Battle of Bywater: Ruffians Infesting the Shire Defeated, Ending War of the Ring

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Battle of Bywater: Ruffians Infesting the Shire Defeated, Ending War of the Ring

"Battle of Bywater" by Ted Nasmith;
image courtesy of
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History –November 3, Third Age, 3019

[Today's post is an update to one originally published in 2010]

Background to the Battle

In the aftermath of the final fall of the Dark Lord Sauron and the defeat of his coalition in the War of the Ring, the Third Age of Middle-Earth was drawing to a close. The newly-crowned King Elessar Telcontar of Gondor (formerly known as Aragorn, son of Arathorn, or "Strider") began the process of reorganizing the kingdoms of the West to begin the Fourth Age, the "Age of Men." After his coronation on May 1 of 3019, a swift succession of events over the next few months saw:

  • The wedding of King Elessar and Arwen, daughter of Elrond of Rivendell (July 1);
  • The funeral of Theoden, late king of Rohan, with all the surviving members of the Fellowship of the Ring present (August 10);
  • A trip to Isengard, former stronghold of the evil wizard Saruman, after which King Elessar departs to return to his capital of Minas Tirith of Gondor (August 28); and,
  • A party at Rivendell for the 129th birthday of Bilbo Baggins, the former Ring-bearer (September 22).

Finally, after being away from their homes for a year and two weeks, the four hobbits of the Shire – Frodo "Nine-Fingers" Baggins, his servant and friend Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, and Frodo's cousins Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took – decided to return to their homeland in the far northwest of Middle-Earth. Accompanied by their close friend Gandalf the White, the diminutive adventurers set off on horseback for home on October 5. They reached the town of Bree on the evening of October 28. While in town, they learned of odd goings-on in the Shire over the past few months.

Events in the Shire

Map of the west-central Shire; Image by Neddy1234 for Wikipedia; Based on descriptions in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Village of Bywater is left-center of the map, just north of the Great East Road
Map of the west-central Shire; Image by Neddy1234 for Wikipedia
Based on descriptions in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Village of Bywater is left-center of the map, just north of the Great East Road

Before leaving on his mission to the Crack of Doom, Frodo had sold his home of Bag End to his cousin's wife, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. [Prior to Bilbo adopting Frodo as his heir, Bag End was slated to pass to the Sackville-Bagginses.] Lobelia's son Lotho had inherited his father's pipeweed plantations, which were already very lucrative, but the young hobbit was also ambitious. Lotho began accumulating farmland, several inns, malt-houses and even the Old Mill in Hobbiton. However, it wasn't enough to satisfy him; ultimately, Lotho wanted power. [He had been ridiculed most of his life for his poor complexed, receiving the nickname "Pimple."]

After making contact with Saruman, Lotho began to be affected by the corrupting power of the wizard of Isengard. During the fall of 3018, Lotho sent large quantities of pipe-weed and other goods out of the Shire, causing a shortage of provisions among the hobbits as winter approached. Rough-looking Men came to the Shire and took more merchandise away in carts. Some of the Men stayed in the Shire and cut down trees to build themselves ugly new houses. At first the Men paid for damages and goods, but soon they began simply taking what they wanted. Late in the year, Will Whitfoot – the Mayor of the town of Michel Delving and First Shirriff – was riding to Bag End to confront Lotho about the destruction being visited on the countryside. Before he reached the estate, Lotho's "associates" arrested Will and incarcerated him in the Lockholes.

At the beginning of the year 3019, Lotho Sackville-Baggins proclaimed himself Chief Shirriff of the Shire. He began posting an ever-growing set of Rules [yes, with a capital "r"…] spelling out various prohibitions; failing to obey just one rule would see the violator arrested and put in the Lockholes. Soon, more Shirriffs were hired to enforce the rules. Most of the new Shirriffs were Men and even half-orcs, ruffians looking for a meal and some folks to intimidate. Food and other goods were gathered for central distribution, but the common hobbits got short shrift. Beer and pipe-weed were reserved for the Chief's Men and inns were closed. After a short while, Lotho was simply "the Chief."

However, Lotho soon lost control of the situation, and the Men pretty much did whatever they pleased for the next several months. Crop fields and hobbit homes were taken and burned, trees were wantonly cut down. The Old Mill was replaced with a New Mill, an ugly, red-brick building. However, this New Mill no longer simply ground corn as its predecessor had done. It was converted to some mysterious industrial purpose, spouting great clouds of smoke and polluting the stream with waste.

