Reign: 257YE - 281YE
Called: the Wise
Early life and Election
James of Sarcombe (called Solid James by his fellow townsfolk) was born in 215 YE, the third of five children. Raised in the mining town of Sarcombe in the Mournwold from an early age he was instilled with the Marcher values of working hard, loyalty and practicality. He served as a soldier for several years during his youth, fighting with the Drakes in a number of campaigns against the Jotun in Bregasland and Hahnmark, and against the Thule in Volodmartz. He distinguished himself as a capable leader, although he never sought the position of general despite the support of many of his fellow Marchers.
He returned home after the death of his elder sister Mary, and took charge of the family. He never spoke much of his time serving in the military but always held a deep respect for soldiers that carried on until the end of his life. He married some few years after his return and worked with his wife in helping soldiers who returned from the battlegrounds find places in the Mourn to settle down and lead productive lives. His wife died due to complications during the birth of their first child, and he never remarried.
Following her death, he was elected to the Senate as the representative of the Mourn in 250YE, a post he held seven times over the next ten years. His reputation for a level head, a keen eye for detail and an ability to take the long term view made him, at that time, an ideal choice. He served with distinction; he offered sensible advice to his fellow Marcher Senators, defusing arguments among them, and helped weld them into a powerful voting bloc that soon forged a solid alliance with the senators of Wintermark and Navarr. He was a talented orator, and while he is generally described as ill-favoured even his rivals could not deny his charisma and wisdom. His famous close but tempestuous friendship with Jonty deWolfe, Senator for Weirwater was the subject of several famous poems and plays that are still performed today.
Following the reigns of two war-like figures, the Empire was close to a tipping point. James distinguished himself as the leader of a group of Senators opposing the reign of Empress Brannan, clashing repeatedly with the Throne. His work dealing with returned soldiers - many of them maimed or spiritually injured by the trauma of war - gave him a unique view into what the constant battles were costing the people of the Empire. He and his allies came to feel that lives were being carelessly thrown away by the Empress and her Generals. His increasingly vocal opposition focused on the way that the drive for constant expansion left no time for either recovery or consolidation, and in one landmark speech claimed that it was time for the Empire to apologise to the husbands, wives, parents and children of those whose lives had been thrown away in a relentless drive for meaningless glory.
After Empress Brannan was revoked by the Imperial Synod, James was encouraged by his supporters to claim the Throne. According to A Crown of Tears - the acknowledged masterpiece of Freeborn playwright Elsa i Canarra i Riqueza - he was unaware that his peers intended to announce his candidacy for the Throne until the motion was brought in the Senate. While modern historians consider this to be an apocryphal tale, Senate records of the time mention that the Senator for the Mourn requested an overnight recess immediately after the motion was brought. Cynical scholars suggest he and his supporters used this time to canvas additional support, while others (especially Elsa i Canarra i Riqueza) point to this as a period of self-examination and spiritual questioning where James balanced his desire for the Throne against the need for a wise Emperor to undo the damage the war-like predecessors had inflicted on the Empire.
In the end, James took the Throne - narrowly defeating his only significant rival, Jonty deWolfe of Dawn. This conflict marked the tragic end of their long friendship, and Jonty became one of James' fiercest opponents during his long reign.
On taking the Throne, James immediately set about using his powers (especially the hand of the chancellor) to repair the damage he saw as the legacy of his predecessors. This culminated during the Winter of 265YE with a motion brought before the Senate to "fix" the borders of the Empire - to make it illegal for the Empire to add new territory until such time as the Senate and the Synod were both in agreement that the Empire was sufficiently strengthened as to be able to hold those territories.
His motion brought howls of outrage, but he defended his proposal with wisdom and common sense. He compared the Empire to a garden, and the barbarians outside its borders as vermin who were turning the garden into a wasteland. "The way to deal with vermin," he suggested, "is to build a fence. And take a spade to the heads of any who cross that fence. And sometimes to head out with your household and hunt the vermin back to their lairs and remind them why they are afraid to come into your garden."
The motion was discussed for two days. The Synod was as divided as the Senate, and as soon as the motion was announced the senate began a discussion as to whether they should use their veto. With the assemblies of Vigilance, Wisdom and Prosperity on one side and the assemblies of Courage, Ambition and Pride on the other, the debate among the priests rivalled that among the Senators for intensity and passion. The motion passed - just - and remained in place until it was removed in 304YE.
