Witchking of Angmar

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(True Name Unknown)
Character from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium
Titles Witchking of Angmar;
Race Men
Culture Nazgûl; probably corrupted Númenórean
Date of birth S.A. c. 2251
Date of death T.A. 3019 March 15
Book(s) The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King

The Witchking of Angmar, also known as the Lord of the Nazgûl and The Black Captain among other names, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth fantasy writings. In Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings, he is the chief of the Nazgûl (Ringwraiths), the chief servants of the Dark Lord Sauron. His true given name is not revealed in any of Tolkien's writings, nor are the names of any of the other Nazgûl, except for Khamûl.



Within the context of Tolkien's legendarium, the Witchking was originally a great king of Men. Much of his story is given as part of the backstory of The Lord of the Rings in its Appendices.

In the manuscript of his notes for translators Tolkien stated that the Witchking's name and background were not recorded, but that he was probably of Númenórean descent.[1] In the Second Age, the Rings of Power were forged by the Elves of Eregion under Sauron's direction, and nine of these were given to powerful kings of Men of the time; one of these was the Witchking. The rings gave them immense power and made them immortal, but eventually corrupted them, turning them into the ghastly, undead Nazgûl. The Witchking became their leader.

The Lord of the Nazgûl served Sauron as his second in command for over 1,000 years. He fought in the war against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. When Sauron was defeated by the Alliance, the nine Nazgûl went "into the shadows".[2]

A millennium into the Third Age, Sauron resurfaced as "the Necromancer" at Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood. The Council of the Wise suspected this dark power might be one of the Nazgûl, but the resurfacing of the latter were recorded only later.[3] At about this time, the Witchking first appeared in Angmar, a realm in the far North straddling the Misty Mountains. He quickly dominated Angmar, and turned to levy war against the three splinter kingdoms of Arnor (Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan); for Sauron, seeing that Gondor remained strong, sought to capitalize on the dissension among the northern kingdoms.[4] It is in these northern wars, prosecuted against the Dúnedain for the next several hundred years, that the evil King of Angmar became known as the Witchking.

Rhudaur was soon compromised; power there was seized by evil Hillmen allied with Angmar.[4] Argeleb I of Arthedain fortified the border against Rhudaur along the Weather Hills, but was killed in battle with Angmar and Rhudaur.[4]

The Witchking then invaded Rhudaur and Cardolan. King Arveleg I of Arthedain was killed defending Weathertop, but the palantír there was saved and removed to Fornost. The last Prince of Cardolan was killed, and the remaining Dúnedain of Rhudaur were killed or driven out. Later the Great Plague destroyed the remaining Dúnedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits from Rhudaur and Angmar infested the burial mounds in the Barrow Downs.[4]

Only Arthedain remained to resist the Witchking (though with frequent help from both Lindon and Rivendell). Araval won a victory over Angmar and sought to reoccupy Cardolan, but the wights terrified all who sought to dwell near the Barrows.[5]

Finally, as it became apparent that Angmar was preparing another stroke, Arvedui appealed for help from King Eärnil II of Gondor. But before help could arrive, Angmar overran Arthedain. The Witchking captured Fornost Erain, the capital of Arthedain. Arvedui fled north, only to drown in the Ice Bay of Forochel early the next year when the rescue ship from Lindon foundered.[4]

The Witchking took his seat of power in newly captured Fornost. But Prince Eärnur of Gondor soon landed at the harbours of Mithlond, leading an army of Gondor. His army was joined by the Elves of Lindon and the remnant of the northern Dúnedain and marched on the Witchking.[6]

On the plains west of Fornost, Eärnur's army met the army of Angmar, which was forced to retreat toward Fornost. As his army was routed, the Witchking fled north toward Carn Dûm in Angmar; but Eärnur and Glorfindel with reinforcements from Rivendell pursued the retreating party and utterly defeated them. The Witchking fled into the gathering darkness. Eärnur attempted to follow him, but Glorfindel stopped the prince and prophesied:

"Do not pursue him! He will not return to these lands. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."[6]

The Witchking returned to Mordor and led the Nazgûl in the victorious siege of Minas Ithil. The city afterwards became known as Minas Morgul, the Tower of Black Sorcery. It was here that the Witchking made his stronghold, giving him the title of "Lord of Morgul".

Eventually King Eärnil II of Gondor died and his son Eärnur, the Witchking's old enemy, inherited the throne. The Witchking challenged him to single combat, but Eärnur refused. However, seven years later, the Witchking again challenged him; this time he accepted. Eärnur rode out of Minas Tirith to meet the Witchking in Minas Morgul. He entered the city's gates and was never seen again. From this time the Stewards of Gondor ruled the kingdom on behalf of the absent line of kings.

During the time of the events of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron learned from Gollum that the One Ring was located in an area called "Shire" and held by a hobbit named "Baggins", and sent forth the Ringwraiths disguised as riders in black. At this time, the Riders did not know the location of the Shire, but when they by chance came upon Gríma Wormtongue in Rohan, he told them what he knew of Saruman's plans, including his interest in the Shire, and its location.

The Witchking of Angmar and the other eight Nazgûl rode swiftly from Mordor to the lands of the Shire. They continued to search for "Baggins" until they tracked him to Buckland. Five of the Riders raided Buckland but could not find the Ring.

