Reign: 0YE - 22YE

Caveat
Surprisingly little is known with any certainty about the First Empress, and the events surrounding the actual founding of the Empire are often couched in terms of myth and legend. As a consequence, this page tried to differentiate between generally accepted facts and commonly believed stories. An in-character historical research document also exists, which can be found here, and delves a little further into the stories surrounding the events in the First Empress' life. More than any other historical event, the foundation of the Empire - and the life of the woman credited with its creation - is swathed in mystery.

Called: the First

There is a great deal of disagreement between scholars and historians on the actual identity of the First Empress. The historical records are incomplete and full of inconsistencies. Various Highborn figures including the cataphracts Regan of the White Tower, Naomi of Syrene, and Irida Swiftlance, and the priest Sherber have all been identified as potential names for the founder of the Empire. As a result of this uncertainty, and in spite of two centuries of scholarship devoted to definitively identifying her, the First Empress is generally referred to by her title rather than by a given name.

The situation is further complicated due to the nature of the few surviving documents from the foundation of the Empire. Accounts written during the foundation identify the significant actors only by name, whereas later documents overwhelmingly identify the key protagonist simply as the First Empress.

Early life and Election

Although little is known of her early life, the one thing almost all historians agree on is that the First Empress was born in Highguard. Most credible accounts that identify the First Empress describe her as a powerful Highborn warrior. She must have trained extensively in the arts of war as she was granted the privilege of riding one of the few remaining Highborn warhorses. Stories of her accomplishments are likely embellished, but while historians often focus more on her charisma and vision than her fighting ability, there is little doubt that she was a practised combatant and an experienced military leader from an early age.

Romantic stories claim that she rode the "last" of the Highborn battle mounts, and that when the pair died there were no more horses. While this is unlikely to be literally true, there is little doubt that within a generation of her death the legendary horses of Highguard had vanished from the world. Her steed was named Jahan, and was said to be one of the largest and most impressive of his kind. The two formed a powerful bond, legendary even by the standards of the cataphracts of the time and she rode him into battle against the barbarians of both the east and the south. It is commonly assumed that Jahan is the white or silver horse on a black field depicted on the heraldry associated with the first Empress.

At some point, the First Empress underwent a true liao vision that profoundly moved her. While the details of the vision are unknown, it inspired her to spread the revelation that the Labyrinth does not distinguish between nations. That all human souls are re-incarnated on the same wheel, regardless of whether they were Highborn. She claimed that the only way in which Highborn souls that were reborn would know their heritage and the Way of Virtue was if all humanity were united under a single banner.

In the years following her vision, and with an eye to both the looming threat of the orcs and the constant conflict between humans who should have been allies, the woman who would become the First Empress gathered a small group of like-minded individuals from various nations. With their assistance, she brought together the leaders of humanity around the Bay of Catazar to discuss an alliance against the barbarians. Her vision and charisma - and the hard work of her allies - convinced many of them to accept the need to form a lasting alliance.

The meeting at Anvil has passed into Imperial legend. History records that the Navarr, lead by the indefatigable Myfanwy, served as messengers to bring powerful and influential people to hear the First Empress' proposal. Some scholars speculate that the meeting was actually intended to take place in Bastion but was moved to Anvil at the last minute due to opposition from a coalition of chapters lead by the Stone Banners who opposed the Empress' vision. The representatives of Urizen declined to join, but sufficient folk from the Brass Coast, Dawn, Highguard, the newly-formed League, the fractious Marches, Navarr, Varushka and Wintermark agreed the alliance that lead to the formation the Empire.

The First Empress is a key figure in many of the stories of the Founding of the Empire. Indeed she is central to so many historical events, some of which are believed to haven taken place contemporaneously in different parts of the Empire, that many scholars believe that she could not have been responsible for all the heroic acts ascribed to her. Deeds attributed to her include:

One of the first things I notice about these "Five Luminaries" is that while it took only three Freeborn sisters to found a great nation, it took six sisters from the other nations to found an Empire.

Mari i Barba i Riqueza, '''Foundation and Empire'''

It is difficult to be certain which of these deeds if any can be directly ascribed to the First Empress, not least because of the stories that claim that she enjoyed the assistance of a number of notable individuals. Some scholars claim she carefully selected seven Companions, one for each virtue. Another popular account describes her as having five Luminaries, a Navarr brand, a Dawnish troubadour, a Varushkan wise one, a Marcher landskeeper, and a Tassatan merchant prince.

