description of the Lord of the Nazgûl
from The Return of the King
V 4The Siege of Gondor
Mightiest of the Nazgûl, the Nine Servants of Sauron. He destroyed the North-kingdom from his realm of Angmar during the mid-Third Age, and later brought the line of the Kings of Gondor to an end. He was slain during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Like the other eight Nazgûl, their Lord wore a black cowl and cloak, hiding a form that his Ring had long made invisible to mortal eyes. Unlike the others of his kind, though, he wore a steel crown beneath his hood. His eyes were visible as a faint and malevolent gleam.
Origins and Early History
Of the origins of the Nazgûl Lord, we know almost nothing. He was probably born a Númenórean, though even that cannot be said for certain1. It is known that he first emerged as Sauron's servant in about the year II 2251, at a time when discord was first arising in Númenor. Over the next thousand years, Sauron extended his power across Middle-earth, and the Lord of the Nazgûl must have been at the forefront of his campaigns.
In the closing centuries of the Second Age, King Ar-Pharazôn of Númenor sailed to Middle-earth to challenge Sauron's power, and Sauron gave himself up as a willing hostage. Returning with the King to his Isle, the Dark Lord left his Dark Land for a while: it is not recorded who maintained it in his absence, but it seems reasonable to presume that the Lord of the Nazgûl ruled in Sauron's stead.
After fifty-seven years, Sauron suddenly returned, in a disembodied form, to Middle-earth. His plan to seek revenge of Númenor had succeeded spectacularly: it had been utterly destroyed, with almost all of its people. The last survivors of the the island kingdom soon arrived on the shores of Middle-earth, and founded new Kingdoms there: Arnor in the north, and Gondor in the south. The Lord of the Nazgûl would have a great part to play in the history of both those lands.
Taking on a new body, Sauron prepared to crush the Dúnedain before they could establish themselves in Middle-earth. His forces struck a blow when they captured the city of Minas Ithil, so that Isildur had to flee for his life. The Lord of the Nazgûl must have played some part in these events, but whether he led the attack of Minas Ithil himself is open to question (he would one day rule the same city, but that time lay far in the future). The Dúnedain responded to Sauron's aggression by allying with the Elves and marching against Mordor. For seven years, they besieged Barad-dûr, until Sauron was overthrown and his Ring taken. The Nazgûl, though, were not captured, and they escaped unseen into the shadows to await their master's return.
The Rise and Fall of Angmar
After the Sauron's defeat in the War of the Last Alliance, the realms of the Dúnedain were free from the Shadow for more than a thousand years. Though the Dark Lord and his servants were gone, these were not times of unbroken peace. Gondor in the south was attacked by Easterlings and Haradrim, but remained strong at this time. Meanwhile, in the north, Arnor fell into disunion, and became divided into three lesser realms: Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur.
This was the state of Middle-earth soon after the end of the first millennium of the Third Age. At this time, the Nazgûl had not been seen for a thousand years, but now Sauron returned, and made himself a stronghold at Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood. Though the Wise imagined the evil power in the Forest might be a Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths were not certainly known to have returned until about two hundred and fifty years later, when the Lord of the Nazgûl himself reappeared in the far north of Middle-earth.
Seeing that the North-kingdom was disunited and weak, while Gondor in the south remained strong, the Lord of the Nazgûl travelled to Carn Dûm in the northern reaches of the Misty Mountains. There he founded the realm known as Angmar, which he ruled as its Witch-king. Over a hundred years, he built an army of Men and Orcs, and other evil beings. In III 1409, the army of Angmar swept westwards against the remaining Dúnedain of the North, and Rhudaur was lost. The Elves came to the aid of the Men of Arthedain and Cardolan, and those lands survived the first onslaught.
After that first assault, the Witch-king bided his time in Carn Dûm. As the years passed, a great plague wiped out the last people of Cardolan, so that only Arthedain remained of the lands that were once ruled by Elendil. At last, in III 1974, the Lord of the Nazgûl struck: Arthedain was overrun, and its capital of Fornost captured. That was the end of the North-kingdom in Middle-earth, but the Witch-king's victory was to be short-lived.
A vast force came north out of Gondor, too late to save Arthedain, but sufficient to avenge its loss. Led by Eänur, the heir to King Eärnil II, the Gondorians met Angmar's armies at the Battle of Fornost, and the Witch-king's forces were overcome. The Lord of the Nazgûl himself escaped into the Ettendales, and it was at this time that Glorfindel famously uttered his prophecy:
"Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man
will he fall"
The Lord of the Rings
Appendix A I (iv), Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion
After five years in the Wild, the Witch-king reappeared far to the south, in his master's old land of Mordor, where he summoned the other eight Ringwraiths to him. In the year III 2000, he led the Nazgûl across the Ephel Dúath and laid siege to Minas Ithil. The tower withstood the siege for two years but at last it fell, for the second time in its history, to Sauron's servants. After its capture, the Nazgûl remained in the city, which was given the new name of Minas Morgul, the 'Tower of Black Sorcery', and the Lord of Nazgûl became known as the Lord of Morgul.
Forty-one years after the capture of Minas Morgul, King Eärnil of Gondor died, to be succeeded by his son Eärnur. This was the same Eärnur who had defeated the Witch-king in the north, and the Lord of the Nazgûl hatched a plan to revenge himself on Gondor's new King. Knowing Eärnur to be a rash and proud Man, he tauntingly issued a challenge to single combat. Eärnur was eager to meet the challege, but his Steward Mardil held him back. The Lord of Morgul waited seven years, and then repeated his challenge. This time Eärnur disregarded his Steward's warnings, and rode to Minas Morgul with a small escort. What happened to him within Minas Morgul is unknown, but he was never seen again. By ensnaring Eänur, the Lord of the Nazgûl had brought the line of Kings in Gondor to an end.
