the Ring. “He had in youth been, as most lords, an officer in the King’s Riders, but he was so no longer. He was, however, the chief lord in the West-mark… He thus [after Theodred’s death] took command also of the Riders of the Western Muster…”
J. Wait, why didn’t he just become the new Second Marshal?

“An officer in the King’s Riders.” “The chief lord in the West-mark.” “Riders of the Western Muster.” I hate to be disloyal, but sometimes I feel Tolkien is just winging it.
K. What do you think?

Next comes a discussion of how things changed once Theoden was healed, and able to go to war. Eomer regains a kind of primary authority under the King (“virtually First Marshal…but the title was not used”). Elfhelm becomes “a Marshal”, but evidently not the Second one, and Grimbold (who had not existed before this mention) “had the function, but not the title, of the Third Marshal.” I note that before the war, Theodred in the West was Second Marshal, and Eomer in the East was Third Marshal.
L. Why then for the ride to Minas Tirith does Elfhelm as de facto Second Marshal lead the Riders of the East-mark, while Grimbold as de facto Third Marshal gets those of the West-mark?

Finally, we are told how the Mark reorganized its forces going forward into the Fourth Age under King Éomer. The ranking of the Marshals was abandoned, with a simple division between East and West maintained instead. Erkenbrand becomes the Marshal of the West-mark.
M. What does the abandonment of the First-Second-Third Marshal system imply? What has changed?

There is a complex explanation of the new office of “Underking”, which doubles the King’s authority when two leaders are needed, one on the battle-front and one back at the capital. The Underking could also take over for an old or sick King and so the office was most often held by the heir – but in a final “But”, there is the cryptic comment that the “Council” forbade the heir to an old King to go far abroad unless there was a second (male) heir.
N. Council?? What the heck?
"...while many like you demand maps, others wish for geological indications rather than places; many want Elvish grammars, phonologies, and specimens; some want metrics and prosodies ... Musicians want tunes, and musical notation; archaeologists want ceramics and metallurgy. Botanists want a more accurate description of the mallorn, of elanor, niphredil, alfirin, mallos, and symbelmynë; and historians want more details about the social and political structure of Gondor..." -- J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 187, c. April 16, 1956. (bold by squire)
O. I mean really. I’m as loyal a Tolkien reader as any, but as one of those Gondor fans who misses a lot of info about that empire’s political economy, I often wonder what spurred the writing of this archaeopolitical fantasy about Fourth Age Rohan?

Next: the second Appendix to “The Battles of the Fords of Isen”!

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd & 4th TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion and NOW the 1st BotR Discussion too! and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Subject User Time
**UT – The Battles of the Fords of Isen** 3. “When the war with Saruman began Theodred without orders assumed general command.” squire Send a private message to squire Mar 21, 7:28pm
    Marshalling my thoughts... noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Mar 22, 5:09pm
    A few thoughts on Rohan's military Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Mar 22, 7:25pm
    I have a theory about your very last question demnation Send a private message to demnation Mar 24, 4:45am
    "Cadres decide everything!" Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 24, 6:57pm
    Should Hama be titled "the seneschal"? sador Send a private message to sador Mar 25, 11:50am


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