In the years that followed Emperor James concentrated his efforts on defending the borders of the Empire and rebuilding depleted resources. He was sometimes accused of being a coward by his detractors, but with little evidence. He fought fiercely to defend the Empire and drive the barbarians out of regions they had taken. He dealt with foreign trade interests with an iron fist; following an incident in which several Jarmite merchants were caught trying to exploit tensions between the Marches and Dawn he ejected all Jarmite citizens from the Empire and encouraged the owners of the Imperial fleets to prey on the ships of Jarm until their House of Princes issued a formal apology to the Senate. As he said before the Senate, "The Empire is a family; and sometimes it might seem that I fight with my brother; but woe betide the stranger who seeks to get between us for I will hold his arms while my brother punches him."
A great many fortifications were built during James' reign, but he also saw to it that any settlement over a certain size had resources available to build walls should it desire to do so. He worked carefully with the Bourse, respecting their independence of Senatorial control but also ensuring that those Bourse seats who dealt fairly with the Senate prospered using all the means at his disposal. In parts of Varushka he is still known as the White Granite Emperor - it is believed that nearly a third of all vales in Varushka today benefited from gifts of materials granted by the Senate to their defence.
If there is a theme to the reign of Emperor James it is that of respect; he encouraged the houses of power in the Empire to work together, to put aside their differences, but also to take nothing for granted. When the Conclave discovered a ritual that would benefit the farmers of the nations, he made it clear to the Senate that they owed them a debt of thanks. When the Senate voted to resupply an army, he reminded the Generals that the Senate was under no obligation to use its powers in this way.
Death and Legacy
Paradoxically, James' reign was just as violent and bloodsoaked as that of Emperor Guntherm and Empress Brannan. Where it differs is that the Empire fought a war defensively, and consolidated their position before recovering the land they had lost. The closing of the borders did not mean that the Empire became complacent; they regularly assaulted barbarian lands to disrupt their armies, burn their settlements and slaughter their soldiers. Unlike the years prior to James' reign, however, they made no attempt to claim barbarian territory and withdrew back to the fortifications within the Empire once their campaigns were over. By employing short, aggressive campaign strategies they minimised the slow depletion of resources that had marked earlier reigns.
James died peacefully in the Spring of 281YE following a sickness of the lungs contracted during the Winter. He was interred in the Necropolis alongside his predecessors. Following his wishes, rather than being placed in a marble mausoleum, he was buried in soil transported at some expense from his native Mournwold. His tomb is now an orchard of apples with a simple monument of white granite in the centre. Three times a year there is a quiet ceremony where the custodians irrigate each of the trees with barrels of water taken from the Marches. For many who enjoy the quiet and solitude the garden this is the first inkling they receive that their silent refuge is the tomb of an Emperor.
Today he is seen as a larger-than-life character, a man whose deeds have surely been inflated. Among modern, cynical historians it is assumed that no man could have been as successful as Emperor James is seen to have been using just charisma, common-sense and respect for others. Regardless, none of his detractors have discovered anything else to account for his success. He had many supporters, it is true, but he dealt fairly with his enemies as well as his friends. He is sometimes credited with being the source of the phrase "I disagree completely with what you are saying but I will defend to my last drop of blood your right to say it, even while I punch you in the jaw for saying it."
Attempts have been made twice (once in 283YE and again in 308YE) to have James declared an exemplar (once of Wisdom and once of Vigilance). Neither attempt has been successful. There are even some claims that he was a reincarnation of Sulemaine i Taziel, the sword-saint of pre-Imperial times whose status as paragon or exemplar is unclear and possibly heretical.
Emperor James' reign is followed by a period known as the Second Interregnum. His legacy is sometimes denounced by modern scholars as leading to stagnation and laying the foundations of the problems the Empire would suffer during the reigns of later Emperors and Empresses. More even-handed historians disagree, pointing the to co-operation between the various seats of power, the increase in general quality of life and the comparative peace his reign left for future generations as an important period of recovery and a consolidation without which the Empire would have risked a slow descent into fractious barbarism. They also point out that James never intended the fixing of the borders to be permanent - that he presented it as a way for the Empire to prepare for further expansion rather than an admission that the barbarians had defeated them. He always intended that the Empire would begin expanding again once it could be sure that its reach did not exceed its grasp.