Reign: 331 YE - 346 YE
Called: The Unwise
Early Life and Election
Empress Giselle de Sarvos was a born politician; clever, manipulative and cunning. Her guild, the Alvetti carta, were long-established players in the games of the Jewelled City and she enjoyed every advantage growing up. While she was not lineaged herself, she had ties with several reckoner guilds both through her mother, a naga, and her merrow husband Teodore von Mestra. She never lacked for useful information about the political and financial affairs of her allies and rivals. Through a delicate web of blackmail and patronage she cultivated agents and business interests throughout the League, and made a special point of extending her reach to Siroc and Meade as well.
She made little secret of her love for the League. Wherever she could exert influence, she encouraged the prosperity of the League as a whole. While she obviously favoured her supporters, she was not selfish with her patronage and favoured League citizens over citizens of other nations wherever possible. While her interests were primarily economic and political, she made regular charitable donations to the bishops of Prosperity and Pride, and was an active patroness of the church of the Little Mother. She encouraged politically minded League bishops to take active part in Synod politics; even before she became Empress the League National Assembly enjoyed an unparalleled influence over religious matters. She was even-handed in her largesse - despite being a child of the bay of Catazar she was as active in Temeschwar and Holberg as she was in Sarvos and Tassato.
Some historians credit her with actively fanning the flames of Senatorial worry after the loss of Spiral in 331 YE, encouraging the idea that the Empire would need unified leadership in the wake of that crisis, Most historians see her as being more opportunistic; recognising the chance to increase her power and the power of the League she loved, she did exactly what she had done to become a merchant prince; employ blackmail, bribery and patronage to bring as many senators as possible under her influence.
Unfortunately the approach that had made her a successful merchant prince helped made her a dangerously ineffective Empress. Her skills were honed on the subtle battlefields of the League, and they proved to be much less effective on the larger stage of Imperial politics. She made little effort to conceal her love for her own nation, which immediately made her unpopular. While she was free with her patronage, those who refused it were often cut off completely from The Throne; in some cases she actively blocked their future careers if she considered them a threat to her allies, her nation or her own position. Her habit of playing her supporters off against one another to safeguard her own position deepened the divisions in the Senate. Her agents, alert for signs of dissension and potential blackmail material encouraged an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia.
Under her benign gaze an atmosphere of nepotism flourished in the Empire as never before. She was known to have influenced the election of several Senators, and for many years the Freeborn Senator for Madruga was in her pocket following extensive 'loans' to her political campaign. She even managed to exert some influence over the selection of senators in Dawn and the Marches by favouring her allies with gifts of money to help them claim their Senate seats.
Her allies in the conclave never lacked for crystallized mana, and for a brief period in 338 YE five of the six archmages were magicians of the League, each owing their position to the patronage of the Empress. Efforts by the Synod to express their disapproval for her methods were repeatedly stymied either by priests who owed patronage to her or by priests who simply approved of her bold character. Few could fault her virtues - without a doubt she was proud, ambitious, prosperous and loyal. She simply directed her virtue more towards her nation that toward the Empire.
There is little doubt that she was behind the ill-fated effort to have the Eternal Shafts of Time reallocated as an Imperial Seat - a move that would almost certainly have seen it fall into the lap of the economically dominant League. While no proof was ever found that she had commissioned the (almost certainly) forged documents casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Varushkan ownership of the mine, she openly campaigned in support of the move. The Senate was outraged - not least because it was easy to see that if this attempt was successful then it was likely to be followed by several more attacks against other National Bourse seats. The Constitutional Court stepped in to put a stop to the matter before a vote could be held, reiterating their position that the only way for a new vote of allocation to take place is if the resource is lost and then later reconquered. The damage had already been done, however; several of Giselle's most prominent supporters in both the Senate and the Bourse found themselves subject to assorted curses, and the Varushkan senators opposed every motion raised by a League senator for the next two years in an obvious protest.
After months of wrangling with the Synod, Giselle made an outrageous and extremely unwise claim to be a reincarnation of the Paragon Empress Richilde despite a complete lack of evidence. Encouraged to use True Liao, in 341 YE she scandalised the Synod by taking her husband Teodore as her guide, whose confirmation of her past-life as Richilde was considered transparent and unconvincing in the extreme. In what many saw as an attempt to emulate Aldones di Sarvos, she completely misread the mood of the Synod. Giselle merely succeeded in alienating several of her Dawnish supporters and outraging many of her supporters in the Synod. It proved to be a turning point in her reign.
Further scandal was to follow; in 342 YE damaging letters between The Throne, the Senator of Madruga and the Aldermen of Meade came to light in which it became clear that she was trying to encourage the cities of Meade and Siroc to secede from their nations and join the League. It ended the political career of the Freeborn senator, and saw relationships between the Marcher households and the Market Towns sour even further. Giselle was able to distance herself from the plan, but in the process was forced to abandon some of her supporters who bore the brunt of Freeborn and Marcher ire in the Senate.
