History of the Empire: Dawn of the Hohenbachs

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History of the Empire: Dawn of the Hohenbachs

Postby Athelassan » Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:15 pm

In honour of the new fanfic forum I thought I'd actually post something! This is probably best suited to one of my older threads but I don't know how much more WHF stuff I'm going to do. My enthusiasm for the setting is still pretty minimal after it was murdered, although this is "new" material I've written in the last couple of weeks so maybe it'll return.

In this I have retconned some of my older material (I know, I know) and the date of the Battle in the Laurelorn has been shifted back to 870 rather than 897 as originally stated in my History of the Empire. Also the Hohenbach dynasty has had its origin changed, as will become apparent. I prefer this version though, and I don't believe I'm contradicting any printed material here.

This forms a "prequel" of sorts to the history of the reign of Ludwig II which I posted previously in this thread. I may at some point do a linking history covering the reigns of Ludwig I to Humfried, but it's unlikely.

Feedback welcomed, as ever.

Ath


The Counts of Drakwald were enthusiastic participants in the Westerland Crusade, seeking to expand their territory at the expense of their teetering neighbour. During this period, the Drakwald Dukes seized control of the Mirror Moors, extending the link between the bulk of their territories from a thin sliver to a sizeable corridor, though the area remained thinly populated. By the mid-ninth century, of all the inhospitable regions of the Empire, one had remained untouched- the Laurelorn forest. Counts of Westerland and Middenland each claimed it for their own, but, wary of its denizens, had refrained from committing troops to attempt to occupy the forest. The wisdom of this course of action was proven when in 870 the Grand Duke of Drakwald, attempting to assert his own claim to the forest, attempted to move his crusading army directly through it on the way to Westerland.

The first clue as to the fate of the Grand Duke and his army was when a bloodstained and tattered survivor, the only one known of the entire force, arrived at the gates of Middenheim bearing the Count’s Runefang. He claimed that the forest’s denizens - wood elves - had massacred the Drakwald force and only allowed him to escape, with the sacred sword, as a warning to future would-be invaders. Although doubt was cast on the soldier’s integrity, no other plausible explanation was ever uncovered. None of the other soldiers from the army were seen again, including the Duke.

For the Empire, the battle was the first time Imperial soldiers had been defeated in pitched on their own turf since the Empire was established, and came as a rude awakening for all the nobles. For Drakwald, though, the battle at Laurelorn was a catastrophe not so much for the number of its casualties – which were many – but that the Grand Duke was lost, and many great lords of the province with him. With the extinction of the male line of Otwin, attention turned to the surviving niece of the Grand Duke, Elspeth, who was then fourteen years old.

At that time, excluding those dynasties who were effectively wiped out along with the Duke, there were perhaps seven families worthy of note within the province, divided roughly into “Walden” and “Court” factions. The “Walden” nobles were warrior lords of the northern forests who prided themselves on their martial prowess, and included the Zweibeils, von Vilders and Gegabarts. The “Court” faction meanwhile was made up of those concentrated in the port cities of the south, and comprised the Bachs, von Ersterens, von Bildhofens and von Stutzers. Although these groups tended to align against the other, they were hardly homogenous and, especially among the court faction, saw each other as rivals as well as potential allies.

A dispute soon broke out over whether Elspeth could be crowned as Grand Duchess regnant or not. While female rulers had been seen for centuries in other parts of the Empire there had never been one in Drakwald and the Walden in particular were opposed to the idea, calling for an election to determine the new Duke. The Court party, meanwhile, was divided on the subject. Some were happy enough to see Elspeth crowned, but others were aware that if the succession were passed solely to males, their chance of taking the throne themselves was greatly improved.

What was recognised as immediately necessary was a figure to shore up the dreadful military position the province had found itself in before its neighbours took advantage to claim any contested land along its borders. To that end the Court party nominated Conrad von Breuna as regent until the succession could be determined. Von Breuna was a general with an established reputation, was middle-aged and childless and thus unlikely to attempt to start a dynasty of his own, and was a northerner but with experience of court. He was an almost inarguable choice as a compromise candidate for the time being and his appointment was unanimously accepted.

