Never before has a fictional character caused me to become so worked up. Just the mere mention of his name is enough to send me into a rhetorical rampage as my blood boils in a rage. Ulfric Stormcloak. I hate that man with every ounce of my body, but where to begin?
Ulfric Stormcloak was born to one of the most powerful Jarls in Skyrim, second only to the High King himself in power, wealth, and influence. He was proclaimed a prodigy from a young age and requested to be educated by the renound Greybeards, a majestic pacifist order of monks who lived in their monastery of High Hrothgar high atop the highest mountain in Tamriel. To be accepted as their student is considered the greatest honor one could possibly receive, as the Greybeards had been exalted and revered by all Nords as the wisest sages in Skyrim for thousands of year, the mere word of a Greybeard could stop a war, such is the respect they command. Their teachings could also enabled one to harness the ancient magics of the Dragon tongue, or Thu'um, a powerful gift the Goddess Kynareth bestowed upon Mortals in the hour of their greatest need, a gift taught by Paarthurnax himself to Men.
Ulfric Stormcloak trained under the Greybeards for many years, my own estimate places it at 6-14 years based on dialogue and hints from Ulfric himself. In this time he was taught the Way of the Voice, the cornerstone of Greybeard teaching, a philosophy that made it clear that the Thu'um was only to be used for the glorification of the Gods, not of the mortal races. Yet, when the Great War broke out, Ulfric left the order to join the Imperial Legion, presumably in a high rank due to his status as the Son of the Jarl of Windhelm, and under the command of Jonas, the commander of the Nord Legions.
By all accounts Ulfric was a fearsome warrior, I'll never take that away from him, and his captured by the Thalmor, a ruthless Altmer Supremacist group and the faction that rules the Aldmeri Dominion, was tragic. Ulfric was broken by Elenwen herself, and eventually, after an unknown period of torture, he finally Divulged information on Imperial positions in the Capital. By her own account the information Ulfric gave was not vital in the sacking of the Imperial City, but Ulfric was led to believe so, and was soon after released when the Empire traded for his freedom.
With the war still raging, Ulfric returned to his home in Windhelm, but it was not long until word from another Hold in Skyrim, the Reach, and its capital of Markarth, had been over-taken by the Forsworn rebellion. Not wasting time, Ulfric put together a force and proceeded to march on Markarth after the Son of the Jarl of the Hold requested his assistance.
The Forsworn, the original inhabitants of the Reach before being driven out by the Nords 2,000 years ago, ruled with a light touch. Some crimes had been committed, all of which had been against landowners who used and abused Reachmen workers as chattel slaves, and those in former positions of governance, but by all accounts the rule of the Forsworn had been benevolent, as they attempted to negotiate their ownership of the Reach and its capital city. Yet, after a year and the Great War over, little progress had been made an an Imperial force was on its way to the city. However, instead of waiting, Ulfric stormed the city, using his Thu'um to clear the walls as he and his militia stormed into the city, killing everyone who did not support the militia, and slew those who laid down their arms.
After the battle, it's accounted that Ulfric had those who survived the battle, Women, Children, and Men, tortured and mutilated into giving up their comrades who managed to escape from the battle, using the information to commit a genocide of the local population of Reachmen.
Some (Ulfric supporters) would debate the idea that Ulfric had anything to do with what would later be called the Markarth incident, claiming the book "The Bear of Markarth" was just propaganda. To this I would answer with three points that cast doubt on such a view.
The Book was written before the Stormcloak rebellion, before Ulfic killed the High King of Skyrim, and at a time when many hailed Ulfric as a hero from the war. There is no motivation to demonize Ulfric, so what purpose would such a fabrication serve at the time?
Comments from the Noise. A forsworn agent and a high ranking one at that, the Nose comments that Ulfric and his militia swept into the city in a rampage. No further details are given, but it's clear that this points to something that involved Ulfric.
Ulfric was the only one with an army at the battle, apart from a presumed detachment of city guards under Igmund, who inturn was under Ulfric. There would have been no one else in a position of power who could command such atrocities to be organized in such a fashion as they had been.
