Queen Dís ? (Dwarven Customs of Succession)

Some time ago I asked everyone to send me any question you might have concerning the Dwarves. As a result I got a wonderful collection of questions, of which I have already attempted to answer some in previous blog posts.

One outstanding one, – and one I’ve saved up as I felt it deserved quite a bit of thought-, is this one from Laure M.

“If Dis would not have had children, and Dáin would not have existed, would Gimli have become King of the dwarves?”


Firstly my apologies Laure for not answering your question straight away.
Apart from a busy schedule that prevented me to dive into it at once, I felt this question deserved a bit more time to answer properly.

As first glance, my answer to the above question would be “no, Gimli would not have become King of the Dwarves.”
This off course raises more questions than actually answering them, such as “why not ?”, or “who would have been King instead?”. A deluge of what-if-scenarios pour down, but let’s explore shall we.

To answer these questions, we would need to take a closer look at the Dwarven customs of succession first.
These would clearly indicate who (and by what right) would inherit the throne.
Right off the bat we run into problem number one. If J.R.R. Tolkien wrote anything concerning the customs of succession of the Dwarves it unfortunately did not reach any of his published works.
So we must study the published works that we do have to attempt to “reconstruct” the succession customs of the Dwarves.

Let’s start with the answer of our follow-up question… “why wouldn’t Gimli have become King?”

Line of Durin

This depends firstly on “when” this question is asked. As if you mean at the time of Thorin’s death, then Gimli’s father Glóin and uncle Óin were still alive, in addition to his cousins once removed Balin and Dwalin. Gimli’s grandfather Gróin had died 18 years before the Quest for Erebor at the ripe old age of 252, Gróin being one of four great-grandchildren of King Náin the Second, along with King Thráin II, the father of Thorin Oakenshield.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say Dáin, Balin, Dwalin, Glóin and Óin all perished in the Battle of Five armies, along side Thorin, Fíli and Kíli. I believe that in this scenario Gimli would have become King, at the tender age of 62.
Now, one could argue if Dís herself would have right to claim the throne herself, becoming Queen of Durin’s Folk.

Well, there are a number of problems with this scenario, mainly we don’t know if she herself was still alive at this point, as Tolkien only gave her year of birth but never her year of death. But even if she would have been alive (which is very likely), the fact that Dáin Ironfoot – who was seven years younger than her – became King when her brother Thorin and two young sons died clearly indicates that dwarven females would have no (or very little) right to inherit the throne. As Dís was a direct descendant of King Thráin II and was older than Dáin (who was “merely” King Thrain’s cousin once removed), yet was not considered to become Queen of Durin’s Folk.

So with all the above in mind, what would the rules of succession of Durin’s Folk be?

Being well-known with historical primogeniture rights (the right of the firstborn son to inherit the throne, in preference to siblings), it is very likely that Tolkien based himself on the historic succession laws of European monarchies.

The most popular rule of succession in Europe has long been Male-preference cognatic primogeniture, a very fancy way of saying that a female member of a dynasty can inherit the throne if she has no living brothers and no deceased brothers who left surviving descendants. It is the succession right currently in place in Monaco, Spain, Thailand, and the sixteen Commonwealth Realms. I believe we can safely say that this rule is not in place with the Dwarves, as otherwise Dís would have become Queen in T.A 2941.

Which would leave two likely alternatives…

Agnatic primogeniture – The Kinship is determined patrilineally, only through males back to a common ancestor. One form of agnatic primogeniture is know as “Salic Law”, which altogether excludes females from the throne. A variation on Salic primogeniture allows the sons of women to inherit, but not women themselves. This seems to be the case with the Dwarves. Seeing that we known that if Fíli had not perished in the Battle of Five armies, he would have become King of Durin’s Folk.

Semi-Salic law, (yet another variation on agnatic primogeniture) which allows women to succeed only at the extinction of all the male descendants in the male line. The female who is nearest in kinship to the last male monarch of the family inherits the Kingdom. In case of multiple females the elder are preferred over the younger.

As Tolkien only mentioned one female dwarf, being Dís… nor is there any talk ever of a Dwarven Queen one might believe that it could be fairly likely for the Dwarves not to have Queens at all and implement a form of Salic Law, barring females from ruling positions completely.

Dís, the dwarf-woman * Artist: Gregor Roffalski

Dís, the dwarf-woman * Artist: Gregor Roffalski

There is one thing however that makes me doubt that.