On September 22, 3019 the Men's true master – a mysterious person known only as "Sharkey" – arrived in Hobbiton. Accompanied by his toadying servant, Sharkey threw Lotho into the Lockholes and ensconced himself in Bag End (quite an irony, as we will soon see…).

Prelude to the Battle

After resting for a full day, Frodo and his companions departed Bree on the morning of October 30. Along the way, Gandalf left the party to consult with Tom Bombadil, who had saved the hobbits from danger early in their journey the previous year. Frodo and Company arrived late at night at the Brandywine Bridge, only to find the gate locked and a new guardhouse next to it. After rousing the watchman – and sending him fleeing for his life – the four friends spent the night in the now-empty Shirriff House.

The next morning (November 1, as all months in the calendar of the Shire have 30 days), the hobbits set off for Hobbiton, continuing to wonder at the strange goings-on in their homeland. Later that afternoon, they encountered a group of Shirriffs who claimed the hobbits were under arrest. A messenger was sent from the Brandywine Bridge the night before. Though finding the idea laughable, Frodo and his friends acquiesced. For their troubles, they spent the night in the Shirriff-house in the village of Frogmorton.

Frodo and his companions left Frogmorton the next day at about 10:00 am, with an escort of Shirriffs. After travelling westward along the Great East Road for about five hours, the four friends decided to leave their escorts behind, promising to meet them at an inn in Bywater. Along the way, they met and spoke to several of the local hobbits, who told them of some of the happenings of the past year. Incensed, Frodo and his friends decided that action needed to be taken.

It was now late in the afternoon of November 2, and the four friends were near the village of Bywater. Pippin and Merry were still accoutered in their arms and armor that they wore in the major battles of the War of the Ring – Pippin as a Knight of Gondor, Merry as a warrior of Rohan who was sorely wounded in the battle of the Pelennor Fields (where he struck a mortal blow upon the King of the Nazgul). To rally the hobbits to battle, Merry blew the Horn of the Mark, an ancient relic of the Rohirrim, a gift from Rohan's rulers for his services to them. Within minutes, nearly 200 hobbits gathered to re-assert their freedom. Many of the folk were armed with hunting bows, some with staffs, axes and farm implements. No one was as well-armed as Merry and Pippin, with their swords and armor. At the same time, Pippin rode off to Tookland, hoping to rally his family members to provide more manpower. [Tookland is south of the Great East Road, centered around the town of Tuckborough.]

Pippin (top) and Merry in the aftermath of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields; Both hobbits would likely have been accoutered similarly at Bywater; Image courtesy of
Pippin (top) and Merry in the aftermath of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields
Both hobbits would likely have been accoutered similarly at Bywater
Image courtesy of

Merry took the lead in planning the resistance to the ruffians. Lookouts were posted around Bywater, to guard against a surprise foray by Sharkey's Men. During the night, a group of about 20 ruffians approached the huge bonfire the hobbits had built in the center of the village. After the hobbits surrounded the squad, Frodo directed them to surrender peacefully, but their half-orc leader ignored the advice. Hoping to bully the hobbits, he charged Frodo, but received several arrows for his stupidity, falling dead. The other ruffians surrendered, were disarmed and tied up, then put into one of the rough houses the Men had built. The first skirmish went to the hobbits.

Battle of Bywater

The next morning just after First Breakfast, a messenger arrived from Tookland, with the news that Pippin's father – Paladin Took, the 31st Thain of Tookland – had raised all the hobbits of that area. A large group of them were on their way to Bywater. Reports also came to the rebels that a large group of ruffians were on their way from Michel Delving, marching from the west down the Great East Road, hoping to put down the "uppish" hobbits once and for all. Shortly after, the Tookland hobbits arrived, led by Pippin on his horse. Totaling about 300 effectives the hobbits were all spoiling for a fight, seeking to end the reign of terror by Sharkey's ruffians.

After reconnoitering the area, Merry decided that the best place to take the ruffians was along the Bywater Road, which turned off the East Road. About a furlong (220 yards) off the main road, the Bywater Road dipped between high banks lined with hedges. At that point, the hobbits erected a barrier of upturned farm carts, blocking the way. The hobbits then hid behind the short hedges, waiting for the Men to approach the village proper.