Regardless of the truth, the city was taken and depopulated of dissenters, and Ulfric assumed the throne for several weeks as he delayed the Imperial force outside of the city, refusing them entry until they accepted his terms that Talos Worship be reinstated in Markarth.
The Empire, having lost the Great War, was forced to sign humiliating terms that banned Talos, a God of the Empire, disband the Blades (The internal security force, external agents, bodyguard of the Emperor and his hiers, and other roles) who had existed since the early 2nd age, and finally cede a large chunk of land in the Reguard province of Hammerfell.
The Legionary commander, upon hearing of the horrific atrocities taking place in the city and the surrounding area, agreed to Ulfrics terms and Imperial banners once again flew over the city. However, it wasn't long until news got out that the Empire was ignoring terms of the treaty, and not just in Markarth, but all over the Empire. This naturally enraged the Thalmor, who threatened to invade the Empire again if it did not allow their agents free access into the Empire to forcefully halt Talos worship. Needless to say, Markarth would be a focus point. The Thalmor arrested Ulfric and his militia and for the next several years they would stay in a Thalmor prison in Skyrim.
It was during this time that the Jarl of Windhelm, Ulfric's father, died. Ulfric's freedom was soon after secured by the Empire, and he returned to Windhelm.
Now, this is where events start to compound on each other, and Ulfric becomes the monster I know him as. Whatever sympathy as a tragic character he had, gradually dies from this point on as he is twisted into a self-serving power hungry war monger who lies and exploits quite literally everything.
For the next 20 years Ulfric would make speeches about how the Empire abandoned Markarth, and how he, Ulfric, the true protector of Skyrim, was the only one who had the courage to liberate the city. Ulfric knew full well the Empire had been in negotiations, and knew full well that they had dispatched a force to retake the city when the negotiations failed to make sufficient progress. Ulfric would also make noise and cause chaos about the ban on Talos, screaming about its injustice despite the fact the Empire still turned a blind eye to enforcing it, even allowing major cities to have public shrines to Talos, and private homes to worship freely. Such liberty was finally ended, and with an iron first once the Thalmor learned that the Empire was still not enforcing the Talos ban.
People began getting pulled out of bed at night and sent to Thalmor prison camps, where torture was the the order of the day. The Empire, finally had to fall in line with the treaty and tore down most of the shrines throughout the Empire, even those in the private homes of its people. Once again Ulfric blamed the Empire. ignoring the fact that he was the cause that brought attention to the issue, ignoring the Empire violated the treaty for years to allow people to worship. no, to Ulfric, the Empire was just a Thalmor puppet, while he was the savior of Skyrim.
As time passed, agitation about the crack down grew, and at each moot Ulfric would speak of the Empire in terms just short of treason, until one day, he outright called for succession. Ulfric had a platform, people felt wronged and rightfully so, banning the God responsible for the foundation of the Empire and letting the Thalmor have free rein over the population caused significant ruptures in the social order.
When High King Istlod died, his son, Torygg, was elected High King at a moot. Torygg respected Ulfric Greatly, admiring the warrior and a hero of the Great War. According to his adviser, Torygg would have likely accepted Ulfric's calls for succession had he asked him directly, such was his admiration.
In 201 of the Forth Age, Ulfric Stormcloak rode into the capital of Skyrim, Solitude, seat of the High King, and challenged him to a duel, killed him with the Thu'um, and proclaimed the death of the Empire, and made himself High King before fleeing out of the city and toward his Hold. This is a triple shot of wrong.
This was one of the most painfully obvious violations of The Way of the Voice Ulfric had done over the years, Ulfric used the Thu'um to advance himself politically, spitting in the face of the Grey Beards and their teachings.
When Ulfric claimed the title of High King, he did so without allowing a moot to be held, quite the contrary, he refused one to be called to elect a new High King. He did this on the grounds that the majority of the Holds and Nords supported the Empire at the time, and thus would elect someone other than himself. He used the power of his Hold and his influence with those disenchanted by the White-Gold Concordat, the name of the peace treaty the Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion signed to end the war.
