An encyclopedia of Middle-earth and Numenor
Bernard Hill as Theoden
in the New Line film
Theoden by Angelo Montanini
Theoden was the King of Rohan during the War of the Ring. He had fallen under the sway of Saruman but he was able to overcome the Wizard's influence and lead his people to victory against the armies of Isengard. Then, like his ancestor Eorl before him, Theoden answered Gondor's call and rode to their aid against Sauron's forces at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. There Theoden lost his life, but the timely arrival of the Rohirrim helped turn the tide of the battle to victory.
Theoden was born in Gondor in 2948 of the Third Age. His father Thengel had married Morwen of Lossarnach - a fiefdom of Gondor - and the family remained in Gondor until Thengel became King of Rohan in 2953. Theoden was about five years old when his family returned to Rohan. He had one older sister and three younger sisters. The youngest was Theodwyn, whom he loved dearly. They lived in the Golden Hall of Meduseld in Edoras.
Theoden married Elfhild. She died giving birth to their only child Theodred in 2978.
In 2980, Thengel died and Theoden became King of Rohan at the age of thirty-two. He was much loved by his people. In the early part of his reign, Theoden was a strong and vital king. He acted in the capacity of the First Marshal of the Mark and commanded the Muster of Edoras himself. Theoden was a skilled horseman and he frequently rode out with his knights. He wielded the ancient sword Herugrim. Rohan remained at peace, but a threat was growing in both Mordor and Isengard.
Theoden's chief Marshal of the Mark was Eomund of Eastfold, who married Theoden's sister Theodwyn. Eomund was killed by Orcs raiders in 3002, and Theodwyn sickened and died soon afterwards. Theoden took his sister's two young children - Eomer and Eowyn - to live with him at Meduseld. Theoden loved his nephew and niece and he raised them as his own.
Theoden named his son Theodred the Second Marshal of the Mark, and when Eomer grew to manhood he became the Third Marshal of the Mark. Hama was the Captain of the King's Household and Elfhelm commanded the garrison at Edoras.
Early in the year 3014, Theoden became ill. He appeared to age prematurely and he was bent and withered like a very old man. Theoden was sixty-six years old, but the Rohirrim often lived into their eighties and Theoden had previously been strong and hale. At the time, it was not clear what had happened to Theoden, but it was later learned that the King's counsellor Grima played a role in his decline.
Unbeknownst to Theoden and the people of Rohan, Grima was an agent of the Wizard Saruman, who wanted to take over Rohan. Saruman used Grima to weaken King Theoden and thereby leave Rohan open to attack. Theoden's illness may have been in part due to natural causes, but it was suspected that Grima may have administered poisons to the King that hastened his decline.
Even more significant was the effect that Grima's skill with words and persuasion had on Theoden. Theoden's judgment was clouded and he became dependent on Grima's advice. The King seldom left Meduseld and he began to issue orders through Grima. Grima hoped to weaken Rohan's central command and discredit the King's commanders. He insinuated that Eomer was power-hungry and disobedient, but Eomer and the other commanders remained loyal to Theoden. They resented Grima's intrusion and did everything in their power to thwart his influence, but they would not defy their King.
On September 19, 3018, Gandalf the Grey came to Edoras but was refused admittance. The next day, King Theoden granted Gandalf an audience. Gandalf claimed that he had been imprisoned by Saruman and that Saruman was preparing to launch an attack on Rohan. Theoden did not listen to Gandalf and he told the Wizard to take any horse of his choosing and go. Gandalf chose Shadowfax, one of the mearas descended from Eorl's horse Felarof of old. This made Theoden even more angry because the mearas were traditionally ridden only by the Kings of Rohan and their sons.
After Gandalf's departure, Rohan began to be troubled by Orcs, Wolf-riders, and evil Men in the service of Saruman. Saruman's stronghold of Isengard was near the Gap of Rohan and that passage between the White Mountains and Misty Mountains was closed to the Rohirrim by the Wizard's vigilance. Saruman claimed lordship over Rohan's lands, and there was war between his forces and the Rohirrim.
Without any orders from King Theoden, his son Theodred assumed command of Rohan's forces and organized the defenses. Saruman perceived Theodred to be a threat to his plans for Rohan, and in February of 3019 the Wizard sent out a force with the express purpose of killing Theodred. At the First Battle of the Fords of Isen on February 25, Theodred's position was relentlessly assailed and he was slain.