At the same time, however, a diplomat named Edric Naselang arrived from Nuln bearing the Emperor's seal. Apparently concerned about the future of the province, the Emperor Jurgen had dispatched a plenipotentiary to help settle the matter of the succession. Naselang for whatever reason interpreted part of his mission as reducing the power of the Grand Duke relative to his own master and immediately set about undermining von Breuna's position. This may well have been on secret orders from the Emperor, as Jurgen was himself a Middenlander and thus a rival of the Drakwalders. Whatever the motivation, Naselang immediately ordered a thorough survey of the genealogies of all nobles in the province, and demanded that he be delivered of the person of Elspeth “for the lady's protection”.

Von Breuna was furious but was obliged to pay lip service to Naselang's position, a generosity he would come to regret when Naselang claimed he had discovered ancient documents which demonstrated Carroburg had in the past enjoyed privileges held directly from the Emperor which later Grand Dukes had allowed to slip into abeyance. He offered to restore these to the burghers of the city, a naked attempt to seize the main commercial port of the region for the Emperor at the expense of the province.

When the news reached von Breuna at Barenfahre, he angrily insisted that the documents must have been forged, and relations between the two men deteriorated fast. Naselang announced that not only would he hold a ceremony of homage in which the rights of the city would be reinstated, but that he would begin looking into the history of other towns in the province too. He further announced that he would not permit Elspeth to be married to von Breuna, a man nearly fifty years her senior. Von Breuna had said nothing of any intention to do so on his part, but the refusal by Naselang was enough to put the idea into circulation.

What happened next is the matter of some debate, but when the appointed date for the ceremony of homage arrived, Naselang was nowhere to be seen. Three days later, his body was found on the shores of the river, naked save for his chain of office. Later that same day, the young nobleman Anders von Stutz appeared in public with the Lady Elspeth to announce their marriage.

If von Stutz had hoped to present himself as the saviour of Drakwald, he was to be sorely disappointed. While von Breuna had had no love for Naselang, he had been the Emperor's plenipotentiary and if Drakwald had any hope of retaining its independence he had to be seen to deal with the man's murder. Although some suspected that von Breuna had ordered Naselang's killing himself and made von Stutz a scapegoat, the official story, which soon became the only story with currency, was that von Stutz had forced himself on Elspeth, used that as a pretext to demand marriage, and killed Naselang when he objected. Rapidly the annoying plenipotentiary was recast as a martyr.

Von Breuna ordered von Stutz's arrest, but the ducal guard, dithering in their loyalty between the regent and the Lady Elspeth, dithered and refused to pick a side. Von Stutz called on the people and nobles of Carroburg to defend him, but was underwhelmed by the response, as only a trickle of soldiers appeared and none from the other great Court houses. With the intention of taking care of the matter personally, von Breuna marched on the capital, and the newlyweds fled Carroburg for the Stutz private estates, pursued by the regent's forces. Anders attempted to raise his own forces to oppose those of the regent, but they came on too quickly, and he was forced to retreat northwards up the Ridgeway with only half his men raised. In desperation he sent out feelers to the Walden nobles, pleading for sanctuary and assistance.

The regency army finally caught up with the rebels within sight of Grossfurre, where both sides attempted to persuade the other to recognise their authority and come quietly, to no avail. After a diplomatic standoff which lasted perhaps two days, von Breuna ordered the attack. He was, however, to regret not having ordered it sooner. What von Stutz had promised them is a mystery, but he had somehow won the Walden nobles round to his cause. As the regency army began its advance, the banners of von Vilder and Gegabart were sighted, and their appearance struck panic into the troops, many of whom were fresh recruits to replace those lost in the Laurelorn. Meanwhile, von Stutz, heartened, ordered an attack of his own, and the regency forces were routed. Von Breuna himself died in the confusion, though the circumstances of his death are much-disputed.

A tense moment must have ensued as von Stutz wondered whether the Walden nobles were going to take the opportunity to turn on him, but they were, it seems, there with intentions of alliance, and with this new army behind him he returned to Carroburg in triumph, pausing only to bury his fallen foe at his family estate.

