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Legendary Figures: Ulfric Stormcloak

  • Member
    March 2, 2015

    "I fight for the men I've held in my arms, dying on foreign soil. I fight for their wives and children, who'snames I heard whispered in their last breaths. I fight for we few who did come home, only to find our country full of strangers wearing familiar faces. I fight for my people impoverished to pay the debts of an Empire too weak to rule them, yet brands them criminals for wanting to rule themselves! I fight so that all the fighting I've already done hasn't been for nothing. I fight... because I must." (Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak, TES V: Skyrim)

    TES: Ulfric Stormcloak by CoupleofKooks

    Young Rivalry

    As a young man, Ulfric Stormcloak and his friend, Balgruuf - later known as "the Greater", had something of a rivalry with one another. This competitive relationship stayed with them their entire lives, influencing their actions and eventually putting them on opposite sides in Skyrim's Civil War of 4E 201. Indeed, the lengths one would go to in order to out do the other ultimately shaped the fate of the land itself.

    To understand this, it is necessary to make an intuitive deduction. Of all the Jarls in Skyrim, only two mention their pilgrimage to the sacred High Hrothgar, Jarl Balgruuf and Jarl Ulfric.

    I made the Pilgrimage once, did you know that? High Hrothgar is a very peaceful place Very... disconnected from the troubles of this world. I wonder if the Greybeards even know what's going on down here. They haven't seemed to care before. (Jarl Balgruuf)

    When asked about the Greybeards, Ulfric says:

    They live in seclusion near the top of the Throat of the World, the great mountain of Skyrim. They are masters of the Way of the Voice - of Shouting. It is a great honour for them to summon you They speak to very few - in fact, they hardly speak at all. I studied with them when I was young. They taught me how to Shout. They chose me when I was just a lad. It was a great honour, of course. I was to become a Greybeard myself. I spent ten years at High Hrothgar, learning the Way of the Voice. Then the Great War came... I couldn't stand missing it. I often think about High Hrothgar. it's very...disconnected from the troubles down here. That's why I couldn't stay, and why I couldn't go back. I suppose the Greybeards care about Skyrim's troubles, in their way, but I needed to do something about it. (Jarl Ulfric)

    The way each jarl describes High Hrothgar as "disconnected" hints at a conversation between the two future leaders at some point in the past.  I propose that it was Balgruuf's jealousy of Ulfric being chosen as the new Greybeard which prompted his own pilgrimage and bitter attitude to the Jarl of Windhelm later in life. If Whiterun, with it's legendary claim as home of the Companions and equally symbolic Skyforge, had joined Ulfric's side in the war, Skyrim might have avoided such a bloody conflict altogether.

    Of course, all that is conjecture, but we have learned that Ulfric was groomed to be the one of the next Greybeards but ultimately rejected their teachings in a desire to make a real difference to the world, a drive that never left him throughout the Great War.

    Ulfric Stormcloak Sketch by Aihito

    The Great War and His Capture

    The 30th Frostfall 4E 171 was a fateful day for Ulfric and Tamriel, for it was on that day the Thalmor ambassador delivered an ultimatum to Emperor Titus Mede II, an ultimatum that the emperor rejected despite warnings from his advisors. By rejecting this long list of terms, Mede had declared war with the Elven Aldmeri Dominion and plunged Tamriel into a conflict which would last five long and bloody years. (The Great War)

    We don't know at what point he joined the war after word reached High Hrothgar, but Ulfric was almost certainly present in Cyrodiil prior to the Sacking of the Imperial City, likely as part of the reinforcements from Skyrim bolstering the legion's ranks. This would put the year of his capture at 4E 174. (The Great War TSB)

    The future First Emissary to Skyrim, Elenwen, acted as Ulfric's interrogator during his incarceration as a prisoner of war. It is at this time the elves learn of his value as the son of a Skyrim Jarl and decide to use that knowledge to their advantage. Elenwen allows Ulfric to believe that the information they obtained under interrogation was vital to their capture of the Imperial City, despite the fact it had already fallen to elven forces by then. She then allows Ulfric to escape, terming him an asset to their future plans. (Thalmor Dossier: Ulfric Stormcloak)  

    Ulfric's role in the rest of the Great War is unknown. It isn't until the end of the conflict in 4E 175 and the signing of the White Gold Concordat that Ulfric re-enters the history books in an event later to be known as The Markarth Incident.