Theoden received word of his son's death at noon on February 27. The message came from Erkenbrand of Westfold, who asked that Eomer be sent at once with all the Riders who could be spared so that they could defend against Saruman in the West and prevent his forces from reaching Edoras. But Grima advised Theoden that his forces should remain at Edoras, and in his grief Theoden did not object.
Eomer learned that a band of Orcs had entered Rohan from the East, and he feared an alliance between Saruman and Sauron. He requested permission to intercept the Orcs, but on Grima's advice Theoden refused. Eomer threatened Grima, whom he suspected of treachery, and he led his eored in pursuit of the Orcs against the King's orders. When Eomer returned, he was arrested for his disobedience.
On March 2, Gandalf arrived at Meduseld with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Gandalf revealed that he had become Gandalf the White, and he used his power to heal Theoden. Theoden walked outside into the open air. He stood tall without the aid of his walking stick and he said that felt renewed: "Dark have been my dreams of late, but I feel as one new-awakened." (TTT, p. 120)
Then Eomer was brought before the King and he offered his sword to his liege. As Theoden grasped the hilt, strength returned to his arm. Heeding Gandalf's advice, Theoden decided that the Rohirrim would ride to confront Saruman's forces. But while the Wizard expected Theoden to remain with his people at the refuge of Dunharrow, Theoden intended to lead the army himself.
"Nay, Gandalf! You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better."The King called for every man and strong lad to arm themselves and make ready to depart. He named Eomer his heir and made him his first in command. Those who could not fight he left in the care of his niece Eowyn, who was to lead them to the refuge of Dunharrow.
The Two Towers: "The King of the Golden Hall," p. 123
Theoden gave Grima the choice to either accompany the Rohirrim into battle or leave Edoras immediately. Grima spat at the King's feet and fled. Theoden gave Shadowfax to Gandalf in gratitude for freeing him from Grima's evil counsel. To Gimli he gave the shield he had used as a boy.
A force of over 1,000 Rohirrim set out from Edoras at two o'clock that afternoon. Theoden led them mounted on his horse Snowmane. The next day they encountered an errand-rider named Ceorl who told them that Erkenbrand had been defeated in the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen and was retreating with his men to Helm's Deep. Gandalf advised Theoden to lead his forces to Helm's Deep as well, while the Wizard rode toward Isengard on an unnamed errand.
As they rode through the Deeping-coomb, Theoden noted that Saruman's forces were approaching, burning the land and homesteads at they came. At Helm's Deep, Theoden learned that Erkenbrand had not yet arrived. He ordered all their forces behind the wall. Theoden and the men of his household entered the Hornburg while Eomer set up the defenses on the Deeping-wall.
The Battle of Helm's Deep began on the night of March 3. Saruman's forces assaulted the wall long into the night and at last they breached the wall using an explosive device. The Rohirrim retreated to the Hornburg where Theoden stood watching the battle.
Theoden did not want to remain trapped in the Hornburg. At dawn on March 4, he rode forth with Aragorn and his men. They charged down the Causeway and drove through Saruman's forces. Their enemies retreated before the King's charge, and in the Deeping-coomb they found a new forest of strange trees - Huorns of Fangorn Forest sent by Treebeard. Then Gandalf arrived with Erkenbrand and his men and the Orcs fled into the forest and were never seen again.
Hama, the Captain of Theoden's Household, had been slain defending the gate. Theoden cast the first earth on his grave.
Theoden sent word for a full muster of Rohan's forces to gather at Dunharrow, and then he rode with Gandalf to parley with Saruman at Isengard. As they passed through the forest of Huorns, Theoden saw Ents for the first time.
At Isengard, Theoden encountered another race he had heard of only in legend. The Hobbits Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took greeted the King at the gate. When Theoden expressed interest in the pipe that Merry was smoking, the Hobbit began to tell the King the history of pipe-weed, but there was not enough time.
Saruman tried to persuade Theoden to join with him by speaking flattering words in his enthralling voice. For a moment it seemed as if Theoden would be won over, but then he roused himself from the spell of the Wizard's voice and rejected his offer of peace.
"We will have peace. Yes, we will have peace, we will have peace when you and all your works have perished -- and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men's hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor. Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired -- even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Hama's body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the House of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm."Gandalf broke Saruman's staff and cast him from the Order of Wizards, and he was left imprisoned in Orthanc.
