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|“||I fight for the men I've held in my arms, dying on foreign soil! I fight for their wives and children, whose names 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.||„|
|~ Ulfric Stormcloak.|
Ulfric Stormcloak is the Jarl of Windhelm and one of the major heroes/villains of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. He is the leader of the Stormcloak Rebellion who seek to free Skyrim from the Empire of Cyrodiil. He becomes the main antagonist of the Civil War quest-line if the player joins the Imperial Legion to keep Skyrim under the Empire's control or the main deuteragonist if the player joins the Stormcloaks.
He was voiced by Vladimir Kulich in the game.
The Great War
30 years prior to the events of the game Skyrim, the Third Empire will have been fighting a major war against the Aldmeri Dominion, an alliance formed between the Elven territories of Summerset Isle, home to the High Elves, and Valenwood, home to the Wood Elves, and as well as the Khajiit homeland, Elsweyr. The High Elves (Altmer) of the Summerset Isle, who were taken-over from within by a regime of elven supremacists called the Thalmor, sent an ambassador to the Cyrodiil to make demands. The Thalmor ambassador made various outlandish demands of the Empire, like the discontinuation of the Empire's elite guards the Blades, the cession of large parts of Hammerfell to the Aldmeri Dominion, Dominion garrisons were to be stationed along Cyrodiil's borders, and the renouncement of their man-god Talos. Emperor Titus Mede II refused, as the Thalmor expected he would, and the Emperor asked them to leave. The Thalmor gave the signal for the Aldmeri soldiers who were in a waiting to seize the Empire and begin a massive invasion.
The Empire's allies included their vassals in Hammerfell, who were always on friendly terms with the Empire and disliked the notion of being overthrown by the Thalmor (who ultimately wanted to get rid of all non-elves) and Skyrim, the Empire's northern province, which was the homeland of Talos (Tiber Septim) who would later be recognized as a god, was the founder of the Third Empire. The Empire also had political and financial, though not military, support from Daggerfall in High Rock, home of the Bretons which had once been subject to Elven tyranny before achieving independence. At one point the Thalmor did take control of the Imperial City and killed the Emperor, or so they thought the Emperor who was killed was a decoy and Mede had made his way out of the city prior to the walls of the Imperial City being breached. Using the lull in fighting to their advantage once the Thalmor held the city the Emperor marshaled his remaining forces and defeated and executed Lord Naarfin, the elven general, retook his city, putting the Thalmor in a compromised, though not hopeless, position in the war.
Once the tide of war began to turn in the Empire's favor the Emperor did something controversial that his allies and own subjects would scrutinize him for years for, he reopened negotiation with the Dominion. Titus Mede II wanted to end the war before more blood could be spilled and wagered the best time to renegotiate with the Dominion was at a stalemate so that they too would be more eager to avoid bloodshed themselves. A treaty was reached called the White-Gold Concordat, named after the White-Gold Tower, capitol building of the Imperial City and presumably the location of the signing. The White-Gold Concordant stated that the elves on the Aldmeri Dominion would be allowed to have officials within the Empire's borders, that temples of Talos were to be closed and that the Emperor was to surrender the Blades as POWs. Furthermore, the Empire ceded large parts of Hammerfell to the Aldmeri Dominion, as a result the Redguards resisted the treaty and continued warring with the Dominion, in turn the Empire renounced Hammerfell as a province of the Empire. Hammerfell was outraged at the Empire, seeing this as a betrayal and continued the fight against the Dominion by themselves, and won eventually though at a great cost to their nation's infrastructure.
Many have claimed that the Emperor's surrender just gave the Thalmor what they wanted the whole time making the war pointless but the Empire's sympathizers have stated that there is a tremendous difference between accepting outrageous terms just because the elves asked and accepting them to stop a war. Also the Empire did manage to get a few extra considerations from the elves, like not having to allow the elves to garrison armies on Imperial soil, and the Emperor and Elder Council remaining independent political groups instead of subjects to the Thalmor. Skyrim was also highly against the surrender and the culture of Skyrim's Nord people was such that fighting the good fight regardless of blood split was the highest honor. The ban on Talos was what weighed on the people of Skyrim the most, even more than that of Cyrodiil, since Talos was not only the embodiment of Nord ideals but their native son. Because of Skyrm's less than cooperative attitude towards the White-Gold Concordant the Empire had to start stationing their own troops in Skyrim making many holds of the land subject to marital law if their Jarls ever tried to pass any policies that would endanger the Empire's side of the treaty.