Even if his claim was merely symbolic, with no official weight behind it beyond what Ulfric himself could do to back it up, it once again spits in the face of tradition and the democratic process.
- Slaying the High King. It's important to note that Ulfric Stormcloak was within his traditional right as Jarl to challenge the High King in combat. Such a happening may have not occurred since the days of the 1st Empire over 2,000 years ago, but he was technically within his right. I would argue that this is highly unethical, and one reason why it seemed to had become defactoly observed that the High King was immune from personal challenges, but I don't hold such a guessed opinion of mine against Ulfric.
My problem was that this was no fair duel, as the challenge was supposed to be. High King Torygg, by his appearance, couldn't have been older than 30, and my guess places him in the mid 20s, while Ulfric was in his Nordic prime of 40-50, a veteran of the Great War, a master in the Thu'um, and had been preparing for war for many years now. Torygg knew he would die, just ask him in Sovngarde, he had accepted his fate long before he drew his blade, and his thoughts instead of persevering his own life was the welfare of his wife and people. Even Ulfric himself said it was not a challenge, as "I knew the boy had no chance against me." " I was proving that Skyrim had a weak King who couldn't even defend himself, a mere puppet of the Empire."
I shouldn't need to explain why this is a completely insane point of view, and one I highly doubt a logical ruler would actually have, but the fact remained that I have seen Ulfric supports attempt to defend it. To this I would ask if they would apply the same logic that a strong warrior makes a strong King, to figures of history.
3.1) Lu Bu, commander of the Han cavalry and later King by declaration of himself. Lu Bu was thought of as the most skilled warrior of his age, and as the story at Hu Lou Gate goes, it took Guan Yu, Zang Fie, and Leiw Bie (Spelling?) to dislodge him in 1 on 3 personal combat, after Lu Bu had slain a good 5 other officers in personal combat back to back, and repulsed several attempts to break through the pass with the Coalition army.
An inflated legend? Perhaps, but even by the more accurate accounts he was a excellent warrior, rider, and archer. Yet, his downfall was that he isolated his own officers to the point that they betrayed him en'mass to Tsu Tsu's army who had besieged his castle. A strong warrior makes a good leader? Not in this case. A strong leader must inspire his men, earn their loyalty, and treat his force as if each one had been his own son when he asks them to fight a battle. A strong leader does not order one to be tortured for simply offering Lu Bu a drink, after demanding drinks each day for the last 5 years, simply because he had not yet been informed of the development.
3.2) Alexander the Great. Alexander was a brilliant strategist, and a fearsome warrior would would always demand to be at the Apex of a Calvary charge, leading the field and fighting on the front line. Yet, when he died, so too did his Empire, it shattered into civil war and many factions emerged to carve his lands up. Alexander may have been a God of the battlefield, but his inability to manage an Empire made him an exceptionally poor leader off the battlefield.
3.3.) Your favorite Prime Minister/President from modern history. Whoever it may be, Churchill, Reagan, Abe Lincoln, Roosevelt, Bismark, or who your fancy is, I'd ask you to ponder their fate in a battle of personal combat against an elite warrior. I assure you, their fancy suit and tie wearing butts would get massacred without a shadow of hope of any other result.
My point in this is that a strong warrior does not make a strong leader, and a strong leader does not make a strong warrior. Ulfric's ignorance on this most basic logic demonstrates he himself is a poor leader, by throwing Skyrim into civil war, and with the Aldmeri Dominion recovered from the Great War and making threats each day, it only compounds on itself the reasoning of why it was such a bad move on Ulfric's part. Then when we meet the true High King in Sovngarde, we find the qualities a true high King would have. Even in the mists of Aldiuin's nightmare he retained not only his composure, but his sense of honor, the thoughts of his wife, and that of his people; never of himself. To me, these are the qualities of a true leader, selflessness, willing to fight for the honor of others, and showing courage in the face of his own death. Torygg may have been an inexperienced boy, but in the time we got to speak with him, he demonstrated himself far superior in leadership qualities than Ulfric had during the 200+ hours I've researched into him.
