Today, 15 March 2020, is the anniversary of the fall of the Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl, but what is the story behind him and his downfall? In this document I will discuss some of this going back to the early Third Age whence a prophecy was made by Glorfindel about the Witch-king. In the future I might document this in the histories in my history of The Lord of the Rings document.

The prophecy

In The Return of the King, Gandalf and Denethor, Steward of Gondor, have this dialogue:

'Yet now under the Lord of Barad-dûr, the most fell of all his captains is already master of your outer walls,' said Gandalf. 'King of Angmar long ago, Sorcerer, Ringwraith, Lord of the Nazgûl, a spear of terror in the hand of Sauron, shadow of despair.'

'Then, Mithrandir, you had a foe to match you,' said Denethor. 'For myself, I have long known who is the chief captain of the hosts of the Dark Tower. Is this all that you have returned to say? Or can it be that you have withdrawn because you are overmatched?'

Pippin trembled, fearing that Gandalf would be stung to sudden wrath, but his fear was needless. 'It might be so,' Gandalf answered softly. 'But our trial of strength is not yet come. And if words spoken of old be true, not by the hand of man shall he fall, and hidden from the Wise is the doom that awaits him. However that may be, the Captain of Despair does not press forward, yet. He rules rather according to the wisdom that you have just spoken, from the rear, driving his slaves in madness on before.'

What words spoken of old are these that Gandalf referred to? It comes from the Third Age in Appendix A, section Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion (iv) (pp. 1044 - 1057 but specifically pg. 1051, describing the end of the evil realm of Angmar:

'But it is said then that when all was lost suddenly the Witch-king himself appeared, black-robed and black-masked upon a black horse. Fear fell upon all who beheld him; but he singled out the Captain of Gondor for the fullness of his hatred, and with a terrible cry he rode straight upon him. Eärnur would have withstood him; but his horse could not endure that onset, and it swerved and bore him far away before he could master it.

'Then the Witch-king laughed, and none that heard it ever forgot the horror of that cry. But Glorfindel rode up then on his white horse, and in the midst of his laughter the Witch-king turned to flight and passed into the shadows. For night came down on the battlefield, and he was lost, and none saw whither he went.

Eärnur now rode back, but Glorfindel, looking into the gathering dark, said: "Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall." These words many remembered; but Eärnur was angry, desiring only to be avenged for his disgrace.

'So ended the evil realm of Angmar, and so did Eärnur, Captain of Gondor, earn the chief hatred of the Witch-king; but many years were still to pass before that was revealed.'

The Fall of the Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl

Many many years passed before he would fall and as the prophecy foretold he was not taken down by man. Instead it was possible because of the sword of the Barrow-downs along with Dernhelm, Éowyn in disguise:

Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.

But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.

'Éowyn, Éowyn!' cried Marry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Éowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and stumbled; and cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.

After this King Théoden says his farewells to Merry, not knowing that Éowyn was there too, but wishing to have word sent to her that he considered her 'dearer than daughter'. Then a couple pages later:

And still Meriadoc the hobbit stood there blinking through his tears, and no one spoke to him, indeed none seemed to heed him. He brushed away the tears, and stooped to pick up the green shield that Éowyn had given him, and he slung it at his back. Then he looked for his sword that he had let fall; for even has he struck his blow his arm was numbed, and now he could only use his left hand. And behold! there lay his weapon, but the blade was smoking like a dry branch that has been thrust in a fire; and as he watched it, it writhed and withered and was consumed.

So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom where the Dúnedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.

His downfall was felt even in Mordor:

'Look at it, Mr. Frodo!' said Sam. 'Look at it! The wind's changed. Something's happening. He's not having it all his own way. His darkness is breaking up out in the world there. I wish I could see what is going on!'

It was the morning of the fifteenth of March, and over the Vale of Anduin the Sun was rising above the eastern shadow, and the south-west wind was blowing. Théoden lay dying on the Pelennor Fields.

What happened to the Witch-king?

As a footnote in Letter #246 puts it: 'The Witch-king had been reduced to impotence.'.

What year was this?

It was the same year as the fall of Sauron, 3019 (in the Shire Reckoning, S.R., it was 1419); in ten days time, in fact, 25 March, the Ring was destroyed.

* ChangeLog (since 15 March 2020)