Reign: 168 YE - 179 YE
Called: The Philosopher or The Republican
In some tracts of a religious nature he is also sometimes called The Heretic.
Early Life and Election
Born in 131YE, Frederick Ritter van Holberg was the grandson of Commonwealth immigrants who became Imperial citizens. His parents lectured at the University of Holberg, and he spent much of his early life around academics. In his teens he went through a particularly noteworthy rebellious phase - during which he developed the prodigious appetite for wine that stayed with him throughout his life - although the phase itself ended abruptly in 153YE when he was near-fatally stabbed during a drunken brawl. After his brush with death, Frederick abandoned the life of the rake and bravo, and became a doctor of philosophy and political theory.
Rather than spending his time in academia, however, he spent the next ten years touring the Empire arguing with anyone who was prepared to listen about the nature of humanity, morality, ethics and responsibility. He became a regular attendee of the quarterly Anvil summits, and began to attract fellow scholars from across the Empire with week-long symposia where robust debate and wine flowed equally. In addition to his love of debate and fine wine, he is remembered as an accomplished dog breeder. having been married only briefly - his husband was killed during a skirmish with Druj forces near their native Holberg - he regularly quipped that he found having a family too difficult and ultimately too painful, and that his dogs provided him all the companionship he needed. He is always depicted in art and sculpture with one or more dogs, of various breeds; "A human's loyalty is often conditional," he wrote "but it is never that way with a hound. The Varushkans are right when they say loyalty is a dog. I would trust my life to my dogs before I would trust any human soldier or cicisbeo because when I look into my dog's eyes I know his heart. I can never say about a human being."
He dabbled in the Imperial Bourse, allegedly making a small fortune while the Chair for the Great Pits of Ennerlund by cornering the market on sales of mithril to the Urizen (who were at that time involved in a program of expanding their mana sites in Zenith and Spiral). He is said to have invested his money wisely in businesses across the League and even in some nations outside the Empire, leveraging his investments not only into personal wealth but also into political capital.
After his time in the Bourse, he served several times in the Senate, twice as Senator for Holberg and for one memorable six-month term as compromise proxy Senator for Tassato. He was a clever and vocal critic of Empress Varkula, who referred to him frequently as a greased weasel and more than once had him ejected from the Senate when his seemingly disingenuous questioning of her policies began to grate. Much of his opposition to the Empress revolved around her heavy-handed attitude to the Imperial Synod and Bourse - but he always supported her efforts to improve social mobility and freedom for the citizenry as a whole.
After the death of Varkula, Frederick set his eyes on the Throne, and achieved his goal within a year.
In contrast to his predecessor on the Throne, Emperor Frederick employed a light touch on the tiller of Imperial politics. He rarely used the powers of The Throne, with the exception that he endeavoured to attend every meeting of the Senate, Synod, Military Council and Imperial Conclave. In pursuit of the latter, he had an artefact Pauper's Key constructed by the renowned artisan Catherine de Sarvos, which allowed him to enter the Hall of Worlds. Some scholars suggest the artefact was usable more often than the common example, but the key itself was stolen shortly after Frederick's death and its current whereabouts unknown so this cannot be verified.
His primary method of influencing the Empire was with his speech. He was a renowned orator - surviving writings from his reign suggest that there were very few people who could hold their own against him when he spoke before the Senate or the Conclave. He spoke passionately about the need for the Senate to remember that it represented the people of the Empire - it did not rule them. Frederick worked hard to remain accessible to anyone who cared enough about a situation or subject to come to an Anvil summit. He sometimes described the role of The Throne as being to represent the Empire to the Senate; to be a Senator whose constituency was the entire Empire and everyone in it.
Frederick encouraged the military council to consolidate the gains Empress Varkula had made, and clashed several times with generals who wanted to continue expanding into barbarian territory. By no means a pacifist, Fredericks first concern remained the citizens of the Empire - he opposed plans that put them needlessly at risk, whether they were soldiers or civilians. "We deal too often in numbers," he famously said while ejecting the General of the Citadel Guard from the Military council. "We would all do well to remember that each one of those numbers is also a name."
Much of what modern scholars know of Frederick comes from his writings. He wrote one book before his ascension to the Throne, and two more afterwards, as well as authoring numerous pamphlets, academic papers and three books of poetry. Thanks to Emperor Nicovar, intact copies of his books are extremely rare but there are many fragments and his works are regularly referenced in other philosophical and political texts. Unfortunately, the lack of definitive volumes has allowed factions with various often contradictory views to quote segments of his works, often out of context. For example, several of the more public supporters of the Freedom Heresy referenced Frederick's book Anarchy and Liberty as supporting their cause when in fact most scholars agree that the Emperor absolutely refuted the idea that the selfish freedom to Do what thou wilt was acceptable in a civilised society.
What remains underlines a clear philosophy that is often described as republicism. Most clearly, Frederick argued that the Empire existed not for its own aggrandisement or the glory of its generals or senators, but for the benefit of its people. He argued that individuals owed no fealty to either their nation or The Throne, but rather a commitment to shared prosperity, security and personal freedom. He insisted that Imperial law and especially the Imperial Constitution existed not to punish or constrain but to secure liberty while allowing people from many different social, political and economic backgrounds to work together.