If the Nazgûl harboured any further plans for the conquest of Gondor from their new city, those plans never came to fruition. In the years following Eärnur's loss, Sauron's power at Dol Guldur became so strong that the Wise moved to investigate in earnest. Not wishing to reveal himself, Sauron withdrew from the west of Middle-earth, beginning the time known as the Watchful Peace. With their master far away in the eastern lands, the Lord of Morgul and his Ringwraiths remained silent in Minas Morgul.
The Watchful Peace held for nearly four hundred years, but at last Sauron returned to his forest fortress, and the danger was renewed. The reactions of the Lord of the Nazgûl to Sauron's return are not known: no records exist of his actions over the next five centuries. At the very least, it seems sure that he would have somehow communicated with the Dark Lord in Mirkwood, and it also appears that during a part of this time he was preparing Mordor for his master's return.
The first moves in the conflict that would lead to the War of the Ring took place in III 2941, the same year that Bilbo Baggins made his journey to the Lonely Mountain, and acquired Gollum's Magic Ring. The White Council came against Dol Guldur, and Sauron abandoned it once again, but instead of going into a hiding, he travelled south to his old land of Mordor. Ten years later, Sauron openly announced his return, and began the rebuilding of his Dark Tower.
Some time after III 3009, Gollum crept into Mordor and was captured. Under torture, he revealed the story of his finding and losing the Ring, and also the names Baggins and Shire. Sauron urgently sent out the Nazgûl to find the Shire and recover the Ring.
Sauron suspected, correctly, that Saruman might know the whereabouts of the Shire, and so the Lord of the Nazgûl first rode to Isengard to question the Wizard. Discovering that their goal lay far to the north, the Black Riders set out through the Gap of Rohan and made the long journey across Enedwaith. On the journey, they encountered one of Saruman's spies, and so learned the connection between the Baggins family and Hobbiton. The Lord of the Nazgûl himself does not appear to have entered the Shire. Instead, he established a camp in the Andrath south of Bree, and also journeyed to the Barrow-downs, while the other Black Riders searched for 'Baggins'.
Finding that Frodo Baggins, the Ring-bearer, had fled from Hobbiton, the Nazgûl gave chase, and came close to recapturing the Ring several times. On Weathertop, their Lord succeeded in wounding Frodo with a Morgul-knife. Left untreated, the resulting wound would have made the Ring-bearer a wraith himself, making the recapture of the Ring a simple matter. Continuing their pursuit eastwards, the Lord and his Black Riders almost succeeded in capturing their quarry at the Ford of Rivendell, but a sudden flood raised by Elrond and Gandalf washed them away before they could complete their mission.
Returning slowly to Mordor, the Lord of the Nazgûl took charge of Mordor's conquest of Minas Tirith. Within Minas Morgul, a huge army was prepared, and at the appointed signal he set out to defeat the Gondorians. As events transpired, the Ring-bearer he had wounded five months earlier was in hiding near Minas Morgul, and saw the Lord of the Nazgûl set out with his host.
In the ensuing Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Witch-king's forces at first held a clear advantage, and at one point the Lord of the Nazgûl stood in the broken gateway of Minas Tirith. As the battle drew on, the tide began to turn, with the Rohirrim joining the defence of the city. Now mounted on a great flying beast, the Lord of the Nazgûl saw the King of Rohan fall beneath his own horse, and swooped down to slay him.
The King's bodyguard had been lost, but he was guarded by a young knight named Dernhelm. While Dernhelm confronted the Witch-king, one of the Ring-bearer's companions crept towards him. This was Meriadoc Brandybuck, and he carried a knife recovered from the Barrow-downs, enchanted to be a bane to the servants of Sauron. Goading Dernhelm, the Lord of the Nazgûl quoted Glorfindel's prophecy that no man could ever defeat him, but 'Dernhelm' revealed herself to be the shieldmaiden Éowyn in disguise, and thus beyond the power of the prophecy. At that moment, Meriadoc made a stab from behind into the Nazgûl's leg, and his sword's enchantment broke the power that protected the Lord of Morgul from harm. With neither prophecy nor dark power remaining to defend him, Éowyn struck at the Black Rider's head, and he was destroyed, or at least banished for a time.
It's hard to be sure whether the Lord of the Nazgûl was completely destroyed by Éowyn's blow. It's notable that he left no body behind, and also that we're told his voice was '...never heard again in that age of this world'2. The implication of that wording is unclear, but it might even be taken to mean that he was somehow able to return in a future time. If he did so, though, we have no record of his reappearance.
It is known for sure that three of the Nazgûl were originally Númenórean lords, and it seems extremely likely that Sauron would select one of these as the leader of his Nine Servants. According to the chronology of Númenor, these three must have been among the forerunners of those people later called Black Númenóreans: Men who travelled to Middle-earth seeking dark knowledge and power for themselves.
From The Return of the King V 6, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields (our emphasis).
Andrath, Angmar, Battle of the Field of Gondor, Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Black Captain, Black Riders, Captain of Despair, Captain of Sauron, Celebrindor, Deadmens Dike, Dwimmerlaik, Éowyn, Gothmog, Grond, King of Angmar, [See the full list...]
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