For many these revelations were the final straw. By 344 YE it became clear that not even her supporters in the Synod could quiet the growing dissatisfaction at the methods and her obvious favouritism towards the League. Before she could be publicly censured, however, the Druj barbarians and their subject nations launched a series of attacks along the eastern borders of the Empire, ranging deep into the Barrens and attacking the outskirts of Semmerholm and Weirwater. In the face of this aggression, and massive political pressure from the Senators of Dawnish, the Empress made a hurried reconciliation with the Synod, and turned her attention to the defence of the Empire.
Death and Legacy
After two years of campaigning against the Druj, Empress Giselle was killed at Holberg during an ill-fated attempt to defend the territory. She repeatedly ignored the advice of her Generals - that the apparent weakness in the Druj lines was clearly a trap. Her refusal to listen lead to the resignation of the Marcher General Maria of Upwold and the Brass Coast General Xavier i Torelia i Riqueza, and she personally removed the Dawnish Generals Leon de Rousillon (coincidentally uncle of her successor to the Throne, Emperor Hugh) and Elaine de Ballion when they point-blank refused to send Dawnish troops to the aid of Holberg.
Exactly what happened at Holberg is not clear, but Giselle and her husband were killed as the Imperial forces were defeated - the Druj and their allies took the territory and laid siege to the city. The Empress, riddled with deadly venom, survived long enough to refuse the honour of being interred in the Necropolis and instead insisted on being entombed in her beloved League alongside her husband. She was placed in a massive marble tomb in Caricomare where she rested for only two years before the Alivetti estates were devastated in the storms that sank the streets and drowned that part of the city. The final indignity came in 380YE when the Grendel, during the sack of Sarvos, attempted to steal her sarcophagus. It was recovered by Imperial heroes, and eventually sent north to Temeschwar where it remains to this day. Sadly, the body of Teodore von Mestra was not recovered; the remains of the Empress' consort are believed to still be in the hands of the Grendel.
Following her death, the Synod wielded the power of revocation against several senators who owed their position to her patronage, much to the chagrin of those priests who still saw her as a larger-than-life character strong in the virtues of pride, prosperity and even loyalty. The resulting divisions persisted for many years.
Her own guild, and several others that had been tied to her patronage, suffered near-catastrophic reversals of fortune; the Alivetti in particular were left almost destitute (by League standards). Historians point ironically to her love of the League, and the fact that it was during her reign that the League suffered one of its greatest setbacks (the loss of Holberg).
It was decades before the reputation of the League recovered from the taint of having had such an inwardly-focused Empress, and to this day many citizens of the League consider her reign to have been a low-point, rather than a high point, in their history. There is no doubt that Giselle was a clever manipulator, but her skills did not transition well to the wider canvas of Imperial politics. She was charismatic, but personal magnetism was insufficient to win her enemies to her cause. She understood politics, but she woefully misunderstood how complex the Imperial political arenas actually were.
Her reign is used as an object lesson of the dangers of overconfidence, of under-estimating the political savvy of the other nations, of the damage that can be done by placing someone who loves their nation more than the Empire on the Imperial Throne, and of the importance of listening to one's generals.
Giselle in Play
Giselle was on the Throne between 30 and 40 years before the beginning of the campaign. The Empress made little secret of her love for the League, and many of her manipulations are common knowledge. Her reign is marked with a political shift towards the League, and is a period of turmoil and political upheaval within the Empire. It is possible that a character might belong to a Marcher household, Dawnish noble house or League Guild that was involved in Giselle's machinations. A parent or grandparent might have been one of those people who owed high political office to Giselle's patronage - or whose career was effectively ruined by a refusal to play by her rules. The Generals who warned Giselle against the Druj trap in Holberg are now seen as wise tacticians, and set a fine example for characters who might want to follow in their footsteps.
Those close to the Empress mostly suffered reversals of fortune when she left the Throne, but not all of them - the Alivetti guild still exists, for example, albeit in a much reduced state. Playing members of a group ruined following their support of Giselle who are now looking to recover from past legacies, or even to re-interpret Giselle in a more positive political light, could make for a potentially fascinating story arc.
The Empress is a recent historical character, and unlike earlier emperors and empresses much of what is known is considered factual. She is very much a political character who makes mistakes due in part to her fierce love of the League, and in part to her overconfidence. She is manipulative, but she is not a super-villain. Backgrounds that reveals Empress Giselle was influenced by outside forces, to have been a figurehead for her husband, or to have arranged the Druj threat against Dawn to further her political career, for example, are unlikely to be accepted.