The Two Towers: "The Voice of Saruman," p. 185-86
Theoden led his men back to Helm's Deep. There he made Merry Brandybuck his esquire, and Merry laid his sword on the King's lap and swore fealty to him. Gandalf and Pippin had ridden to Minas Tirith and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli chose to take the Paths of the Dead. Theoden invited Merry to ride beside him to Dunharrow and he gave his sword-thain a pony named Stybba.
At Dunharrow, a messenger named Hirgon gave Theoden the Red Arrow - a signal that Gondor needed the aid of the Rohirrim. Theoden oversaw the muster of Rohan the next morning. He left some of his forces to guard the strongholds of Rohan, and he set out for Gondor at the head of a force of 6,000 Riders.
Theoden left Eowyn in charge of those of his people who remained behind, and he released Merry from his service. But Eowyn and Merry were determined to ride into battle and they accompanied the Riders in secret.
In the Druadan Forest, Theoden met with Ghan-buri-Ghan, the leader of the Druedain. Ghan-buri-Ghan told the King that the road was watched and he agreed to lead the Rohirrim by a secret way to the Rammas Echor surrounding Minas Tirith. When they reached the outer wall, Theoden addressed his men.
"Now is the hour come, Riders of the Mark, sons of Eorl! Foes and fire are before you, and your homes far behind. Yet, though you fight upon an alien field, the glory that you reap there shall be your own for ever. Oaths ye have taken: now fulfil them all, to lord and land and league of friendship!"The Rohirrim charged onto the Pelennor Fields at dawn on March 15, and Theoden rode before them all.
The Return of the King: "The Ride of the Rohirrim," p. 110
Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and the darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.Theoden charged the main force of the Haradrim. He slew their chieftain with his spear and he hewed the standard-bearer with his sword and the Haradrim fled.
The Return of the King: "The Ride of the Rohirrim," p. 112-13
Suddenly, the Lord of the Nazgul descended onto the field mounted on a Fell Beast. Theoden tried to stand his ground, but Snowmane was overcome with terror. The horse reared and was struck by a dart. Snowmane fell to the ground, crushing his master beneath him. The Fell Beast dug its claws into Snowmane, but Eowyn came to the defense of the fallen King. She slew the Fell Beast and then she and the King's esquire Merry Brandybuck vanquished the Lord of the Nazgul.
Merry went to the King's side and found that he still lived. Theoden told Merry to think of him whenever he smoked his pipe. He regretted that he could not see Eowyn one last time, not realizing that she lay gravely injured nearby. Then Eomer came, and Theoden passed his banner onto him, and with his dying words he said: "Hail, King of the Mark! Ride now to victory! Bid Eowyn farewell!" (RotK, p. 119)
Theoden was borne with honor into Minas Tirith and he was laid in state before the dais in the Hall of the Tower of Ecthelion. Twelve torches stood around him and he was guarded by twelve men of Rohan and of Gondor. His bed was draped in green and white and his body was covered with a cloth of gold. His sword lay on his breast and his shield was at his feet and he seemed at peace.
Theoden's body was later taken to a tomb in the Hallows, where he lay until after the downfall of Sauron. Aragorn told Eomer that Theoden could remain entombed with honor in Minas Tirith, but Eomer chose to bring his uncle home to be buried.
Theoden's funeral procession left Minas Tirth accompanied by his kin and the Fellowship as well as Queen Arwen, Faramir, Prince Imrahil, Galadriel, Celeborn, and Elrond and his sons. The King's body was laid on a golden bier and his esquire Merry rode with him bearing the King's arms. Theoden's funeral was on August 10. His burial mound was the eighth in the line on the eastern side of the Barrowfield. The King's minstrel Gleowine composed a song in Theoden's honor, and it was sung by the Riders of the King's House as they rode around the barrow.
The feast in Theoden's honor was the greatest ever held in Meduseld, and the people rejoiced in his memory, "for Theoden had lived to full years and ended in honour no less than the greatest of his sires." (RotK, p. 255)
A of The Lord of the Rings: "The House of Eorl" includes information
on Theoden's life and reign.
Unfinished Tales: "The Battles of the Fords of Isen" gives more details on Theoden's illness and Saruman's designs on Rohan.
Birth of Theoden in Gondor.
Theoden's father Thengel becomes King of Rohan and they return to Rohan.
Birth of Theoden's sister Theodwyn.
Birth of Theoden's son Theodred and death of his wife Elfhild.
Theoden becomes King of Rohan on his father's death.
Theoden's sister Theodwyn marries Eomund of Eastfold.