These companions further complicate the issue of identifying who the First Empress was, and which deeds she accomplished herself. For example it is widely known that the First Empress sent Bridgit of Dourfen, a landskeeper and a close adviser to negotiate with the Marcher stewards on her behalf. But the famous quote that "I will take all of you, or none of you" that led to the Cousin's War is always attributed directly to the First Empress even though most records describe the key meetings taking place between Bridgit and other Marchers.

Regardless, few historians contest that the First Empress was a key figure - perhaps the most important individual - in bringing about the creation of the Empire. While she may not personally have undertaken all the deeds ascribed to her, and while the precise details of many events are now impossible to ascertain (thanks to Emperor Nicovar and his destruction of so many Imperial archives), there is no doubt that the Empire in its current form rests on the foundation of her vision of a united humankind.

Reign

To all intents and purposes the First Empress created the Empire. While her successors, especially Emperor Giovanni, Empress Richilde, and Empress Teleri refined the idea and helped build the institutions familiar to modern Imperial citizens, they did so on the firm foundation she already laid.

She is credited with the creation of the Imperial Constitution, and with formally recognising The Way as the religion of the Empire. This included the creation of the Imperial Synod, though the early institution bore comparatively little resemblance to the Synod as Imperial citizens recognise it today. Some historians claim that the Empress and many of her Highborn supporters favoured a theocratic model of government for the Empire, but were unable to convince everyone of the wisdom of this approach. Instead they settled for ensuring the role of the Synod as a vital guardian of the spiritual well-being of the Empire.

She is also credited with establishing the Imperial Senate, basing it on the Wintermark model of the Witan. The Senate provided a way for the Empire to govern itself that appears to have been essential to convince many nations that joining the Empire would not mean by ruled over by a foreigner. Despite this the first Senate seems to have played a mostly advisory role, with the strict legal definitions of powers and responsibilities coming later.

While the First Empress was a warrior, she firmly believed that the business of war and the business of politics must remain separate. This belief lead to the constitutional imperative that Senators are not allowed to attend meetings of the Imperial Military Council. While some have argued that this was to prevent the Senators interfering in the generals' decisions, others maintain that her true concern was to preserve the idea that the Senators would strive always to secure the peace, prosperity, liberty, and dignity of their fellow citizens free from the spectre of violence or bloodshed.

The Imperial Conclave and the Imperial Bourse were established after the reign of the First Empress, during the time of Emperor Giovanni. But Giovanni claimed on the floor of the Senate that the First Empress told him that she wanted the Imperial Bourse to be free from Senatorial control to ensure that senators were not motivated by matters of wealth and personal enrichment. If that was true, then it suggests that her vision continued to guide the development of the Empire even after her death.

As with the formation of the Empire, the First Empress is often described as the author of changes or innovations that were likely the result of motions passed by the Senate. For example, she is credited as "ruling" that the official language of the Empire would be "Imperial" and that Old Asavean would remain a tongue for scholars and historians. It is possible that the Throne was able to rule by decree at the beginning of the Empire, but most historians think it is more likely that the early Senate made this decision with the support of the Synod. Nobody questions the critical involvement of the First Empress in these decisions, but it is difficult to be certain if she really instigated all of them. At least some of the crucial ideas and motivations appears to have come from her advisers.

While history books often gloss over the details, the reign of the First Empress was marked by war and conflict. Not only did the nascent Empire need to contend with barbarians on all sides, there were dissenting voices within the eight nations whose rejection of Imperial law often exploded into outright rebellion. In particular, the rebellion of the Varushkan Alderei the Fair greatly tested the resolve of the early Empire and saw the tragic loss of several of those most enthusiastic in its support. While it represents the best known and arguably most severe of these incidents, it is far from the only one. Historical records show that fighting in the Marches continued sporadically well into the reign of the First Empress' successor, Emperor Giovanni, while there are also reports of an attempt by Highborn separatists in Casinea to break away from the Empire. Likewise, while many of the stories focus on the fight against the orc barbarians, there are also records of serious engagements with troops from the Iron Confederacy seeking to attack the newly-formed Empire while it was weak.

During her life, the First Empress was surrounded and ably supported by countless unique individuals, many of whom might well have become notable heroes in their own right had they not been content to see their destiny subsumed into her vision. Barachai of the Steel Stirrups, the archivist who wrote one of the earliest biographies finished his work by claiming that what made the First Empress truly unique was not what she accomplished but what she inspired others to accomplish.

