The Witch-king of Angmar, also known as the Lord of the Nazgūl and the Black Captain, was the chief of the Nazgūl and one of Sauron's most dreaded servants. He formed the kingdom of Angmar around T.A. 1300 from where he waged war on Arnor. During the War of the Ring he led the hunt for the One Ring and subsequently led the attack on Minas Tirith in the Battle of Pelennor Fields.
After Sauron seized the Rings of Power in the Sack of Eregion, in S.A. 1697, he gave nine Rings to great Men, one of which later became the Witch-King.1
The Rings gained them power and an unending life and they became great kings, warriors and sorcerers of their time. However, since the Rings had been forged using Sauron's knowledge they were under the influence of the One Ring. One by one they fell under the command of Sauron and became the Nazgūl, the Ringwraiths, his most dreaded servants. The Ringwraiths first appeared in S.A. 2251.2
Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thralldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgul were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
The identity of the Witch-king is not known but he was likely one of the three unnamed great lords of Nśmenor who received rings from Sauron.3, 4
The Witch-king was the most powerful of the Nazgūl and became their leader.
After the fall of Sauron in S.A. 3441, the Nazgūl, including the Witch-king, were dispersed and vanished and did not reemerge for over a thousand years.2
After the end of the Second Age, Sauron was unable to take physical form for many years.2
Sometime around T.A. 1000, Sauron reappeared and came to the southern parts of Greenwood the Great from the east.5
In T.A. 1300, the Nazgūl reappeared and began to serve their master once more.6
The Witch-king founded the realm of Angmar in the north with the purpose to invade Arnor. Angmar's capital Carn Dūm was built on the northernmost peak of the Misty Mountains and here the Witch-king took up residence.7
His allegiance to Sauron was not known at the time and few knew that he was a wraith.8
He became known as the Witch-king of Angmar and gathered an army of evil Men and Orcs to his banner.
A few hundred years earlier, the three sons of Eärendur had divided Arnor into Cardolan, Rhudaur, and Arthedain.8
They were now plagued by disunity and at constant civil war with eachother which made them vulnerable. Seeing that Gondor remained strong in the south, the Witch-king sought to invade the north. He planted infiltrators and was able to corrupt the government of Rhudaur, which he aided in its attacks on the other kingdoms. Sometime around this, the Witch-king laid siege to Rivendell.
In T.A. 1409, the Witch-king finally attacked the kingdoms, beginning with Rhudaur in the east.8
He then proceeded to occupy Cardolan and put the Tower of Amon Sūl under siege. The tower was destroyed and King Arveleg I of Arthendain and the last Prince of Cardolan were both slain in the battle. However, the Palantķr of Amon Sūl was saved from the hands of the Witch-king and brought to the capital of Arthedain, Fornost.
The Witch-king continued his attack and laid Fornost under siege.8
Araphor, the 18-year old son of Arveleb, succeeded his father as King and was determined to avenge his father's death. With the aid of Cķrdan of Lindon he was able to repel the forces of the Witch-king at Fornost and the North Downs. At this time, the siege of Rivendell had been broken which allowed Elrond to bring reinforcements from both Rivendell and Lothlórien. The Witch-king was pushed back and retreated to Angmar.
For many years after this, the Witch-king rebuilt his armies in Angmar and prepared a final attack on Arthedain.8
In T.A. 1636, the Dark Plague came and caused the extinction of the Dśnedain of Cardolan at the Barrow-downs. The Witch-king sent Barrow-wights to prevent the resurrection of the kingdom.
In T.A. 1974, the Witch-king began his attack on Arthedain.8
King Arvedui had expected the attack and had sent for aid from King Eärnil II of Gondor already a year before. Despite this, the help did not arrive in time and Arthedain was overrun. Fornost was captured and the Witch-king took up residence there. King Arvedui was able to flee noth with the two Palantķri of Amon Sūl and Annśminas and thus saved them from the hands of the Witch-king.
To counter the forces of Angmar, Eärnil sent his son, Eärnur, to Lindon with a great fleet.9
They joined with the Dśnedain and the elves on Lindon who now took refuge in the Grey Havens. The army marched east across the river Lune. The Witch-king had grown overconfident from his past success and instead of waiting for the host at Fornost he sent an army to initiate the attack. The battle took place on the plains between Nenuial and Fornost. The forces of Angmar began to retreat back to Fornost but were attacked by the cavalry of Eärnur.
Seeing that he could not win, the Witch-king decided to flee back to Angmar but he was overtaken by Eärnur's cavalry and a force from Rivendell led by Glorfindel.9
Together they crushed the forces of Angmar until the land was purged from Orcs and evil Men. Then, when all seemed lost, the Witch-king appeared and attacked Eärnur. Eärnur's horse was struck by fear and fled and the Witch-king laughed at this. Glorfindel then came on his white horse and the Witch-king fled. When Eärnur returned he wanted to pursue but Glorfindel held him back and made his prophecy regarding the doom of the Witch-king:
He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Nśmenorean Kings", "Gondor and the Heirs of Anįrion"
After the Witch-king's defeat in Angmar he fled to Mordor where in T.A. 1980 he started to gather the other Nazgūl around him. Bereft of his former residence in Carn Dūm he began a two year long siege on Minas Ithil. They captured the city along with its Palantķr, which was sent to Sauron.
After the death of Eärnil and the coronation of Eärnur, the Witch-king challenged him to single combat, remembering him of the disgrace of the North. The steward Mardil Voronwė persuaded him not to go. Seven years later, the challenge was repeated and this time Eärnur responded. He rode with to Minas Morgul with a small escort, never to return.
In 2475, the Witch-king sent out his armies to claim Osgiliath. They succeeded temporarily but were driven out by Boromir I. Boromir proceeded to reclaim Ithilien and was such a great captain that even the Witch-king feared him.
