As always, dear readers, welcome.
Just what does JRRT have in mind when he says “The Thain was the master of the Shire-moot, and the captain of the Shire-muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms”?
The “Thain” had appeared in the Shire as a title at a time of political upheaval, when the last king in the North, Arvedui, had been lost and the hobbits “chose a Thain to take the place of the King”. (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Section I, Part iii) Tolkien derived the title from the Old English word thegn, a kind of lesser nobleman, perhaps—and this is a guess we’ve seen elsewhere–with the idea that the Thain would act as a kind of stand-in for the missing monarch.
The “shire-moot” is another Old English term for a kind of assembly held in a shire, a kind of province or county (from Old English scir). “To muster” is “to gather together” and can be used either as an intransitive verb, meaning it doesn’t need a direct object: one can say “the Shire mustered”; or as a transitive verb, one which takes a direct object, as in “they mustered all of the armed hobbits.” And the adjective “armed” is appropriate since, commonly, the verb is used in a military sense. This leads us to the last term, “Hobbitry-in-arms”.
In the period before the Norman conquest in 1066,
the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms could, by law, call out freemen (as opposed to slaves of various sorts) for a temporary army. This was called the fyrd (say the y like the u in French tu).
The Normans brought the beginnings of feudalism to England. Feudalism was all about control, with the armed, mounted man in charge, just below the king, the nobles in this chart being mostly armed, mounted men, as well,
but, to fill out his backup, that man could call on those who lived on his land, freemen and peasants/villeins, to serve for a time.
By the Elizabethan period, these part-timers were required to serve in towns and counties as militia.
This was a tradition carried on in their North American colonies, as well,
and, at the beginning of the American Revolution, these were the first men to face the soldiers sent by the government in London.
At the end of the 18th century, there were fears that the Revolutionary French planned to invade Britain, and many volunteer units were raised to flesh out the small number of professional army units available in the UK. The cavalry regiments of these volunteers were called “yeomanry” and we imagine that Tolkien derived his “hobbitry” from those “yeomanry”.
For a time after 1815, when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, some units were retained and used as a kind of police force, mostly to put down the unrest which came from poor labor conditions and the general lack of political power for most people. The most infamous act of suppression was the so-called “Peterloo” massacre of 1819, when some demonstrators were killed and many more wounded by a yeomanry unit which made a charge into a peaceful crowd.
Yeomanry units remained part of the volunteer establishment throughout the 19th century, gaining a new prominence with the raising of the Imperial Yeomanry in 1900,
part of the eventually very large armed forces sent by Britain to defeat the Boers
in the Second Boer War (1899-1902).
Tolkien, who had been a cadet at King Edward’s School,
joined a yeomanry unit, King Edward’s Horse, when he reached Oxford in 1911,
before eventually being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, in 1915.
But what was the “Hobbitry-in-arms”?
And now we step into complete guess-work.
If it resembled the yeomanry, it was an organization of volunteers, raised to defend the Shire against invasion. We know that something like this must once have existed, as we have several mentions of armed groups of hobbits, the archers who were sent off to aid the last king of the North Kingdom, Arvedui (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Section I, Part iii), as well as those who fought at the Battle of Greenfields “In which Bandobras Took routed an invasion of Orcs.” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, I, “Concerning Hobbits”)
From the very beginning, British yeomanry units were uniformed and uniformly armed, often being patronized by upper class gentlemen, who then became the senior officers of the units.
The only uniformity we have any knowledge of in the Shire comes from this:
“The Shirriffs was the name that the Hobbit gave to their police, or the nearest equivalent that they possessed. They had, of course, no uniforms (such things being quite unknown), only a feather in their caps…” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, Section 3)
As for weapons, as that same section of the Prologue says:
“So, though there was still some store of weapons in the Shire, these were used mostly as trophies, hanging above hearths or on walls, or gathered into the museum at Michel Delving.”
(We also remember that Bilbo had sent his mithril coat to “a museum”, which we presume was this one. The Hobbit, Chapter 19, “The Last Stage”.)
With no uniformity of dress or arms, what’s left of our definition is the idea of volunteers raised to defend the Shire against invasion. And, thus, as in “The Scouring of the Shire”, we see the hobbits in two battles defeating Sharkey’s “big men” , we imagine that this must have been what JRRT had in mind when he created the “Hobbitry-in-arms”:
“When Sam got back he found the whole village roused. Already, apart from many younger lads, more than a hundred sturdy hobbits were assembled with axes, and heavy hammers, and long knives, and stout staves; and a few had hunting-bows.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)
Thanks, as ever, for reading, and, of course,