Reign: 371 - 373 YE
Called: The Ham-fisted
Also the Greedy
Early Life and Election
Emperor Walter Upwold was a Marcher naga of the Sweetroot Marrowdene family. The child of wealthy parents, he followed his grandfather, mother, and two of his aunts to serve as an alderman. While he had little interest or time for town politics, he had significant personal charisma, and soon gained a reputation as a capable businessman with a strong work-ethic. He was notorious for rising long before dawn only to work long into the night - he claimed his passion was for his work and nothing could keep him from it. But he was more than just a work horse - he was known for shrewd investments, and a calculating, methodical approach to maximising his profits.
With Walter at the helm, his family's business selling sweetroot cakes and sweetwater prospered - but it did not truly take off until Walter decided to start preparing shipments for sale in Anvil. At that time there was comparatively little in the way of "dainties" to be bought during the summits, and to widespread amazement the family were able to command an exceptional price for their confectionery. The work was hard - but Walter took to it with relish - making vast profits each summit.
If Walter had been content to retire on his wealth than his story would have ended there and he would soon have been forgotten. No matter how much wealth he gained, however, it never seemed to satisfy him. Some of his critics ascribe this failing to his strong naga blood, but the more even-handed point out that there is little need to look to lineage to explain someone who is discontent with what they have.
In 364YE he formed the Sweetroot Cartel with friends from the Marches, attracting investors from Varushka, Highguard and the Brass Coast. From the outset the Cartel took an aggressive position in the Imperial Bourse capturing five seats and driving up the prices of mithril and weirwood in the process. In the years that followed, Walter and his friends made huge profits but their aspirations for complete domination of the Bourse were stymied by two rival cartels - the Giacomi Carta of Sarvos, and the so-called Woolpack Concern of the Marches.
Apparently frustrated by this rivalry, he turned his attention to the Imperial Senate. In 368YE, following the death of Emperor Hugh, he set his sights on the Imperial Throne. Friends were initially surprised - Walter had never seemed interested in politics - but he claimed to be driven by a desire to transform the Empire's finances. Campaigning on a platform of economic reforms, he slowly gathered support and made his bid in in 371YE in the aftermath of the Thule conquest of Skarsind.
One of his rivals, Bertolli Giacomi di Sarvos, of the Giacomi Carta, remarked of the election that it was "the most expensive Throne ever sold". Walter is alleged to have paid staggering sums of money as bribes to half the senators in the Empire. It was claimed he bought the elections of two Freeborn senators outright. It is impossible to know just how much money changed hands but the sums are believed to have run to thousands of thrones. It was rumoured that Walter had persuaded his entire cartel to back him - and that they had invested everything they had to put him on the Throne.
Almost from the beginning, his tenure on the Throne was ill-starred. The Empire was still enduring a period of Senate corruption and Synod introspection, with a Military Council still divided by the disasters of Giselle's reign and the failures of Emperor Hugh. Walter had campaigned as a man who could turn Imperial fortunes around by treating the Empire like a business - and it soon became apparent that he intended to do exactly that. He instructed the Conclave to sever all ties with eternals who could not "do something for the Empire" ... which lead many eternals to pre-emptively cut ties with the Conclave.
The Military Council were appraised of The Throne's objectives - with the clear understanding that these military goals would provide the most certain financial benefits to the Empire. This unorthodox approach was not especially popular with the competing national interests expressed in the chamber - something that Walter seemed largely unprepared for. Although he generally avoided public speaking, he tried to browbeat generals in person - arguing over and over for the financial logic of his plans.
It was largely unsuccessful and meetings of the Council became increasingly chaotic and fractious. This resulted in a disastrous muster at the Winter Solstice 372YE where the Council were simply unable to decide which battles they should take or who should fight. The civil service were forced to take steps to try and ensure that such an outcome could never happen again - but not before thousands had died as a result of the inaction. Worse, the deaths never seemed to move Walter - when one general confronted the Emperor, publicly accusing him of being incapable of understanding the lives of Imperial soldiers as anything other than units of mithril, his infamous response that it was not true because "mithril goes where you want it to" did little to improve his relationship with the Council.