Skyrim Civil War
For years Skyrim and Cyrodiil dealt with the ban on Talos worship by simply hiding their worshipers, as far as the Empire was concerned its only obligation was to see to it there were no state tolerated temples or statues to Talos but that its individual citizens had the right to praise whatever they wanted in the privacy of their own homes. Ulfric had gone to the top of the sacred mountain known as the Throat of the World to train with the ancient Nord monks known as the Greybeards. Ulfric spent years learning the Thu'um an ancient Nord art that allowed the practitioner to project their voices as raw power. The Greybeards in addition to teaching the Thu'um also taught the "Way of the Voice" a semi-religious practice that encouraged the monks never to use the voice for offensive purposes and only as a form of meditation or self-defense and even then only if their were no other forms of self-defense available. Ulfric left the Greybeard's tutelage though claiming he could not sit at the top of a mountain while his countrymen were being oppressed. The Greybeards warned Ulfric that if he left and used the Thu'um as a weapon he was not welcome to resume his training. Ulfric understood the seriousness of his request to leave but ultimately decided it was worth it.
After returning to Skyrim, Ulfric was saught by the then former Jarl of Markarth, Hrolfdir, for help in retaking the city from the Reachmen, promising Ulfric the right to worship Talos afterwards. You see: when the Great War broke out, the legion called the majority of their men to aid in the war effort. In Markarth the Reachmen, the natives, were waiting for an opportunity to take over the city and rule the Reach, and when most of the Reach's legionnaires were called to fight the Dominion, the Reachmen did not waste such opportunity and took the hold trough an Uprising, leaving the former court of Markarth desperate and look for Ulfric, who agreed to help in retaking the city. Ulfric formed a militia wich he used to attack the city, and it is said he used the Thu'um during the siege. Ulfric and his militia managed to retake the city without any assistance from Cyrodiil, and what was left of the reachmen rebels ran into the hills and become the Forsworn.
However, such mighty deed has a dark side to it, and Ulfric's actions in Markarth made some call him "The Bear of Markarth" for his ruthlessness. As it is revealed during the quest "The Forsworn Conspiracy" and the book "The Bear of Markarth", Ulfric committed horrible atrocities when retaking the city, particularly against captured reachmen fighters, and as we have no in game quest, document or event that contradicts the claims of this book, its content should be considered a fact. During the Forsworn Conspiracy quest it is revealed by Nepos the Nose that Ulfric's militia executed every reachman fighter that did not flee, except a handful of Reachmen wich included Madanach, their king. The Bear of Markarth claims that women were tortured to give up the names of Forsworn fighters who fled to the hills, and the book goes as far as saying that Ulfric ordered the execution of all those who had failed in the call to fight with him. According to the book, Ulfric justified such actions by saying that "You are with us, or you are against Skyrim".
The nords once again ruled Markarth thanks to Ulfric and his militia, but there was still one issue Ulfric wanted solved: Talos worship. Hrolfdir promised Ulfric free worship of Talos in exchange for helping retake the city, but it would be directly against the terms of the White Gold Concordact. Well, as it is revealed by the dialogues of Cedran (the owner of Markarth's stables) and Igmund (the jarl of Markarth in the beginning of the game, and also the son of Hrolfdir), the court of Markarth hoped the Aldmeri Dominion would not find out about it, and when the Thalmor did find out about it they sent a whole group to personally demand Ulfric's arrest. For Hrolfdir the choice was clear: arrest the militia or risk another war with the Dominion (and even if Markarth stood alone against the Thalmor, it would not stand a chance), and he chose to arrest the militia. Ulfric saw the whole thing as proof the Empire had abandoned Skyrim. His father, Hoag, died during his imprisonment and Ulfric had to smuggle his eulogy out of prison to Windhelm. When he was finally set free, he returned to Windhelm to find a city in mourning, at one with his own grief and anger. They sat him on the throne of his father, the throne of Ysgramor, while clamoring in angry voices, calling out for justice, for war. That was the start of the Stormcloak Rebellion.
One fateful day, after years of war against imperial supporting nords, Ulfric journeyed to the Skyrim's capital city of Solitude to speak with High King Torygg. High King Torygg accepted the audience thinking Ulfric intended to ask him to declare independence from the empire, an idea Torygg was hesitant to undertake but admired Ulfric for supporting. Ulfric however was not there to ask High King Torygg to join him but instead challenged him to a one on one battle to the death for control of Skyrim. The challenge was Nord custom but esoteric and barbaric and had not been practiced in centuries, still if High King Torygg had refused he would have appeared a weak and cowardly leader to his people so High King Torygg was left no choice but to agree to the duel. Little is known about said duel, but what is known is that Ulfric used the Thu'um against Torygg to make sure he would win. Many, including the Jarl of Solitude, Elisif the Fair (Torygg's wife), claim that Ulfric killed Torygg with his Thu'um (many even say Ulfric nearly shouted Torygg to pieces), while Ulfric himself claims he only shouted Torygg to the ground and finished him off by piercing Torygg's heart with his sword. While Ulfric's followers claim this was an honorable nord duel and that it justifies Ulfric's claim to the throne, many of those who oppose him claim the duel was, in practice, murder because he did not give Torygg a chance (what would essentially turn the duel into an execution). Regardless of who is right about such incident, Torygg's death only made the war worse instead of ending it.