The ruffians arrived around noon, turned up the Bywater Road and continued on their way to the village. Numbering about 100 or so, the Men were armed with long knives, clubs and whips. According to Frodo's later chronicle, The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King, it seems that the Men "…however grim they might be…had no leader among them who understood warfare." Slouching their way up the road to Bywater, the ruffians ran right into the barrier. Very quickly, a group of hobbits wheeled some hidden wagons behind the Men, effectively blocking their escape route.

Taken by surprise by the hobbits' gambit, Merry called out to the Men to surrender, but the plea mainly fell on deaf ears. A group of 20 of the ruffians charged the rear barricade, hoping to force their way through. Several Men fell pierced with arrows, but the remainder fought their way through the wagons, killing two hobbits. This group of ruffians scattered, hoping to make their way cross-country to safety. Merry winded his Horn of the Mark, alerting other hobbits in the area to the retreating Men.

The remainder of the men, about 80 altogether, then charged up the banks. Realizing they were trapped, they only had the desire to kill as many hobbits as possible before succumbing themselves. The fighting was desperate for long minutes, as a group of the strongest ruffians climbed the banks on the west side, hoping to break out. Several hobbits fell to this onslaught, and the others were wavering.

However, Merry and Pippin emerged from the east side and charged the Men from the rear, adding their sword-strokes to the fight. In a short duel, Merry himself killed the apparent leader, described in Frodo's account as "a great squint-eyed brute like a large orc." After that small victory, Merry called off his forces, then ordered those hobbits armed with hunting bows to take care of the rest of the ruffians. Within minutes, the battle of Bywater ended.


About 70 of the ruffians lay dead in the road, most of them pierced through-and-through with arrows. About a dozen were prisoners, only alive by the grace of Frodo, who took no other part in the fight. Nineteen hobbits were killed with about 30 wounded. The dead ruffians were carted off to an old sand-pit and interred – it was afterwards referred to as the Battle-Pit. The deceased hobbits were buried together on a nearby hill, where later a great stone was set, surrounded by a garden.


Hobbits confront 'Sharkey' (Saruman) day after Bywater fight;Frodo is at center (back to our view), Grima to his right; Artists unknown, image courtesy of
Hobbits confront "Sharkey" (Saruman) day after Bywater fight
Frodo is at center (back to our view), Grima to his right
Artists unknown, image courtesy of

The next day the hobbits marched to Hobbiton, then to Bag End to confront Lotho "the Chief." However, they were shocked to find Sharkey, the real leader, who turned out to be Saruman the White, the former lord of the tower of Isengard. [It turns out that "Sharkey" was a nickname the orcs of Isengard had used for Saruman. In the orc tongue, it meant "old man."] He had been released in September by Treebeard the ent, viewed as being powerless. However, burning with hatred for the small folk, Saruman made a beeline for the Shire, seeking to turn Frodo's homeland into a miniature version of Isengard before it was attacked by the ents.

Despite the desire of most of the hobbits to exact revenge on the old man, Frodo offered to let him leave unharmed. Drawing a hidden knife, Saruman tried to stab Frodo, but struck the hobbit's mithril mail-coat, causing Frodo no harm. Even then, Frodo let the wizard go. However, when Frodo offered sanctuary to Grima Wormtongue, Saruman's sidekick and toady, this action enraged Saruman. When the defeated wizard kicked Wormtongue in the face, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Pulling out his own concealed weapon, Grima jumped on Saruman's back, pulled back his head and slit the old man's throat. "Before Frodo could recover or speak a word," said the chronicles, "three hobbit-bows twanged and Wormtongue fell dead." Thus, finally, did the War of the Ring end.

Footnote #1: Each year on the anniversary of the battle, the folk of the Shire commemorated the names of all the hobbits who took part in the battle. Right at the top of this "Roll of Honor" were the names of Captains Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took.

Footnote #2: During the planning and execution of the Battle of Bywater, Merry and Pippin – the only ones of the adventuring companions with any military experience – took the lead. Frodo was present at the fight, but did not participate in the melee. The former Ringbearer's contribution was to insure that any of the ruffians who surrendered were not killed outright. Perhaps he had seen enough of war and strife, and just wanted to live a normal life.

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