He famously never attended the Senate, openly explaining that he had better uses for his time. This disdain for those who had elected him did little to increase political support for his reign or acceptance of his unorthodox approach. He couldn't even get on with the Marcher senators - it is claimed he said that of all of them "the only ones I trust are the Freeborn, for at least they have the honesty to stay bought".
He did send his brother Edmund, equipped with an Imperial favour, to made regular use of the Hand of the Chancellor but this increasingly led to accusations that he and his companions were lining their own pockets. There were frequent rumours that he was badly in debt to other members of the Sweetroot Cartel and that he was increasingly drawing large sums of money from the treasury to pay them what they were owed.
In the first seasons following Walter's coronation, his cartel had been quiet - passing all opportunities to bid - and most people simply assumed that they had shut up shop. That impression was rudely shattered when a year later the Sweetwater Cartel were able to sweep in and purchase half the Imperial seats on the Bourse. People began to whisper that Walter's real goal had not changed - that the Emperor sought complete domination of the Bourse and that he had only taken the Throne to help him get it.
He was called to inquisition by the Assembly of the Nine at the Spring Equinox summit in 373YE to answer to the allegations that he was bleeding the Empire's finances dry to line his own pockets. His answers made uncomfortable listening for many. Walter was frank that he was indeed using funds taken from the treasury to fund his bids for Bourse seats. To the horror of some of the cardinals he claimed that as The Throne his personal wealth and that of the Empire were indivisible - that they were one and the same. That every step he took to enrich himself - as The Throne - was a step taken to enrich the Empire. He was overwhelmingly condemned for his actions - only the Cardinal of Ambition was prepared to vote in support of Walter's actions. Despite the outrage, an attempt to revoke him failed completely - allegedly in part due to bribes paid to key priests in the Marches, the League, and the Brass Coast.
Walter's plan to restore the finances of the Empire appeared to be to take personal control of all the Bourse resources - so that he could direct their profits and their materials as he saw best. In an unguarded moment he once commented to a friend that he had taken over running the Empire with the intention of bringing the entire Imperial economy directly under his leadership. Close friends claimed to the last that the plan was sound but even those who admired Walter's ambition were forced to admit that his attempts to achieve it were poorly executed. The naked greed that had served to elevate him in the Bourse was insufficient for the more difficult task of leading the Empire. His end came before he would ever have the chance to prove if his unique approach to the Throne would have been successful but by then his crude tactics had already earned him the monnicker "Ham-Fisted".
My father did not fail because he was too greedy - he failed because the Empire was not greedy enough.Agnes Marrowdene
Death and Legacy
His reign lasted only twenty months. During a lavish meal in which he attempted to sway Marcher senators, he became ill and died. Although the cause of death is recorded as "choking to death on an olive pit", it is widely believed he was assassinated. According to some eyewitnesses he became incoherent over the fish course - initially mistaken for a surfeit of fine Dawnish wines. When he broke a half-empty bottle over the head of the Senator for Upwold, Gareth of Ashill, and began to attack the guests it appeared something out of the ordinary was occurring. The Emperor died a few minutes into his apparent drunken rampage, apparently suffering a fatal brain hemorrhage.
He is interred in the Necropolis in a small white granite tomb screened from view by a thick stand of yew trees. In some ways, Walter's ill-starred reign opened the way for Empress Britta. Even during the reign of Empress Giselle, the sheer self-serving corruption of the Senate had been at least partly concealed. Under Walter, some of the worst senators put aside their masks are revealed their true agendas making the need for some sort of reform absolutely apparent.
After his death it became apparent that he had bankrupted his family. As well as borrowing significant amounts of money from his allies, he had spent every penny of his personal fortune in pursuit of the Bourse seats that would help him "save the Empire." In the end, his family were left destitute, and withdrew entirely from Imperial politics. They currently run a tiny bakery in Sweetroot.
Emperor Walter in Play
Walter was a brilliant businessman but an unorthodox and incompetent Throne. His attempts to reduce the running of the Empire to a balance and loss account never produced the returns he claimed would follow.
He lived and died only recently. It is acceptable for player characters to have met him, to have opposed him, or to have suffered defeat in the Bourse at the hands of his cartel. You may even chosen to have personally supported him, or to benefited from his corrupt "patronage" if you wish.