Anders ordered a coronation for Elspeth and himself but it was clear he viewed himself as the Grand Duke. Rather than use his power even-handedly, though, he proved that he had not forgotten the way his former Court allies had abandoned him and dispatched patronage almost exclusively to his northern supporters. He even sought out and engaged foreign ministers rather than appoint a Court candidate. This won him no friends and soon he was paranoid about assassination. When the Walden nobles returned home, he insisted they leave guards for him and the Duchess, for he feared he could not trust the locals, and began wearing a breastplate and carrying a sword at all times.

Many of the Court nobles were scarcely less paranoid than the Duke. They were aware he considered them treacherous and feared arrest at any moment; meanwhile their positions and properties were being gradually eroded by his favouritism towards the north. When Elspeth fell pregnant, there were mutterings about sidelining the Duke in favour of his newborn son, but the child was a girl and Stulz retained his crown. After a year of his rule, and with rumours floating that Anders intended a mass arrest of his political opponents, the nobles decided it was time to act.

A group of them – Siggurd von Ersteren, Hubert Bach, Markus Ziffer, and others, waited until Anders had visited his wife's bedchamber, then, having incapacitated or paid off the guards, sounded the alarm outside the Duke's door. Anders, apparently unthinking, seized his sword and rushed out into the corridor, but had not had time to don his armour. When he discovered the group outside he yelled “treason!” and attempted to retreat, but Elspeth slammed shut and bolted the door at the first sign of violence – whether complicit or merely cowardly, none are quite sure. Anders was overpowered and killed, and, in a grim echo of Naselang's fate, his stripped body flung out on the street.

Celebrations over the death of the Duke were quickly muted when another missive from the Emperor arrived. The Emperor evidently had no intention of risking another of his household on a mission to Carroburg, but he expressed his displeasure at the situation. Regent, Imperial representative and Grand Duke had all been killed within a year of each other, and such instability could not be tolerated. Not without some reluctance, the nobles of the province agreed to the old proposition of an election.

For weeks, government in the province largely shut down as the leading nobles canvassed for votes from their rivals. There were few outstanding candidates, but eventually Hermann von Zweibiel began to attain support. The Court nobles were of the opinion that the northern lord would largely leave them to their own devices, while, as their own dreams of attaining the ducal title failed, the Walden nobles were won round to his cause. Von Zweibiel had wisely removed himself to the country, leaving his supporters to make his case in his absence. Eventually Hubert Bach was lured to his side, and that proved decisive in clinching the vote.

Hubert Bach was already a controversial figure before the election of Hermann. The youngest of five brothers, he had Ottsman descent himself through his mother, and therefore as good a claim to the throne as any. He had been personally involved in slaying Grand Duke Anders, and it was rumoured that in the aftermath entered Elspeth's chamber and ravished her with the blood of her husband still on his hands. That seems unlikely; indeed it seems he cared as much for her as he did anyone, and the relationship between the two was probably as close to a classic romance as Drakwalder high society reached during the period. Indeed, Bach's support for Herman was won with the promise that he would be granted Elspeth's hand in marriage.

In his prime, Hermann von Zweibiel had been a fine specimen, and this was part of the basis on which he had been elected. By the time he reached Carroburg to be crowned, however, he was in his late thirties and beginning to rage against the dying of the light. What was worse, in the eyes of many, was that his relatively coarse northern upbringing – the Zweibiel estate being on the borders of the remaining Drakwald forest – had left him ignorant of, and uncaring for, the increasingly delicate court life. He had an obsessive need to prove his manliness, which gave him a posturing attitude and a quick temper. What was worse, during his recusal from the capital, he had exercised himself in hunting, and while doing so had suffered a fall which seemed to set something loose within his head.

Almost immediately after his coronation he ordered that the sumptuary laws held in abeyance for some time were to be enforced in full, causing outrage across Carroburg and Barenfahre. Hundreds were fined or arrested, a windfall for the treasury but resulting in riots and general unrest. Oblivious, he announced his intention to abolish all forms of trial except trial by combat. However, his worst error was picking a fight with Hubert Bach.

