Seven Stars and Seven Crowns: A Catholic Monarchist’s Perspective on The Lord of the Rings
The great Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien once described his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings as a “story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power…” Of all these, the battle between Kingship and Tyranny is one of the most deeply Catholic themes in the story. It is also one of the most obvious.
Most Catholics who have read The Lord of Rings will rightly recognize in these fictional histories the figure of Aragorn, the prophesied King, as a type2 of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will return like Aragorn to reclaim His Kingdom. Yet these same Catholics will often overlook a more hidden meaning in the portrayal of Kingship in The Lord of the Rings for the simple reason that we have forgotten that Christendom also once had an earthly King.
Like the Hobbits in the beginning of the story, we who live in the modern world have forgotten much of our own history. We vaguely attribute our old laws to the Roman Empire just as the Hobbits “attributed to the king of old all their essential laws… ” It never occurs to the Hobbits safe in the Shire to ask what happened to the King, and it never occurs to us in the modern world to ask what happened to the Roman Empire. Of course, if we did, we would be told that it fell under its own weight in the ancient days. The proof of this is given as the disunity and ruin of the world in which we live.
We would be surprised, then, to learn of the war that has been waged on our borders for centuries, during which the old Roman Empire was transformed into a Holy Empire, the protector of Christendom. The old stories regarding the Middle Ages were once a reality, and the High King of Christendom once defended the Catholic realms. But sadly, like those in the Shire and beyond, we live in world in which the old Kingdom has fallen before the forces of evil.
Tolkien, as a Catholic and Medievalist, knew these truths about history. He also knew that not all those upon whom the office of Kingship fell fulfilled their office. In the person of Théoden, King of the Rohirrim, we are presented in the story with both a failed and good king. Théoden fails his office as he sits idle on his throne listening to evil counsel while his realm falls apart around him. It is only when he takes up his sword to defend his people and realm that he shows us what a truly noble King is. And as a noble king he is honored by all, even those not of his realm, such as Imrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth in the Kingdom of Gondor.
But Théoden and his successor Éomer, though kings, are not the highest authority in their kingdoms. Instead, both hold the ruler of Gondor as their lord to whom they have sworn allegiance. The modern idea of a king as the supreme power in his realm, dating back to the Protestant Revolution, was rejected by Tolkien the Catholic, who saw in the Church and Christendom the hierarchical order of authority. Sauron the tyrant and Saruman the traitor both seek sole mastery of the world. Opposed to them stands Théoden the good King, who serves his people and fulfills his oaths though the latter causes his death.
Now the realm of Gondor to which the King of Rohan owes his allegiance has been without a king for many years. Without the protection of the soldiers of Gondor, the Free Peoples of the West of Middle-Earth would have long ago been subject to the slavery of Sauron. But the absence of the King has a disastrous effect on the people of Gondor, especially in the east. The easternmost part of the Kingdom has become desolate; the White Tree (the ancient symbol of the Kings) has withered; the Capital City of Osgiliath has been destroyed; the borders of the Kingdom have ceased to be maintained, and the population has dwindled. The Stewards, though they rule in the name of the King, cannot restore to the Kingdom what they have lost, and in the end the last Steward, Denethor II, becomes obsessed with preserving his own power.
In direst hour, as the City of Minas Tirith is under siege by the forces of Sauron, Denethor commits suicide, unwilling to fight for the people entrusted to his care. The allegiance of Théoden brings the Rohirrim to the aid of the city, but the death of Théoden shatters the last hope of the city. It is then that something happens which had only been before conceived of in prophecy and old tales: the King returns.
He is Aragorn Elessar of line of Isildur the son of Elendil, founder of the house of Telcontar, wielder of Anduril the reforged blade, Captain of the Armies of the West. Born in exile, the last of the line of the ancient Kings of Arnor and Gondor has returned to lead his people in their darkest hour bearing before him the ancient symbol of the Kings, the black flag of the Seven Stars and the White Tree. Unlike the steward Denethor, he does not despair but goes willingly into a battle which may be the last of all good in Middle-Earth.
Returning victorious, Aragorn proceeds to the city to be crowned King. He does not seize power but receives the crown, the symbol of his authority to rule, from Gandalf the Wizard, the representative of a higher authority (who in turn are ultimately the representatives of the Highest Authority). As King, Aragorn has authority over all the men of the West, yet he himself is subject to the just law.
Tolkien in his letters explained this, saying, “A Númenórean King was monarch, with the power of unquestioned decision in debate; but he governed the realm with the frame of ancient law, of which he was administrator (and interpreter) but not the maker. In all debatable matters of importance domestic, or external, however, even Denethor had a Council, and at least listened to what the Lords of the Fiefs and the Captains of the Forces had to say. Aragorn re-established the Great Council of Gondor…”
The King’s return suddenly reverses the long, slow decay of Gondor and the West. Law is brought back to lawless regions; roads and cities are rebuilt; the population increases as does joy, laughter, and song, and the seedling of the White Tree blossoms again in the city. The hand of the King which wielded the sword in his people’s defense is the hand that heals and restores the good that decays.
Now in our own history we also had a King subject to the just and ancient laws, a King who swore at his coronation to “restore the good that decays”. We also had a King who was like Aragorn a type of Christ the King, a King who was above all other earthly Kings and subject to the representative of the Highest Authority. He was the Holy Emperor of the Romans, Commander of the Armies of Christendom; his golden flag was emblazoned with Seven Crowns and an Eagle black against the Sun, and he led the defense of West. And he was defeated by the enemy and his descendants forced into exile though prophecies and old tales speak of one who will return.
Now lest you think that I have entirely invented the connection between the Reunited Kingdom of Aragorn and the Holy Roman Empire, I will present you with this quote from the author himself when he was asked about the alleged “Nordic” elements in The Lord of the Rings : “The progress of the tale ends in what is far more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome than anything that would be devised by a “Nordic”.
I can only hope that the progress of our history does lead to the reestablishment of the Holy Roman Empire and that we once again see “the King of the West sitting upon his horse with his knights about him…” But our fight for the West will be hard, for we have lost the Shire; that is, we have lost a society (however ignorant of its history) of good people who believe that good is good and evil is evil. When we regain that, then will our Emperor and King return.
By The Hapsburg Restorationist
(Read more from The Hapsburg Restorationist at The War for Christendom)