The Witchking led four other Nazgûl to Weathertop where they discovered Frodo Baggins and the other hobbits, accompanied by the Ranger Aragorn. The Ringwraiths attacked the party and the Witchking wounded Frodo with a Morgul-blade. Frodo's wound threatened to turn him into a wraith like the Nazgûl.

On the way to Rivendell, the realm of Elrond Half-elven, the company met Glorfindel, who lent Frodo his horse Asfaloth. Pursued by all nine, the horse bore Frodo across the River Bruinen. From the far bank Frodo defied the Witchking and the other Nazgûl, who remained on the other side of the river. The river was under the control of Elrond, who released a great flood, augmented by Gandalf the Grey, which caught three of the Nazgûl and their horses. Glorfindel's advance drove the terrified horses of the remaining Nazgûl into the flood; all the horses drowned, and the Nazgûl were swept away.

With their return to Mordor, Sauron provided the Nazgûl with great winged beasts as their new mounts. Sauron used the lesser eight Nazgûl for reconnaissance work. The Witchking, however, returned to Minas Morgul and reassumed the role of commander of Sauron's forces. The soldiers of Gondor defending Osgiliath named him the "Black Captain". The final battle for Osgiliath was fought against Faramir's Rangers, who were driven back.

The Witchking soon led massive numbers of Orcs, Haradrim, and Easterlings to besiege Minas Tirith. After the gates were broken he stood on the threshold at the head of his army. However, he was prevented from entering the city further by Gandalf.

Théoden had just slain a leader of the Southrons when the Witchking attacked him. The advancing Rohirrim's horses panicked as his fell beast attacked. Théoden's horse, Snowmane, became frightened, was struck by an arrow, fell and crushed his master.

As the Witchking hovered over Théoden, Éowyn, the king's niece, stood in his way. The Witchking broke her arm and her shield with a blow from his mace. Before he could finish her off, however, Meriadoc Brandybuck plunged his enchanted sword into the back of his knee. Merry's sword had been forged by the men of Arnor long ago, who put spells on it for the ruin of Angmar. Tolkien writes that only such a sword could have wounded the Witchking so. Éowyn rose and thrust her sword into the Witchking's face; as her sword shattered, his clothing fell to the ground and he vanished with a wailing cry.

Here the prophecy of Glorfindel was fulfilled after a fashion; he had fallen not by "the hand of man", but by those of a woman and a hobbit. (Tolkien elsewhere says Hobbits are in fact a "variety"[7] or separate "branch"[8] of humans, though they consider themselves a separate race.) It is worth noting that the Witchking interprets Glorfindel's words to mean he cannot be killed (and "hindered"), but Glorfindel actually says he will die, just not by "the hand of man".

Names and titles

The Witchking's true name is never given. The title "Witchking" does not appear in The Lord of the Rings until the Appendices, usually printed as part of The Return of the King. The character is referred to by his other titles during the actual story. His other titles include Black Captain, Lord of the Nazgûl, Lord of Minas Morgul, Lord of the Nine Riders, Wraith-king, Captain of Despair, First of the Nazgûl, High Nazgûl, Lord of the Úlairi (Úlairi means Ringwraiths in Tolkien's invented language of Quenya), and Chieftain of the Ringwraiths.


The Witchking appears in all adaptations of The Lord of the Rings done for film, radio and stage.

In New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson, the Witchking is portrayed by Lawrence Makoare and voiced by Andy Serkis. The actions of the Witchking and the other Ringwraiths differ from that in the book.

In The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, they attack the Prancing Pony inn of Bree themselves and wreck the hobbits' rooms, whereas in the book their local accomplices do the deed.

They also engage in an extended swordfight with Aragorn at Weathertop, in which some of the former are set on fire. Aragorn uses an alternate sword since his remains broken, whereas in the book, Aragorn merely faces them with burning brands, inducing them to withdraw quickly.

At the ford of Bruinen, the Ringwraiths face Arwen and are swept away by a flood she summons through an incantation. In the book, Arwen is not present in this scene; Frodo is alone on the Rivendell side of the ford, and Elrond's latent magic triggers the flood.

In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Witchking appears in Minas Morgul on a fell beast instead of leading the Morgul host on a black horse. He does seem to sense the Ring as he does in the book (as noted by Makoare on the commentary for the extended edition), and Frodo recognizes him as the Ringwraith who stabbed and nearly killed him.

During the siege of Minas Tirith, the Witchking is constantly wreaking havoc from the air while mounted on his fell beast, whereas in the book he does not come forth on his horse until the battering ram Grond is at the gate. Unlike in the book it is not his black magic which breaks the gate, but Grond alone. In the film the first enemies to enter Minas Tirith's grounds are orcs from siege towers, and the first to enter the gate are trolls.

In a scene from the Extended Edition, as Gandalf races to the upper levels of the city on Shadowfax, he unexpectedly runs into the Witchking on his fell beast. The Witchking shatters Gandalf's staff, knocking the wizard off his horse. However, their confrontation is interrupted, as in the book, by the arrival of the Rohirrim.

In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Witchking wields his sword and a huge flail (instead of a mace), the latter of which he swings at Éowyn several times before finally hitting her and breaking her shield (and her arm).

The original helmet for the Witchking designed for Return of the King was similar to that of an illustration by John Howe, and this original armour can still be seen in action in the game adaptation by Electronic Arts. However, confusion from crew members, who had not read the books, over whether it was Sauron or the Witchking on the battlefield, prompted WETA to revise the design to make it more similar to the Black Rider look and then reshoot all his scenes during the 2003 pick-ups.

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