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The Stormcloak Rebellion, also known as the Skyrim Civil War, was a civil war in Skyrim fought between the forces of the Empire, mobilized in western Skyrim, and the Stormcloak rebels of eastern Skyrim, in 4E 201.
During the Great War between the 4th Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion, Nordic legionaries were crucial to the Empire's survival, but this left the Reach undefended when the native Reachmen rebelled against the Nordic Occupation, and declared their independence. The Reach was relatively peaceful and fair in this time, and applied for status as an Imperial Province. Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak of Windhelm left his tutelage under the Greybeards to fight in the Great War, during which he would be captured by Elenwen and the Thalmor before escaping. Ulfric was tortured and led to believe information he had given up lead to the capture of the Imperial City, though it had already fallen and the information he gave up was considered inconsequential.
Ulfric later formed the Stormcloaks as a militia which successfully retook the Reach from the native inhabitants who had overthrown the Nords during the chaos of the Great War. This was done without official Imperial Sanction. Upon retaking the Reach, Ulfric Stormcloak demanded that the Imperials reinstate Talos worship which had been outlawed under the White-Gold Concordat that ended the Great War. At this time, the Empire was very lax about enforcing the ban on Talos worship, but Ulfric's demand brought unwanted attention to the worship in Skyrim. The Emperor felt forced by Thalmor agents to increase persecution of Talos worshipers to maintain the treaty. Unfortunately, this resulted in the perception that the Emperor and the Empire were weak and easily cowed by the Thalmor.
Soon after the High King of Skyrim died, and Ulfric used this incident to call a Moot to choose a new High King. The Moot is used mainly for when the King dies without an heir, which was not the case as the High King's son Torygg was set to inherit. Instead Ulfric wanted to use the opportunity to air his grievances against the Empire and rally the Jarls for Skyrim's independence. Ulfric traveled to the High King's court in Solitude, where Torygg was appointed High King by the Moot and aired his grievances with the Empire in terms 'just short of treason'. Torygg himself admired Ulfric and was sympathetic to his cause, but was surprised when he was challenged to a duel by him over his allegiance to the Empire. Even though he knew he could not best Ulfric in combat, he knew he could not retain his honor or legitimacy by denying him and accepted. Ulfric killed Torygg using the Thu'um, after which he stabbed the High King with a sword, and fled the city. He was branded a murderer and traitor by the Empire, thus starting the Skyrim Civil War.
The western portion of the Province remained under imperial control, with Torygg's wife Elisif the Fair taking the role of Queen of Solitude, supported by the Empire for High Queen. Despite Ulfric's role in retaking the Reach, Jarl Igmund of Markarth sided with the Empire, believing that the arrest of Ulfric and continued persecution of Talos worship was necessary to maintain peace with the Aldmeri Dominion. Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone remained allied with the Empire believing it to be in the best interests of the people of Morthal. In Falkreath the nobles pressured the aging Jarl Dengeir of Stuhn who was pro-Stormcloak into stepping down, replacing him with his nephew Siddgeir who sided with the Empire though he took little interest in politics. Whiterun was ostensibly neutral at the onset of the war, with Jarl Balgruuf the Greater both publicly forbidding the movement of Imperial or Stormcloak troops, but at the same time not engaging directly with either side and allowing them to move freely in his hold. Balgruuf was torn between conflicting loyalties to the Empire and Skyrim, he privately continued to worship Talos and allowed free worship of the god in his city, but felt that the true enemy remained the Aldmeri Dominion, and that the White-Gold Concordant was necessary to maintain peace. In the east the Stormcloaks held most of their support, with Ulfric maintaining his position as Jarl of Windhelm, the ancient capital of Skyrim. While most of Dawnstar held pro-Empire views, Jarl Skald was vehemently pro-Stormcloak and pledged his hold to the cause. Jarl Korir of Winterhold also sided with the Stormcloaks, as did Jarl Laila Law-Giver of Riften.
The Imperial Legion moved in to secure Imperial territory as the jarls began picking sides. The Legion went through several commanders until under General Tullius was brought in who managed to stabilize things on the Imperial side, instilling much faith among both his soldiers and Imperial citizenry. On the 15th of Last Seed,[nb 1] less than a year after the start of the conflict,[nb 2][nb 3] Ulfric and his men were ambushed by the Legion outside Darkwater Crossing in southern Eastmarch. Among those captured was a horse-thief from Rorikstead, and the Last Dragonborn who was apprehended attempting to cross the border at Pale Pass from Cyrodiil. After surrendering, they traveled for two days until they arrived in Helgen for execution.
In a twist of fate, the village was suddenly attacked by the dragon Alduin, and the rebel leader escaped, signalling the return of dragons to Skyrim. This event took all sides unawares, the Empire, Stormcloaks, and Thalmor observers, and the ongoing civil war meant many cities and settlements were unable to commit resources to defending from the dragons. Afterwards, the war escalated, with Nords across Skyrim solidifying their allegiance to either the Empire or the Stormcloaks.
Jarl Balgruuf was the one to take the threat of the dragons most seriously, collaborating with the Last Dragonborn to defend his hold from the threat, and seek an end to their terror. The ongoing war however prevented the Dragonborn from capturing a Dragon in Whiterun so that they could pursue Alduin. A ceasefire may have been held by the Greybeards to put the war on hold to deal with the dragons at this time.
Both sides sought to increase the legitimacy of their claimant to the High King/Queen of Skyrim, and sought the Jagged Crown lost with High King Borgas in the First Era. It was discovered by both the Legion and Stormcloaks in Korvanjund, and the two sides skirmished in the ruin, with one side or the other succeeding in taking the crown, which saw the first shift of power in the ongoing stalemate.
Eventually Jarl Balgruuf was forced to end his neutrality and pick a side in the war, and when he did he ultimately sided with the Legion. The battle of Whiterun saw the Stormcloaks assaulting the major city, and the outcome of the battle would finally and decisively turn the war in favor of the victor. From there the victor would begin conquering many of the forts across Skyrim solidifying their control of the different holds of Skyrim before assaulting the home-city of the opposite side, either Solitude or Windhelm, ending the war.
The victor of the war is unknown.
Both sides saw the Skyrim Civil War as a proxy conflict with the Aldmeri Dominion who kept a close eye on the situation. The Remnants of the Blades initially assumed that the Thalmor were responsible for the simultaneous return of dragons in a bid to weaken the kingdoms of men, but in truth the Thalmor had not anticipated any of the events in the Skyrim Civil War, and were divided in how they should respond. On the one hand they, like both the Stormcloaks and Legion, thought a second Great War was inevitable, and wanted to weaken the Empire for that purpose. However, thanks to the White-Gold Concordant the Thalmor enjoyed significant leeway and influence in Skyrim that would be lost if the province became independent under the Stormcloaks, and so publicly supported the Empire. At the same time, they wanted to keep the Empire both weakened by the war, and keep the Empire's attention to its north, and not towards preparing for conflict with the Dominion, and ultimately tried to take steps to prolong the conflict as much as possible and preserve the status quo, though there was little direct influence the Thalmor had on the conflict. Upon the conclusion of the Skyrim Civil War, the victor would vow to prepare for an inevitable conflict with the Aldmeri Dominion.
- For game-specific information, see the Skyrim article.