Between the time of Awakening of the Dwarves and the Battle of Five Armies lay approximately 90 to 100 generations (assuming the early Dwarven generations also had children around the age of 100, which is common in the later generations of the Line of Durin). We know that only a third of all Dwarves were females and that not all of them married. Looking at the royal line of Durin we notice that the later royal generations didn’t have that many children (3 at most). With all of the above in mind it’s fair to assume that as some point one of the Kings of old would not have had a son (Thorin being a prime example of this in the third age). At such a time they would have looked at other male heirs, similar to Dáin becoming King when Thorin, Fíli and Kíli died. What if there would have been no direct male heirs in the same branch of descendants ? So, as a practical example, what if there would have been no Dáin, Balin, Dwalin, Glóin, Óin or Gimli… .

Would the Dwarves have made Dís Queen or would they have looked further down the line of Durin to find an male heir in a further branch, if so how far would they go back ? As Dís was likely too old to still have children this might not be a good example as her branch would have had no potential heirs it is likely they would have needed to go back 11 generations to the potential brothers or sisters of Durin VI (the King who was slain by the Balrog in Khazad-dûm). And tracing the descendants of these back to any living relatives.

I do believe however that if their would have been a female heir with potential of still delivering male offspring she likely would have become Queen. Now this is a personal view of mine, basing myself on the fact that the Dwarves would have preferred to keep the line of the Kings as close to the direct line of first-born descendants of one of the seven fathers (in this case Durin) as possible.

Example Scenario

Imagine the above scenario for a minute. One of the Kings of Old (we’ll call him Frár) had no sons and only one daughter (let’s call her Fía), his brothers (Fráin and Frarin) had no descendants of their own, nor did the rest of the nearest family members have any sons. In our scenario here Fía is a young dwarf maiden, still able to have sons later in life. Woe strikes the royal household and a Dragon attacks the Halls of King Frár, and in the battle that follows the King and his two brothers perish. Would Fía become Queen, in a regent-like-function, until she would have sons that would become King themselves ? Or would the Dwarves go back further down the family tree, to find a male heir, if so, what if Fía did have sons later on in her life? Surely they would contest the throne with the dwarf of further lineage that was made King prior to their birth.

To conclude, though it is possible that the Dwarves would have in place a form of Salic Law, I believe it to be more likely for the Dwarves to have had in place a form of Semi-Salic Law, ensuring the line would remain closest to the direct line of first-born descendants of the Seven Fathers.

Laure M, thank you so much for your brilliant question, as it has lead to us exploring more on the succession of the Dwarves.

“There he lived so long that he was known far and wide as Durin the Deathless. Yet in the end he died before the Elder Days had passed, and his tomb was in Khazad-dûm; but his line never failed, and five times an heir was born in his House so like to his Forefather that he received the name of Durin.” “Durin’s Folk – Appendix III” – The Return of the King – LOTR – J.R.R. Tolkien

About The Dwarrow Scholar

The Dwarrow Scholar first experienced the brilliance of Tolkien when he received a copy of The Hobbit from his uncle as a kid, reading it feverishly again and again. Some years on, when he got his very own walk-man (aye forget about tiny phones, this thing was a brick and played cassette tapes) he made his own little audiotape of The Hobbit, so he could listen to it on his bike on his way to school. Between reenacting the Battle of Five armies with 4 of his school friends (still feel sorry for the kid that had to be the Orc) and before the days of the internet, you would find Roy frequently in libraries trying to find all he could about Tolkien and his beloved dwarves. When Roy isn’t delving into Neo-Khuzdul or searching for lost dwarvish treasures on the net he’s enjoying time with his wife and son, re-reading his tormented Tolkien paperbacks, watching a good movie, learning new languages or playing a game of LoTRO or other dwarf related games.
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3 Responses to Queen Dís ? (Dwarven Customs of Succession)

  1. theviking says:

    I agree that it doesn’t seem likely that the dwarves would totally exclude women from the throne as it seems that dwarven women had a good degree of independence in their society and presumably were well- respected.


  2. Cindi says:

    I can’t see the graphics on this page, do you know what I would have to update to be able to see them?


    • Yes, I do apologize for that. I’ve noticed some of the images haven’t transferred properly from the former mymiddleearth site. In the weeks and months to come I will see to update all articles with the proper pictures.


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