A month after Hermann's coronation, Bach approached the Duke to request his approval for the marriage to Elspeth as previously agreed. However, the Duke had apparently reconsidered, or felt that Bach's support was no longer necessary, and did not feel bound to a promise made by his agent some weeks earlier. Instead, he decided to marry Elspeth himself. After a more diplomatic courtier suggested that this might be politically unwise, Hermann, either with the statesmanship of a plank or a genuine mental derangement, decided that if the marriage's legitimacy was to be questioned then not only the wedding itself but also the consummation should be a state occasion witnessed by the whole court. The witnessing of consummation was not unheard of at the time, but it was increasingly considered a somewhat obsolete and barbarous custom. Elspeth's thoughts on the subject are not recorded, but for Hubert Bach, it added a grievous insult to injury, and he would have his revenge.

Feigning acceptance of the new state of affairs, he presented the Duke and Duchess with gifts to celebrate their marriage. Whether this convinced Hermann of his capitulation, or whether Elspeth had some influence over her husband, he decided to make Bach a minister. Perhaps the idea penetrated his dull mind that he had made a grievous error. In any case, from his post at the Chancery Bach soon began assembling a client state of spies, dependent upon him for patronage and not the Duke. Using this network he raided the provincial treasury, starving the Duke of cash and siphoning it off to his own private reserves, and ordering the forging and manipulation of documents to improve his own estate's financial welfare. As well as hurting the Duke in his wallet, he almost certainly became a lover of Elspeth at this point, if not sooner.

As well as the Duke, Bach was fighting an ongoing battle against his own family. As the youngest of many sons, he had inherited relatively little from his father, and was at odds with his elder half-brothers who regarded him as a threat to their inheritance. Only Radomer, the eldest, however, was truly politically engaged, and Hubert was determined to establish himself as the leading voice of his family at court.

Eventually, the Duke let his guard down, and Bach struck. His men liberated Elspeth from her apartments and the two of them retreated east to his castle, now freshly garrisoned with troops paid for by the embezzled state funds. Apparently still not realising the extent of his weakness, Hermann failed to dismiss Bach's deputies in the chancery, meaning that Bach had a clear insight into every action the Duke took.

Hermann initially attempted to raise troops to hunt Bach down, but was persuaded by cooler heads that an assault on his castle would be foolish, not least because only the Duke's household troops could really be relied upon and even they were held in some doubt. He was provoked into another rage when Bach issued a declaration that he would no longer pay tithes to the central treasury as he did not recognise the authority of the “oathbreaker coward” Hermann as Duke. Once again, Hermann attempted to summon an army and was persuaded to back down. In one of his more lucid moments he threatened to have Elspeth's daughter, Sophia, killed unless Elspeth returned to him, but when he sent men to seize the girl they were driven off by a nursemaid with a rolling pin, and her quarters soon reinforced with troops of the von Ersteren household to prevent further assaults from the Grand Duke.

Bach, now playing Hermann like a fiddle, next began spreading rumours that Hermann had killed the “Good Duke” Anders. From a man who had slain Anders with his own hand, this was an outrageous claim, but it provoked the desired response and once again Hermann launched into a berserk rant which alienated yet more of the nobles. Meanwhile, Elspeth was undergoing a (heavily guarded) tour of the surrounding villages, where she cut such a noble and tragic figure as the subject of an abused dignity that support for her – and Bach, by extension – began to grow and feed back into the cities.

Eventually Bach made his final move, and in a letter to the Grand Theogonist petitioned for the marriage of Elspeth and Hermann to be set aside. The first ground he cited was the existence of a pre-contract between Elspeth and himself, never dissolved and thus legally valid. But the second was his trump card: non-consummation. He wrote of how he had been made to witness the supposed event but had seen “nothing worthy of any note”, while, in a remarkably explicit letter, Elspeth described her own disappointed experience with her husband. The letters were supposedly intended for the Grand Theogonist's eyes only, to preserve the fiction that the pair were trying to spare her husband's dignity, but Bach's spies made sure they were widely distributed.