After Ulfric slays the High King of Skyrim, he is captured by the Empire on his way back to Windhelm, near the town of Dark Crossing. This is where we can begin to witness events in the first person, as TES 5 Skyrim starts. Right away we are given favorable images of the Stormcloaks and dis favorable showings of the Empire, no doubt to throw our attachment to the Empire over the last TES games into the realm of second guessing as they attempt to make you feel sympathetic toward Ulfric.
Ulfric isn't seen again until you travel to Windhelm, but the world of Skyrim offers many, many views on the man and his cause. Right away you can find books, personal opinions (as if there was a difference between the two) and a conflicted environment that have formed into two camps: Imperial and Stormcloak, with bitter resentment toward each-other.
Make no mistake, despite my views on Ulfric, I do not hate the Stormcloaks; quite the contrary, I sympathize with their frustrations. A lost war is never easy to deal with, not only is your pride shattered, but so too are you forced to live with humiliating peace terms and the desecration of your most sacred traditions and beliefs. The loss is all the more hard felt when it is learned that the Empire greatly over-estimated Almeri Strength at the time peace was requested. The battle of the Red Ring had annihilated an entire Aldmri army-group, and their most important one at that, while the Legion and the warriors of Hammerfell, had just driven South across the desert and retook several key cities; even solidifying peace in their own civil war when an opposing army liberated the capital of their enemy's force. We now know that the Dominion had been just as badly mauled as the Empire had been, and with revolts taking place in Valenwood due to their fascist purges, we know just how close they had been to shattering.
However, there is a enormous difference between looking back at history, and viewing history being made yourself at the time. The Empire had lost three entire legions, and what they did have left, it would noted that they had all suffered 50% or more loses, especially Joanna's Nordic legions which so valiantly blocked the Dominion's line of retreat when the Imperial city was retaken. The Imperial province was burnt to the ground, and after a year of occupation, a large chunk of its population was dead.
With such devastating loses, and the belief that the Aldmeri Dominion would win in the long run, the Empire believed it was best to cut their loses and accept the best terms they could get with such a victory. The Empire fought its guts out, it did not hand anything over to the Dominion without a fight, but the Empire is not what it once was, and the Oblivion crisis alongside the Thalmor scheming over the last 200 years have left it as a shadow of its former glory.
The point to this backstroy is that the Empire did not betray anyone. The Empire suffered horrifically, especially the Imperials and Redguards. Pillage, enslavement, execution, ****, and every other form of humiliation a conquering army could impose upon the population was suffered by the entire Imperial population South of Bruma for an entire year, and presumably South of the Akrii Desert too. No other people would have felt as humiliated as the Imperials to admit defeat and accept terms by a force that had so brutalized them. The terms of the White gold Concordat had been felt by everyone in the Empire, not just the Nords in Skyrim.
The Empire did everything it could to not enforce the treaty where possible, that is until Ulfric started making noise. So the argument that the Empire handed anything over on a silver platter, betrayed Skyrim, or anything else Galmar Stone-fist claims has no ground to stand upon.
However, my issue is that Ulfric Stormcloak exploits the disenchanted people and uses them as pawns in his own game of power. He abuses their emotional state and manipulates their anger toward his rivals and plays them as the enemy, ignoring everything the Empire had did and replacing history with his own fabrications.
Lets' look at the Civil War itself, arguably the most important city in the game is Whiterun, and it serves as a shinning example of the civil war in a nutshell. It has two big families, who had once been as close as kin, but now, bitter enemies due to the Civil War. It has a Jarl who has taken neither side in the civil war, choosing to stay neutral instead, and gives an excellent example of a calm before a storm in atmosphere. Yet, despite being strictly neutral, and taking many precautionary actions to prove it, Ulfric still planed to take his city. Ulfric Stormcloak makes no attempt to hide his naked ambition in the issue either, he clearly states that the Jarl either recognizes his claim as High King, or he will take his city by force. This is, once again, a perfect example of Ulfric's "You're with me or against me" mentality that dominates his strategies. To him, to refuse to acknowledge his claim as High King is to side with the Empire. How many holds does he strangle with such threats? How many Jarls bend their knee for fear that death would visit their people on Ulfric's behalf?