Birth of Theoden's nephew Eomer.
Birth of Theoden's niece Eowyn.
Death of Eomund. Theodwyn dies shortly after. Theoden brings Eomer and Eowyn to live with him.
Theoden begins to fall under the influence of Saruman.
September 19: Gandalf comes to Edoras and is refused admittance.
September 20: Theoden grants Gandalf an audience but refuses to listen to his warnings about Saruman. He tells Gandalf to take any horse and go. After Gandalf's visit, Rohan begins to be troubled by Orcs and Men in the service of Saruman.
September 21: Gandalf chooses Shadowfax, the King's most precious steed.
September 23: Gandalf succeeds in taming Shadowfax and leaves Rohan.
February 23: Shadowfax returns alone but will permit no one to ride him.
February 25: Theoden's son Theodred slain at the First Battle of the Fords of Isen by Saruman's forces.
February 27: Theoden learns of Theodred's death. Erkenbrand sends a request for reinforcements but Grima advises against it and Theoden follows his advice. Eomer leads his eored in pursuit of a band of Orcs against the King's orders.
February 28: Eomer's eored overtakes the Orcs near Fangorn.
February 29: Eomer's eored attacks and defeats the Orcs at sunrise.
February 30: Eomer meets Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli and decides to aid them. On his return to Edoras, Eomer is arrested (date uncertain).
March 2: Gandalf arrives at
Meduseld and heals Theoden. Theoden decides to ride to war against Saruman.
He makes Eomer his heir and entrusts his people to Eowyn. The Rohirrim
set forth at two o'clock in the afternoon. Second Battle of the Fords of
March 3: Theoden learns of the defeat at the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen. He leads the Rohirrim to Helm's Deep. The Battle of Helm's Deep begins.
March 4: Theoden leads a charge from Helm's Deep at dawn. The Battle of Helm's Deep ends. Theoden sets out for Isengard.
March 5: Theoden arrives at Isengard and meets Merry Brandybuck. Parley with Saruman; Theoden rejects Saruman's offer to join with him.
March 6: Theoden makes Merry his esquire. They set out from Helm's Deep to Dunharrow.
March 9: Theoden arrives at Dunharrow. He receives the Red Arrow from a messenger of Gondor.
March 10: Theoden oversees the Muster of Rohan and sets out for Gondor.
March 13: The Rohirrim reach the Druadan Forest. Theoden meets with Ghan-buri-Ghan.
March 14: The Rohirrim are led by the Druedain to the Grey Wood.
March 15: Theoden leads the charge of the Rohirrim onto the Pelennor Fields at dawn. He slays a chieftain of the Haradrim. Theoden is slain in a confrontation with the Lord of the Nazgul, who is in turn vanquished by Eowyn and Merry. Eomer becomes King of Rohan.
March 25: The Ring is destroyed and the realm of Sauron falls.
July 22: The funeral procession of King Theoden leaves Minas Tirith.
August 7: Theoden's funeral
procession arrives in Edoras.
August 10: Funeral of King Theoden.
The name Théoden means "chief, leader, king" from the Old English ðeoden. The word ðeod means "nation, people."
Bright's Old English Glossary
Theoden was referred to as Thengling meaning "son of Thengel."
The Return of the King: "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," p. 124
Theoden became King of Rohan upon the death of his father in 2980. He was referred to as both King Theoden and Theoden King. He was also called King of the Mark - another name for Rohan - or Lord of the Mark.
of the Mark:
Theoden did not name a First Marshal of the Mark but acted in that capacity himself.
Unfinished Tales: "The Battles of the Fords of Isen - Appendix," p. 367
Aragorn called him Theoden the Renowned after he led his people into battle and died on the Pelennor Fields.
The Return of the King: "The Steward and the King," p. 247
Theoden was called Theoden Ednew meaning "Renewed" because he came out from under Saruman's influence to lead his people during the War of the Ring. The word ednew is from the Old English ed-nîwe (-nêowe) meaning "renewed, restored."
Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: "The House of Eorl," p. 350
Bright's Old English Glossary
Family tree of Theoden:
Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: "The House of Eorl - The Kings of the Mark"
Unfinished Tales: "The Battles of the Fords of Isen - Appendix," p. 367, second note (on Eomund's descent from Eofor)
The History of Middle-earth, vol. XII, The Peoples of Middle-earth: "The Heirs of Elendil - The Line of Dol Amroth," p. 221
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