Elisif outraged at her husband's murder and did not need to see the stabbing to consider Ulfric a cheater for using a power like the Thu'um in the first place. Elisif ordered Ulfric to be arrested immediately after the fight but Ulfric fled the court. Ulfric got out of town by exploiting Roggvir, the gate guard's sense of honor and cultural pride by stating it was not murder but an old challenge being honored, a line he would continue to publicly take throughout the rebellion, and thus persuaded him to open the gate and let him escape. When Ulfric escaped Solitude he headed back to Windhelm, having officially announced his intentions to the Empire and all of Skyrim while simultaneously creating a job opening for himself as High-King.
Ulfric's personal bodyguards, the Stormcloaks, became the first members of his rebellion and started to recruit Nords from all across Skyrim to his cause. One day while on one of his marches Ulfric was ambushed and captured by General Tullius. Ulfric was bound and gagged to keep from being able to shout himself free and marched off for summery execution with his top men. Along the march to the small town of Helgen for the execution the Imperials encountered an immigrant crossing the boarder from Cyrodiil into Skyrim. Tullius did not want to take the chance the traveler was some form of Stormcloak contingent and had the lone traveler taken prisoner too for execution as well just in case. The lone traveler is the player character and the game starts off with the player on a cart heading for Helgen sitting next to Ulfric and his men. Just before the player is executed the dragon Alduin flies down interrupting the proceedings before the player or Ulfric can be executed. The player and the remaining Stormcloaks use the opportunity to escape the Imperials.
Though the obvious choice seems to be siding with the rebel faction and fighting against the people who were about to kill him/her, if the player stops to hear the events leading up to Ulfric's arrest the player may start to see Ulfric is certainly nowhere near as selfless and honorable as he claims to be. If the player chooses to overlook the attempted execution and go to Solitude to join the Imperial Legion rather than see Skyrim descend into chaos Ulfric becomes the final enemy of the quest arc. The "glory" that is Ulfric also takes a hard and fast hit when the player goes to Windhelm to see several of Ulfrics policies based on soft-core racism.
In Windhelm the player can see various racist policies of Ulfric. Ulfric's drumming up of Nord pride has had the side-effect of encouraging the Nords loyal to him to be mistrusting and condescending to all non-Nords. While the Imperials who, while mostly Imperial themselves, do have a many Nords(Like Hadvar.), Elves, Bretons and Redguards scattered throughout the troops, the Stormcloaks have exclusively Nords with the possible exception of the player character. The battle motto of the Stormcloaks is the very xenophobic battle-cry "Skyrim for the Nords!", a phrase Ulfric has certainly encouraged in his men. Ulfric forces all Dark Elves living in Windhelm to take up residence in the slum known as the Grey-Quarter something they are understandably very resentful of. Still the Dark Elves may be the lucky ones, the Beastfolk races of Argonians and Khajiit are not even allowed within the city walls. While Ulfric is the first to sound the alarm if one of his Nord citizens is attacked and willing to send entire detachments to their aid, if the citizens attacked are non-Nords he can't be bothered to spare the men. All these are polices that Ulfric has regardless of the player taking up arms for or against him.
Ulfric himself is not intentionally racist but rather just views concerns for non-Nords as not worth his time during the fight for independence. Ulfric's devotion for Talos in genuine but more than a few people including his own supports say that the real reason for the war was just for Ulfric to seize power as High King; This may be true but Ulfric also seems to be acting out of vengeance for his wrongful imprisonment. Ulfric cares for his people but says he is a warrior and knows that casualties are the price of victory. Ulfric greatly honors his culture and though he admits to doing things like stabbing High-King Torygg or breaking his vows as a Greybeard he sees such things as acceptable acts of dishonesty for his cause. High-King Torygg's adviser, Sybille Stentor makes note that Ulfric might have avoided the entire Civil War by simply asking the High-King to declare Independence, a request Torygg might have agreed to if backed by the other Jarls but that doing that would have meant Ulfric would not be High-King. Ulfric openly states he sees the death of Torygg as over-the-top but that was the point, to display his superiority over an inexperienced and trepidatious king.
Ulfric has a high regard for the player character regardless of whose side he/she takes in the Civil War once it is revealed he/she is the Dragonborn, prophesied master of the Thu'um. At the end of the Civil War arc on the Imperial's side when confronted with his top lieutenant, Galmar Stone-fist by the player and general Tullius, Ulfric opts to fight til the end until Galmar is defeated in battle and Ulfric sees his death as unavoidable. Ulfric's final request though is to be killed by the legendary Dragonborn. The player may choose to honor the request or just stand aside and let Tullius make the final blow.
If Ulfric is defeated before the player makes the trip to Sovngarde, a paradise reserved for spirits of Nord warriors, to fight Alduin who is there to feast on the souls of the dead, Ulfric can be encountered upon the arrival to Sovngarde. In Sovngarde Ulfric expresses his regrets for the war happening at the same time as Alduin's return, as all the soldiers souls will only strengthen him. When Alduin is defeated Ulfric and his fellow spirits are all free to make their way into the halls of Sovngarde and Ulfric is very grateful that the gods were willing to grant him leniency and still welcomed him into the halls of Skyrim's noble warriors.