    The Markarth Incident

    During the Great War, the Reachmen of western Skyrim used the southern conflict to their advantage to "retake their territory" from the Nords and set up their own kingdom and government. During this two year period the Men of the Reach were negotiating with the Empire to be recognised as an independent kingdom. However, this wasn't to be as once the war was over the returning Nords didn't take kindly to the Reachmen's actions. Befeore any agreement was finalised between the empire and this illegitimate state, a militia led by Ulfric Stormcloak laid siege to the gates of Markarth. (The Bear of Markarth)

    Unfortunately, the details of this battle are heavily biased due to a dearth of independent sources. However, we do know that Ulfric and his warriors were successful in reclaiming Markarth for the Nords in 4E 176. According to the source we do have, Ulfric put to the sword all those in the city who didn't fight alongside him:

    "You are with us, or you are against Skyrim"

    This was the word he was getting across as he set upon an uncompromising strategy of control. The empire sent soldiers to re-establish order but it seemed there was one more message Ulfric needed to impart. Part of the terms of the peace treaty between the Empire and the Dominion was a ban on the worship of Talos, a particularly important figure in Nordic mythology. Ulfric, now in full control of the city, refused to turn it over to the Empire unless the Emperor allowed them the same freedom of religion they used to enjoy. Purportedly, the Empire had no choice but to acquiesce to Ulfric's demand in order to allow troops to enter. (The Bear of Markarth)

    When the Empire lost The Reach, we became desperate. We promised a group of Nord militia free worship in exchange for their help retaking the hold. (Jarl Igmund)

    For the Aldmeri Dominion, the Empire's reneging on the terms of the Concordat was unacceptable and the Markarth Incident gave the Thalmor the excuse they needed to enforce the terms of the treaty. Faced with the prospect of another war he had no hope of winning after the loss of so many troops and the secession of Hammerfell from the Empire, Titus Mede decided to go back on his agreement with Ulfric and uphold the terms of the treaty.

    Thus, it could be argued that on the day when Elenwen allowed Ulfric to escape captivity as a future asset, she engineered this whole scenario in an effort to further weaken the ties between Skyrim and the Empire, with Ulfric acting as an unwitting pawn in her plan. Possibly realising this himself, Ulfric became even more hostile to the Dominion and remained "uncooperative" to direct contact ever after. (Thalmor Dossier: Ulfric Stormcloak)  

    The Death of his Father and the Stormcloak Rebellion

    For Ulfric, the, Emperor's decision to renege on their deal was a bitter blow. Outraged at what he viewed as Imperial cowardice for turning it's back on Skyrim, he started agitating about it and was arrested at the Thalmor's insistence for his breaking of the terms outlined in the White Gold Concordat.

     ...Then the elves found out about it. We were forced to arrest all of them. Ulfric Stormcloak, their leader, used it all as proof that the Empire had abandoned Skyrim. The rebels called it "The Markarth Incident." It was the founding day for the Stormcloaks, and where this war really started."(Jarl Igmund).

    While imprisoned, Ulfric received word that his father had died:

    My father, the Great Bear of Eastmarch, died during my imprisonment after the Markarth Incident. I, his only son, forced to deliver his eulogy via a letter I had smuggled out of prison. Such is the love of Titus Mede for his subjects. When finally set free, I returned home to Windhelm and was greeted by a city in mourning, at one with my own grief and anger. Clamouring with angry voices for war, for justice, they sat me on the throne.  The Throne of Ysgramor! The throne of my father... I can only hope I'll prove worthy of that honour. (Jarl Ulfric)

    This, combined with what he saw as the Empire's betrayal over religious freedom, was the final straw for Ulfric. Consolidating his power on Eastmarch's throne, Ulfric awaited his opportunity to voice his opinions to the rest of Skyrim.

    What is interesting here is how important the worship of Talos is to Ulfric. It is worth considering how much his upbringing amongst the Greybeards of High Hrothgar may have influenced his views. That if this sequence of events had occurred to any other man, would the result have been the same?

    The Death of the High King

    Ulfric's opportunity came sometime between 4E 190 - 200 when High King Istlod died, leading to the Moot convening in order to award the crown to Istlod's son and heir, Torygg. By ancient tradition all of Skyrim's Jarls were present to formally recognise the coronation, a platform Ulfric took advantage of. (PGE 1Ed)

    At the Moot, Ulfric spoke out against the Empire, calling for Skyrim's independence, winning the respect of High King Torygg thanks in no small part to Ulfric's status as a war hero. So when Ulfric showed up at the gates of Solitude sometime later, young Torygg believed it was because Ulfric wished to discuss Skyrim's independence further and is willing to listen. Ulfric's intentions were different, however. He issued a formal challenge to the High King who, by ancient custom, had no choice but accept or the Moot would re-convene to name a successor.