Hermann's reaction was as predictable as it was futile. Once the initial fury in which he reportedly foamed at the mouth and gnawed the furniture had worn off, and he had once again been persuaded that he could not make a military response, he decided to counter the accusations with a public relations assault of his own. He called all the witnesses to provide written testimony of what they had seen, and ordered the town criers to make announcements verifying his virility and manhood. When this failed to do the trick, he ordered them to substitute advertisements for any woman doubting him to come to Carroburg and test him for herself. This proved about as effective as a sane man might have been expected and he was reduced to roaming the corridors of the palace, attempting to “prove himself” to any women he encountered. They quickly learned to stay away, at which point he began approaching male nobles and suggesting they render up their sisters and daughters.

Enough was enough. The nobles of Drakwald could tolerate cruelty and even tyranny for a time, but they would not stomach a lunatic. Eventually two captains of the ducal guard, accompanied by Solmar von Bildhofen, forcibly removed the Runefang from the Grand Duke and committed him to the cells. Within two days, Hubert Bach and Duchess Elspeth were in the city to take possession of the Runefang and the throne, to near-universal relief. Hermann was quietly sentenced to death, and Hubert allowed Elspeth the privilege of signing the warrant.

Elspeth was already pregnant by the time they arrived and Hubert wasted no time in arranging their official marriage, along with a joint coronation. To signify his new status and intention to start a dynasty, he changed his name, becoming the first of the house of Hohenbach. It was a calculated snub to his brothers: the youngest son had set himself above his elders at last.

While nobody could ever accuse them of great humanity, the pair proved reasonably capable rulers. But the institutions of government had been weakened by the repeated rebellions against ducal authority, the failure to rebuild the army after the defeat in Laurelorn, and the encouragement of the intelligence community which in turn fostered an underworld mentality amongst agents of the crown. Officers became ever more venal and corrupt, but so long as they remained sufficiently loyal to Hubert himself, he was prepared to tolerate it.

Rather than invest in shoring up his title, Hubert apparently trusted to his own competence to provide sufficient stability and instead continued his vendetta against his half-brothers and cousins. One by one they were eliminated, with all their estates accruing to Hubert's benefit. With the Ottsman inheritance already at his disposal, Hubert was intent on ensuring he retained a financial pre-eminence in the province. The last few Bach men fled Drakwald altogether, some supposedly changing their name once they reached refuge, and the first of the Hohenbachs was triumphant.

Elspeth died at the age of just 29, having borne Hubert eight children. Although Hubert, who had now been on the throne for over ten years, was relatively secure in his position in fact, he was nevertheless concerned about potential challengers to his heirs and titles. He announced his intention to marry his stepdaughter Sophia, Elspeth's daughter by Anders. When this provoked uproar he relented, and told the leading nobles he would forsake Sophia forever if they approved his next choice of wife without question. They agreed, only to be dumbfounded when he chose his recently-widowed half-sister Solveig. His motives may have been financial as much as anything, for she was the last remaining Bach heiress as well as trustee of her late husband's estate. Still, the marriage provoked revulsion and it was to the relief of many when Solveig died two years later after an illness without bearing Hubert a child.

Many expected him to renege on his promise regarding Sophia at this point, but instead Hubert had her betrothed to his son, and the nobles soon began jostling for position to have a woman of their own family on the throne. By this point, though, Hubert was no longer overly concerned with internal Drakwald politics, and had his eyes set on a bigger prize.

Hubert would bequeath to his heirs a Drakwald which was fatally weakened in ways that perhaps even he did not fully appreciate. The authority of the crown had been shored up a little under Hubert but nevertheless heavily eroded, without any other institutions having arisen to take its place as the bastion of stability for the province. The army had yet to recover from the disaster in Laurelorn and in its absence the forest was returning, especially in the north, eating away at the estates of the nobles and sucking up resources. Hubert's habit of siphoning off revenue for his personal allowance rather than the provincial treasury left the crown cripplingly short of ready money even as the Duke himself was richer than ever. It was clear that the crown of Drakwald was no longer enough, and with that in mind Hubert set his sights on the office of Emperor.

An agreement of alliance with Ostland, sealed with a marriage to the Grand Prince's daughter, secured the support of the greatest power in the north, while hefty bribes accounted for a number of the other Electors. When Jurgen the Opulent finally died, only a few years after Hubert himself, his son Ludwig was to take it on behalf of the Hohenbachs were to take it, and that dynasty would not relinquish it until driven to extinction.
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Re: History of the Empire: Dawn of the Hohenbachs

Postby Athelassan » Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:37 pm

And at least until it finds a more permanent home, I'll also make public my list of all the Emperors.