In 2951, after rebuilding his strength in Dol Guldur for many years, Sauron declared himself openly. He sent Khamūl and two other Nazgūl to Dol Guldur while the Witch-king remained in Minas Morgul. In T.A. 3017, Gollum was captured in Mordor and revealed under torture that the One Ring was held by a hobbit named "Baggins" in a land called "Shire". However, Gollum managed to trick Sauron into believing that the Shire was located on the banks of the Gladden River.
Sauron decided to send the Nazgūl, his most trusted servants, to reclaim the One Ring. To disguise their true purpose, Sauron initiated an attack on Osgiliath on June 20, T.A. 3018. The attack allowed the Nazgūl to secretly cross the Andśin and they traveled unclothed and invisible to Sarn Gebir. There they received black horses and black robes and after which they continued north to the Field of Celebrant where they met with Khamūl and the other two Nazgūls from Dol Guldur. Khamūl reported that he had been unable to locate the Shire in the Vales of Andśin. Determined to find the Shire, the Witch-king continued search along the river.
When returning south in September, messengers from Mordor brought them word of Sauron's wrath and the Witch-king was filled with fear. They were told to proceed to Isengard to question Saruman about the Ring. The Nazgūl, disguised as riders in black, traveled to Isengard in great haste and arrived only two days after Gandalf's escape from Saruman. Saurman fortified himself in Isengard and convinced the Witch-king Gandalf knew where the Shire was. The Nine searched for Gandalf in Rohan when they encountered Grķma Wormtongue. Grķma revealed the location of the Shire and that Saruman had lied to them. The Witch-king spared Grķma's life, foreseeing that he would bring ruin to Saruman.
Knowing now the location of the Shire, the Witch-king divided the Nazgūl into four pairs and went with the swiftest to Minhiriath. Along the way, they encountered several spies of Saruman. Among them was a squint-eyed Southerner who handed over maps of the Shire and revealed that a hobbit named Baggins lived in Hobbiton. The Witch-king sent the spy to Bree, now working for Mordor.
When the Nazgūl came to Sarn Ford on September 22 they found it guarded by Rangers. At nighfall, the Witch-king swept through their ranks, causing them to scatter. The Witch-king sent Khamūl and two Nazgūl to Hobbiton and the other to guard the Greenway. The Witch-king himself traveled to the Barrow-downs to rose the Barrow-wights and have them be on their guard.
Khamūl reported that he had been unable to find Frodo. The Witch-king sent four of the Nazgūl to Weathertop and proceeded with the rest east along the Great East Road. They were followed by Gandalf but let him slip ahead and attacked him at Weathertop. Gandalf managed to escape and the Witch-king sent four Nazgūl after him.
On October 6, Aragorn led Frodo and his companions to Weathertop where they were attacked by the Nazgūl. Frodo put on the One Ring and saw the Nazgūl in their Wraith form. The Witch-king stabbed Frodo with a Morgul blade and then fled after the appearance of Aragorn.
The Witch-king was concerned after the encounter of Gandalf and Aragorn but was confident that the Morgul wound would bend Frodo's will to his purpose. The Nazgūl resumed pursuit of Frodo and his companions and learned that Khamūl had been driven from the Last Bridge by Glorfindel. The Witch-king, who only had one companion with him, was likewise unable to confront him openly.They regrouped and went south, rejoining with the other four. They managed to pick up the trail of the company of the Ring, and despite hindrance from Glorfindel and Aragorn managed to pursue Frodo alone on Asfaloth. The pursuit came to the Ford of Bruinen, and there Frodo compelled the horse to stop. The Witch-king saw his defiance and laughed, breaking his sword with a movement of his hand. But the waters of the Bruinen rose at Elrond's command, sweeping the Nine downstream.
The Witch-king took the only surviving horse back to Mordor and there sent aid to the other eight of the Nazgūl. After having returned in secret, they prepared an invasion of Gondor from Minas Morgul. On 10 March, T.A. 3019, a great army set forth from Minas Morgul with the Witch-king riding on a black horse at the head. As he rode through the gates of Minas Morgul, the Witch-king sensed the presence of Frodo and the One Ring. He was troubled but continued on through Ithilien.
With the Witch-king in command, Osgiliath soon fell. The Rammas Echor was breached, and the Pelennor Fields were overrun. After this, the Witch-king laid siege to Minas Tirith, sending fire and the heads of the dead Gondorians into the city via catapults. He sent the battering ram Grond to the Gate of Minas Tirith and accompanied it in person. The ram had been empowered from sorcery by the Witch-king and the gate was shattered on its third hit. The Witch-king entered the city and all fled before him except Gandalf who denied him passage.
The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.
'Old fool!' he said. 'Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!' And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, The Siege of Gondor
As Gandalf stood resolute before the Witch-king, the Rohirrim arrived. Thus he departed, mounting a fell beast and descending upon King Théoden who led the attack. As the Witch-king approached the wounded Théoden he was defied by Dernhelm, a rider of Rohan. He threatened him and exclaimed "No living man may hinder me!". Upon these words, Dernhelm revealed that he was a woman, Eowyn of Rohan in disguise, and the Witch-king hesitated, remembering the prophecy made by Glorfindel.
Eowyn managed to decapitate the Fell Beast but was hit by the Witch-king's mace. Then, as the Witch-king was about to kill Eowyn, Meriadoc Brandybuck stabbed him in the sinew of his leg with the blade of Westernesse. Eowyn rose and drove her sword through his invisible head. the sword broke but the Witch-king gave a great and horrible wail and perished at last. The prophecy was thus fulfilled, for the Witch-king was killed by a Hobbit and a woman. With his death, and the coming of Aragorn II in the black ships, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was lost by Sauron.