Jarl balgruuf, Jarl of Whiterun, after learning of Ulfric's troop movements due to Imperial messages, asks the Dragon-born to deliver his axe to Ulfric in an attempt to get him to declare his intentions. Ulfric, of course sends his axe back to balgruuf, as his army arrives outside the walls on the same day.
This point leads me to another common claim about Ulfric, that he respects traditional ways and lives with honor. To this particular claim, I normally laugh and point out the obvious: The Ulfric's army had already been moving toward White-run long before the Dragonborn even left. This can be clearly seen with a basic understanding of operations logistics and the fact a single man moves much, much faster than an army with siege engines. What Ulfric did was quite similar to the events at Pearl Harbor, yes a decoration of war was given before the attack, but it was only am ere hour (had everything had gone right on all sides) before the attack was to commence. Far too little time for the information to become known, and certainly served no purpose other than a formality while still retaining the advantage of a per-emptive strike. Yet, give the IJN credit, they at least declared their intentions of their own accord, and didn't have the issue forced on them by a Dragonborn.
Ulfric wasn't being honorable, far from it, the Stormcloak catapults fire upon White-run less than an hour after the Dragonborn even reaches the city, and if you side with the Stormcloaks, the situation was even worse. An honorable attack would have Ulfric going to Whiterun and informing the jarl of his intentions, before returning with his army.
Do I hold per-emptive strikes against Ulfric? No, of course not. A pre-emptive strike is a logical military action designed to dominate a stronger force with surprise and cripple their ability to act quickly, leaving a force free to maneuver and carry out operations. Germany, Japan, and Israel has been recent examples that demonstrate the effectiveness of per-emptive action brilliantly, and can secure a victory over a much stronger force. My issue is that Ulfric supports use an issue that was forced upon Ulfric as an example of his honor. If an issue needs to be forced, and his army heavy laden with siege equipment arrives at the same time the Dragonborn does, this is not honor, this is a surprise attack that got caught in the action.
At this point in the story, non-cannon takes over as the Dragonborn, depending on his/her allegiance, leads his chosen force to victory. Yet that said, we can take a look at how Ulfric conducts himself on a personal level in a few situations.
If the Stormcloaks win the civil war, Ulfric, Galmar, and the Dragonborn meet Legate Rikke and General Tullus inside Castle Dur for a final showdown. Rikke informs the three that the General will turn over his sword and accept defeat, but she herself will fight them to her death, as she believes in the cause of the Empire and will defend her home to her last breath.
During the short skirmish, the General joins in to save her, but to no avail, she is slain and he is mortally wounded and laid helplessly on the floor, as Ulfric begins to taunt him, gloating in his victory over thousands who had just given their lives to defend Skyrim to the face of the man who failed them. This particular action is one of the most insulting of them all to me, as it highlights Ulfric's lack of honor. Even ****th Urr, mortal enemy of those not of the 6th House conducts himself with the honor and kindness expected of his position, and even in what he presumes is his victory he allows the Nevernarine a chance to withdraw from battle.
Instead, Ulfric refuses to allow Galmar to kill the General and instead insists on "Dragging it out for the dramatic moment", to punish a general dispatched to the region by the Empire to put down Ulfric's rampage. A general who was a firm Talos worshiper, and a general who claims the Empire was just about ready to strike the Thalmor and anull the White gold Concordat, lift the ban on Talos, and liberate the subjugated provinces that the Thalmor had taken with their scheming.
The Empire is hardly perfect, and has plenty of flaws about it, but it is not the scheming of a single man or cause, and like it or not, the collective Empire is the only force that can standup against the Thalmor's genocide.
I could really go on and on and on, and I've hardly even touched upon a lot of stuff, and didn't even talk about many, many issues, including some major ones. But I'll end it here…for now. Maybe I'll come back if I get upset again, but for now, my poor writing skills, overuse of commas, and awful spelling will have to be enough.
"I faced him fearlessly – my fate inescapable, yet my honor is unstained – can Ulfric say the same?"
―High King Torygg
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