His first book "The Empty Throne" laid out his personal philosophy of accountability, personal responsibility, and the duties of the citizen to the state and the state to the citizens. He was clear in his belief that Senators especially needed to remember that whatever power they held their wielded only on the sufferance of the people of their territory. Likewise, the Generals wielded their military authority on a mandate from the people who had appointed the senators who in turn appointed them - and the same was true for an Emperor or Empress. He demanded similar accountability from the Conclave and the Synod, urging magicians and priests alike to take on the communal responsibility for keeping their leaders and their processes "honest, both by the legal sense and by the spirit of the constitution."
He demanded absolute transparency in the way the Senate in particular used its powers and spent its treasury, while protecting the people from unnecessary oversight or observation by the state. When he achieved the Throne he put much of this theory into practice; he argued that the honest Senator and the forthright General had nothing to fear from making their motivations and decisions apparent to the people they represented. He urged the citizenry to wield "The hammer of the Synod" against any appointed representative who put self-interest ahead of their duty to the people.
He made much of the fact that the people of the Empire selected their own leaders. The processes were not perfect, and it was clear that every individual did not have equal power to select their leaders, but he argued that in every case the electorate was selected from those that each nation considered to have the largest investment in that nation and by extension the people of that nation". In his second book, On Responsibility he wrote that "The ability to participate in politics is not an inalienable right; rather it is a prize and one that we must fight for if we are not to take it for granted." In private he is said to have believed that the Empire would be stronger if everyone was able to participate in the election of their Senators, but feared that such universal suffrage would make it too easy for future generations to undervalue their enfranchisement.
His philosophy suggests that those who sought high office must be held to higher standards than the people they represented - that while the citizens of the Empire were not subjects, the Senators and the Generals were the servants of the people. This double-standard often angered his contemporaries, but it is very clear he lived this philosophy during his entire time in office.
He rarely participated in Synod activities, preferring to remain as an observer alone. In private, he was known to have little patience for the inter-Assembly politics of the Synod. Some historians have accused him of being a Lucidian or an adherent to the faith of the Commonwealth, but there is little real evidence that he held any strong religious belief as such. Rather he spoke many times on the importance of cultivating a rational mind, and of reasoning out the correct way to behave in any given situation.
Throughout his life he was accused of blasphemy for continuing to promote the idea of personal freedom. His final book Anarchy and Liberty spoke at length about the difference between the corrupting temptation of 'primal, selfish anarchy and the importance of personal liberty - and his belief that the constitution itself safeguarded the liberty of the individual to live free from oppression and tyranny. "We do not have, nor want to have, the selfish freedom to do whatever we want regardless of consequence. Rather we have and want the liberty to live good, prosperous lives without harming ourselves or our neighbours. It is up to humans to carve liberty from the rotten wood of a corrupt creation, to safeguard it from the tyrant and the slaver, and to use it to build a better world for all humanity." He compared the difference to that between the primitive and irrational drive toward Vengeance and the civilised, rational quest for justice.
This last book was finished less than a month before his death, and some scholars believe it was the inflammatory nature of this text that lead to his assassination.
Death and Legacy
Emperor Frederick was assassinated in the Summer of 179YE during one of his regular symposia. According to witnesses, the Emperor was deep in his cups as were most of his guests. Feeling a pressing call of nature, he left his tent and did not return. His body was found less than fifteen minutes later - he had been stabbed to death and his throat cut. Signs indicated he had been slain with a Scorpion's Sting dagger, brutally and efficiently by at least two assailants. The Archmage of Winter herself performed Whispers through the Black Gate in pursuit of the assassins, but the Emperor's shade was unable to provide any clue as to who had killed him or why. "I was Emperor," the ghostly spirit is said to have retorted "I was not in the business of making friends."
The case is still technically open. There are many wild theories about who killed the Emperor - some historians look to the Imperial Synod, outraged by the publication of his third and final book in which he explained his belief in the importance of personal liberty. Others suggest vested interests in the Senate or the Imperial Bourse, threatened by the growing republican sentiment the Emperor supported, silenced the Emperor before he could raise a motion to dissolve the Empire and replace it with a different political body. Still others suggest there was an occult element to the murder, citing the expended mana crystals found nearby. Some discredited theories suggest that the entire murder story was a fabrication, and that the Emperor actually died somewhere else - possibly the steps of the Senate or the Military Council. It is unlikely the mystery will ever be solved.
He was buried in Necropolis in a white granite tomb, shrouded with grape vines. The tomb is watched over by a statue of his beloved companion, his hound Percy, who is buried alongside his master. The inscription on the statue reads "Nearly anyone can stand adversity, but to test someone's true character, give them power."
His primary legacy today lies in the various checks and balances on the power of the Senate, and the encouragement to use them. In particular, the reticence of the Civil Service to spy on the citizenry is often laid at his door. While republican political philosophies have waxed and waned in power over the centuries since, the idea that those citizens appointed to high office remain subject to the approval of those who appointed them remains strong to this day.