    The accounts differ on how Ulfric defeated Torygg. Ulfric says he used the voice to shout the High King to the floor before killing him with his blade, while Torygg and the members of the court declare it was the shout which killed him. This is backed up in the book Nords Arise!

    Ulfric's thu'um, a gift from Talos himself, struck down this traitorous ruler. And by his death we are now free of our Imperial shackles and the Thalmor overlords that darken the Imperial throne.

    Whatever the cause, the result was the same, Torygg lay dead in Solitude's throne room as Ulfric made his escape, the question of who the next High King will be made complicated by the dubious legality of Ulfric's actions.

    Heading back to Eastmarch, Ulfric called upon "all true sons and daughters of Skyrim" to join his cause as the Jarls from each Hold lined up on one side or another. Fatefully, only Jarl Balgruuf the Greater remained undecided, leaving the balance of Skyrim's power on the edge of a knife.

    The Stormcloak Rebellion had begun.

    All Hail Ulfric Stormcloak by Boss Productions

    In Conclusion

    This has been a collaborative effort between Asks many Questions, Gregonav Acquiane, Golden Fool and I. While it may not be a complete overview of Ulfric Stormcloak due to the many different opinions the game presents and the divisive nature of their various interpretations, we hope it serves as a good introduction to the character of this legendary figure.

    There are a few things left hanging, namely what may have been if Jarl Balgruuf decided to side with Ulfric after the death of Torygg. What do you think the state of Skyrim would have been if the balance of power lay clearly with Ulfric? How much of Ulfric's worldview was influenced by his upbringing with the Greybeards? Is his connection to the Voice the reason he has such deeply held views on Talos worship and is ready to plunge Skyrim into war over them?

    Let us know in the comments below.

  • Member
    March 2, 2015


  • March 2, 2015
    Next article: Taylos Stromclown.
  • Member
    March 2, 2015

    For the love of Talos...

  • Member
    March 2, 2015
    Great job here, lads!
  • Member
    March 3, 2015

    It wasn't just the way of the voice, it was the constant denial of Ulfric getting an honorable death. Throughout his entire life he was raised as a Nord, the belief that if they have to meet their end, they will meet it head on with glory. He was dishonored when the Empire decided to accept the same treaty that they had fought and failed to resist. Either the Empire falls completely to the dominion or they will triumph. Then he was dishonored when the Empire reneged on his requests and denied the opportunity to mourn for his father directly. And to top it all off, the empire decided to make his execution on the level of a lowly thug.

    The man sought satisfaction for his perceived notion that he was dishonored in every stage of his life.

    He is a mix of Ned Stark and Stannis Baratheon, he had Ned's honorable attitude and Stannis' unfliching honorbound beliefs and the obligation to finish something their lord or they had started. They will damn the opinions of others around them to see their honorbound oath be fulfilled which can be a drive for any one joining the stormcloaks, do you believe in honor above all?

    Even with Whiterun as a Stormcloak hold at first it will not last long, Mephala held a leash over the people in Dragonsreach, the ebony blade will be awoken as Olfrid Battleborn attempt to use the blade to usurp the city. Afterall, he does have many former friends...

  • Member
    March 3, 2015

    Stand among the graves of all those who died during the sacking of the Imperial City and ask them if honour matters. The silence is your answer. I might be willing to die to defend my honour, but would I be willing to let my family die for it?

    I appreciate your thoughts, thanks Gyrobot.

  • Member
    March 3, 2015

    I doubt that the civil war would have changed that much if the balance had been in Ulfric's favour, since the Empire would still be unwilling to give up Skyrim to from their point of view; a bunch of upstart rebels who are only trying to gain power for themselves. 

    I wasn't expecting a mention in this since all I really did was some proofreading, but thanks anyways.

  • Member
    March 3, 2015

    Excellent biography of such a polarizing figure. This article does the hard work of presenting Ulfric's life and motivations in a neutral, unbiased manner.

  • March 3, 2015
    I don't see Ned Stark in Ulfric at all. A little bit of Stannis, perhaps.