“The sixth King left only one child, a daughter. She became the first Queen; for it was then made a law of the royal house that the eldest child of the King, whether man or woman, should receive the sceptre”
– Appendix A, “The Lord of the Rings”
“She was clever, and malicious, and saw promise of sport as the prize for which her mother and her father did battle”
– “Unfinished Tales”
Given that Tolkien has often faced criticism for his idealised depiction of romantic love (and indeed his less-than-realistic character development in general) his works contain a surprising number of dysfunctional families – just think of Denethor and his sons; Eol, Maeglin and Aredhel; Finwe with his two wives and warring sons; even the family of Hurin, though that was hardly their fault. However, no character better embodies Philip Larkin’s maxim that “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” better than Tar-Ancalime, sole child of the matrimonial disaster that was Aldarion and Erendis, and first ruling queen of Numenor.
After Aldarion’s departure and the effective breakdown of his marriage to Erendis, Ancalime (then aged four) was taken by her mother to an isolated farm in the middle of the island, where her mother tried her very best to imbue her with her own bitterness and disappointment: “She (Erendis) sought even to mould her daughter to her own mind, and to feed her upon her own bitterness against men”. As I mentioned in my previous discussion of Erendis, the account in Unfinished Tales also gives us a taste of Erendis’s teachings: apparently she taught her daughter that men were “children in mind, until age finds them” and that they “would be craftsmen and loremasters and heroes all at once, and women to them are but fires on the hearth for others to tend, until they are tired of play in the evening”. Ancalime therefore grew up completely unaccustomed to the society of men, in a house that was devoid of laughter and seems to have had little love either.
This dysfunctional upbringing, and Ancalime’s status as a prize in the struggle between her warring parents, contributed to flaws in her personality as an adult, and ultimately helped to poison her relationships with her husband, son and grandchildren. Her character apparently owed something to both parents: she combined her father’s obstinacy (both were inclined to take “the opposite course to any that was counselled”) with her mother’s “coldness and sense of personal injury”. This rather complicated personality, moreover, was combined with an inclination towards spitefulness and malice that was likely the result of being caught between her parents in their battle of wills. Finally, being a spectator to the implosion of her parents’ marriage and the protracted war between them that ensued, combined with her mother’s teachings against men, made Ancalime hostile towards the idea of marriage in general. We learn, for example, that she “had a profound dislike of obligatory marriage, and in marriage of any constraint upon her will”. Later on, she tells her suitor (and eventual husband) Hallacar that she wishes to marry “Uner (which is ‘Noman’), whom I prefer above all others”.
Later in her life, Ancalime’s difficult personality and disdain for the institution of marriage led her, in her position as ruling Queen of Numenor and effective matriarch of the island’s royal family, to poison her relationship with her husband Hallacar (whom she was obliged to marry in order to secure the crown), with her son, and with her grandchildren. Not wishing to marry at all, she resented Hallacar from the outset, and acted accordingly. She forbade him to live on his own ancestral land (saying that she would not have a farm-steward for a husband), while he (to spite her) arranged for her serving-women – whom she had forbidden to marry – to be married behind her back. From what little we see of their relationship, Ancalime and Hallacar seem to have behaved with more malice and caused more outright harm to one another than Ancalime’s parents ever did. We don’t really learn anything about her relationship with her son Anarion aside from the fact that Ancalime did not wish for a son and held his existence as yet another reason to resent Hallacar, which hardly seem like preconditions for an ideal mother-son relationship. Finally, her relationship with her granddaughters was certainly highly dysfunctional: Ancalime refused to allow either of her granddaughters to marry, leading them in turn to refuse the heirship although they were Anarion’s oldest children, as a result of which the crown passed to their younger brother Surion.
Aside from her difficult upbringing and troubled relationships with virtually her entire family, the main reason why Ancalime stands out is for her status as Numenor’s first ruling queen. Wanting to ensure that his only child would succeed him to the throne (and to spite Erendis into the bargain), Aldarion formulated a new law that was contradictory to previous Numenorean (and from what we see in the Silmarillion, Elvish) custom, stating either that a king’s daughter could succeed him if he had no son (according to Unfinished Tales) or that the eldest child would succeed him, whether male or female (according to Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings)*. As a result, Ancalime became the first of Numenor’s four Ruling Queens, who represent a kind of overt female leadership rarely seen in Tolkien’s legendarium. (While there are other examples of women in leadership roles – think of Galadriel, Melian and Haleth – for the most part, when we see monarchies in action, women don’t get a look in. Neither the kings of Gondor nor the holders of the High Kingship of the Noldor, for example, included a single woman. What is more, with the exception of Haleth, those women who do clearly exercise a degree of leadership do so in a strictly unofficial capacity, as the consorts of husbands who may be less wise and powerful than their wives, but who are nevertheless more acceptable as figureheads – Thingol being the classic example. Only in Numenor do we see women’s right to exercise leadership in their own right explicitly recognised in this way).
As for what kind of Queen Ancalime was – well, we don’t know a great deal about that. We know that her rule was long (in fact, at 205 years, the second-longest after that of Elros himself!) and that she abandoned her father’s policies towards Middle-earth and gave no further help to Gil-galad, a decision that would come back to haunt Numenor in the end. Her personality, too (combining her father’s stubbornness, her mother’s aloofness, and a capriciousness and malice all her own) hardly seems likely to have made her a great ruler. All in all, she was probably no worse or better than average – no Elros, to be sure, but no Ar-Pharazon either. What was really extraordinary about her was the fact that she was there at all.
*I prefer the latter version – partly because it’s impressively progressive (after all, we’ve only just changed the laws of succession in the UK to allow the first child to succeed regardless of gender), but also because it’s better supported elsewhere in the text, for example when it is stated that Anarion’s two daughters refused the sceptre before it finally passed to their younger brother Surion.