In the end, the Empire endured, in no small part to the active efforts of the First Empress and her court to hold it together. While the Military Council were often focused on external threats, the Empress' vigilance repeatedly stressed the need to remain alert to dangers within the Empire's borders as well. The Silent Bell organisation claims to have been created on the orders of the First Empress specifically to watch for internal danger.

Death and Legacy

The First Empress died in 22YE, fighting orcs from the hills to the west of the Brass Coast. Her loyal steed may have fallen alongside his mistress; romantic accounts claim that the battle claimed not only the first Throne, but her horse Jahan as well. In some versions of the story, the horse dies of a broken heart but most historians accept that the two died together in battle. Only in Urizen are there dissenting voices, where some historians argue that Jahan predeceased his rider by several months. While there have been attempts by some scholars to look for some wider meaning in the death of the First Empress, and several conspiracies have been suggested, all the evidence suggests that it was simply bad luck that she fell in battle alongside many other Imperial soldiers fighting to protect the Brass Coast.

When news of her death reached the wider Empire, it resulted in a month of mourning. Her body was transported to Necropolis to be interred, beginning the tradition that endures to this day. Her body was laid to rest alongside that of her beloved steed in a glorious tomb of white granite, and following his own passing her husband Rodric joined her in death.

Her passing shook the Empire - there was significant concern that the edifice she had created would not survive without her. In the end, the combined efforts of her allies and her successor were able to keep her flame alive. It would have been easy for the fledgling alliance to splinter in the absence of the woman whose personal charisma and ambitious vision had brought it together. In the end, though, it was clear to each of the members that the benefits of the Empire far outweighed the risks of attempting to go it alone. In only twenty years, the barbarian orcs had been pushed back in every direction, and for the first time in generations it seemed that humanity might not only be able to weather the malice of the orcs but actually prevail against them and expand their borders.

In a very real sense, the entire Empire is her legacy. It is in recognition of that first fateful meeting that the most powerful citizens of the Empire meet four times a year on the fields at Anvil. Her personal heraldry - the rearing horse - remains the official symbol of the Empire and the civil service that supports it. The alliance has expanded with the addition of first the Urizen and then the Imperial Orcs, but they are still bound nearly four centuries later by the principles laid down in the Constitution. Most historians agree - without her powerful drive to unite humanity, it is unlikely any of the nations that today compose the Empire would have survived and prospered as much as they have.

It is unsurprising then that there have been attempts to recognise the First Empress as a paragon of virtue. There are few examples of paragons and exemplars who have achieved more. Yet, despite efforts to the contrary, no judgement or recognition has ever successfully passed the General Assembly of the Imperial Synod. The reason for this is straightforward enough - each paragon represents a single virtue and in the case of the First Empress there is no agreement as to which virtue best encapsulates her powerful influence on the history of humankind. As recent incidents such as the Yaelian Schism have comprehensively demonstrated, to declare the First Empress as a paragon of one virtue is to inevitably exalt that virtue above the others in the eyes of Imperial citizens. While priests point to the many inspirational moments from her life, they do so in support of all seven virtues rather than in the name of one, providing her with an almost unique position as someone who most priests agree was likely a paragon but who must perforce exist outside the structures of formal recognition and doctrine.

The First Empress in Play

The life and deeds of the First Empress are shrouded in mystery, to the degree that historians do not even agree on her true name. With that in mind, any group or character background that seeks to establish facts about the First Empress will be rejected. For example, it is acceptable to believe that the First Empress was part of your Highborn Chapter but we won't sanction a background where you have definitive evidence of such a claim. While her children were most likely raised as Dawnish yeofolk, the descendants of the First Empress and her consort can be found in every human nation of the Empire. Claiming to be a descendant of the First Empress is usually seen as a claim to be a true citizen of the Empire, rather than any legitimate claim of consanguinity.

The First Empress has been the target of several historical research requests over the years, but such things are generally complicated by the lack of records from the time, the destruction of the major centres of learning by Emperor Nicovar, and the fact that she does not appear to have been referred to as the First Empress in any primary sources related to the foundation. Directing the department of historical research to provide more information about the First Empress is unlikely to yield any new results. More effective would be attempts to gather information about specific events she was involved with - the more specific the better.

Further Reading

  • The history pages for each of the human nations expand upon the circumstances around the formation of the Empire, and the First Empress plays a role in each of them.
  • Historical research document
  • Imperial History

The arduous task of collecting references to the First Empress from elsewhere on the wiki was undertaken by James Blackshaw