Forum: Research Questions

Discussing: Political conflict in the Shire?

Political conflict in the Shire?

The "Tale of Years" contains the following juicy bit of info on Shire history:

2340 (i.e., SR 740) Isumbras I becomes thirteenth Thain, and the first of the Took line. The Oldbucks occupy Buckland.

Does anyone know if there is a possible connection between these two events? Did the Oldbucks (who held the Thainship up to this point) leave in a revolutionary uprising / political upheaval / snit? Tolkien says cryptically in the Prologue that "the office of Thain had passed to them [the Tooks] (from the Oldbucks) some centuries before, and the chief Took had had born that title ever since." Passed how?

I have the feeling that I've just missed something really obvious, and would appreciate hearing from anyone with information on the matter.

Here's what I've got so far in the way of possible reasons to believe that there might have been some political tension, both at the time and afterwards. I'm the first to admit that my inferences from some of this evidence may be pretty strained.

1. Tolkien says in FOTR that the Gorhendad Oldbuck, the founder of Buckland, was the head of the Oldbuck family. Can we assume then that he personally would have been Thain, if the Thainship had not "passed" to the Tooks? T also said that by founding Buckland Gorhendad in effect became "master of a small independent country" whose authority was also recognized west of the river in the Marish. Hobbits are peaceful creatures, but this sounds like a political split to me.

2. There are some reasons to think that the move to Buckland might have been less than desirable, and thus not likely to be undertaken unless the Oldbucks had some strong reason to want to leave the Marish. Buckland was near the Old Forest, which the Bucklanders obviously perceived as dangerous (otherwise they wouldn't have built the High Hay). The Shire was at least in part protected from the East by the Brandywine; Buckland would not have this advantage.

3. There's also reason to think that Tolkien felt it important to place this (possibly) contentious event in the remote past: as he revised the Brandybuck family trees, he kept moving the founding of Buckland further back in time. The fourth draft gives Gorhendad's dates as SR 1134-1236, six generations before Merry. A revision to the fifth dates him at 1090-1191, seven generations before Merry. In the version published in ROTK, Gorhendad has no birth and death dates but is said to have founded Buckland in 740, and he is so remote an ancestor that he is not connected to the family tree, but mentioned in a note at the top. (Peoples of Middle Earth, 103-6)

Why would Tolkien do this? If his purpose was simply to make Buckland "thickly settled" in 1401, wouldn't it be enough to have it founded sometime between 1090-1191, rather than 300 years further back in the past than that?

By SR 1401, the Tooks and the Brandybucks had intermarried (Merry's great-grandfather, Gorbadoc, married a Took (Mirabella), and Merry's mother was a daughter of the Old Took (Esmerada). (I can't find any similar evidence of Brandybuck women marrying Took men -- er, hobbits.) Still:

Might there have been animosities between the Tooks and Brandybucks in SR 740 or afterwards? And would there be any lingering animosities on either side by SR 1400 (say, a tradition in Buckland that Tooks were not to be trusted)? Of course we don't see any such tension in the relationship between Merry & Pippin; they were first cousins and close friends. But could their friendship be all the more significant in light of past conflict?



Re: Political conflict in the Shire?

I think it is safe to say that the two events are related, though perhaps not antagonistic.

The position of Thain is, strictly speaking, a military, not a political one, though it had become a designation for "Guy generally in charge" in the Shire. The true political position is Mayor of the Shire, and this person is in charge of marriages, the Shirrifs, and the Messengers (post). The Thain is simply the person designated to lead the Shire in defense, should it come to that.

The Thain, interestingly enough, *is* the eldest direct male line decendent in the Tooks, but is not thereby "the Took", who may be (as was the case with Ferumbras III) the widow of the previous Took.

Some of the political tension could be due to an ethnic split - the southeast portions of the Shire were the last settled, and settled mostly by Stoors. The Marish, Stoor country, "looks to the Master", not to the Thain, for leadership. This would not resemble the ethnic rivalries of modern times, of course, but would show up more subtly in who worked, traded and inter-married with whom.

Whatever contention may have existed, it would not have been particularly violent or hostile. That simply isn't in Hobbit temperaments until the Ring makes an appearance with Bilbo. I think animosities would be too harsh a description of any tension bettween the clans. They are substantially inter-married, and might engage in a bit of local pride and some teasing rivalry at fairs and other large gatherings, but would never be at odds on a clan level. Particular individuals might detest each other (such as Bilbo and the S-Bs), but geniality and cooperation are going to be stronger traits.

I would say pride rather than antagonism, plus a good feel for good land, would be the motivating cause for the removal to Buckland. One interesting point is that Buckland, strictly speaking, is an illegal settlement. The Oldbucks took land that had no immediate owner, but fell under the authority of the (long gone) High King. Buckland was not included in the original charter of the Shire, and, in that way, when Gorhendad left the Shire, he could not remain the Thain, which is a position uniquely tied to the physical territory of the Shire, and directly obligated to the High King by virtue of the original charter.

A few random thoughts. I like how you've documented the changes to the genealogies over time - very thorough!




In Forums

Discussion Info

Intended for: General Audience

This forum is open to all HASA members. It is read-only for the general public.

Membership on HASA is free and it takes only a few minutes to join. If you would like to participate, please click here.

If you are already a member, please log in to participate.

« Back to Research Questions

Stories linked to the forum