This is the list I work off for all my history stuff. Much of it is my own invention, however I have taken care to include Emperors from every official published source I can find. I've also included Emperors from a number of well-regarded fan projects, as well as a couple of more esoteric choices (notably one joke Emperor from the Citadel Journal!) I've done my best to assemble them in a manner that seems consistent.

Where sources contradict one another I have tended to go with what seems best to me, rather than have newer sources supersede older ones. I have tended to favour more Emperors rather than fewer. Most notably, the WFB8 timeline has Hedrich succeed Sigmar directly rather than passing via Fulk and Henest; I have kept Fulk and Henest in the list.

Link to Table: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/ ... sp=sharing

Key:
Bold details are confirmed in official sources.
Details in italics are confirmed in official sources, but from a source not recognised as reliable. Generally this means from the early Warhammer Novels.
Bergsburg - Bergsburg Project
CJ - Citadel Journal
DotR - Death on the Reik (WFRP1)
Imperial Nobility - "Imperial Nobility" by N. Arne Dam and Alfred Nuñez Jr
Mordheim - Mordheim Rulebook
Novel Name - Novel
SH - Sigmar's Heirs (WFRP2)
SoA - Spires of Altdorf (WFRP2)
Source Name - Source
TiT - Terror in Talabheim (WFRP2)
WA:xn - Warhammer Armies: <Faction> <Edition Number>
Warmaster - Warmaster Rulebook
WFBn - Warhammer Fantasy Battle Rulebook (edition number)
WHN - Warhammer Novels Timeline
WSn - Warpstone Magazine (issue number)
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Re: History of the Empire: Dawn of the Hohenbachs

Postby Athelassan » Mon Jul 10, 2017 10:57 pm

Next up, the history of Ostermark. I had at one point intended to do an in-depth history of every province. I fell a long way short of that goal but may be able to do some before I abandon the project completely. This is roughly the first half of the history, covering the period c. 1 - 1350 IC, with more maybe to follow.


The League of Ostermark


The homeland, prior to unification, of the Ostagoths remains a mystery; what is known is that they were driven from it shortly before the Battle of Black Fire Pass by an invading army of Orcs, which has led some commentators to suggest that it may even have lain on the far side of the World's Edge Mountains. This seems implausible, but, given the similarity in name with the Menogoth tribe, it is likely that their homeland was somewhere in the vicinity of the Pass, possibly in the east of modern Wissenland or Averland. Indeed, some have even postulated the one-time existence of a greater “Gothland” encompassing both tribes and possibly some since lost.

No trace of this homeland remains; following the invasion of Bloodfang's army, the entire Ostagoth tribe fled to seek sanctuary from the then-dominant tribe of Unberogens and their charismatic king, encamping outside the gates of Reikdorf itself. It was the plight of the Ostagoth people, according to legend, which spurred Sigmar on to create the grand coalition which would destroy the power of the greenskins at Black Fire Pass. During the struggle, the Ostagoth chieftain Adelhard could contribute relatively little in terms of personnel, as the bulk of his tribe's warriors had already been slain; nevertheless, Sigmar recognised the tribe's contribution to the victory, and Adelhard was recognised as one of the great lords of the Empire, his successors becoming Electors on Sigmar's death.

For whatever reason, the tribe had no inclination to return to their original lands, and instead became largely nomadic, travelling around the eastern Empire in search of a new place to settle. A few years into Sigmar's reign, the Emperor began an aggressive clearance of the northern Roppsmenn and Frikings, who had refused to fight against the greenskins, with the intention of driving them out of the Reik basin. The Ostagoths participated enthusiastically in the ensuing war, and were rewarded with the capture of the Roppsmenn's former lands. In light of its location and the manner of its acquisition, the area became known as the Eastern March, or Ostermark.

Even by the time they settled in the new land of Ostermark, the character of the Ostagoths was no longer fully distinct. With none of the concerns about tribal purity that were to dog the Teutognens in particular, the Ostagoths had cheerfully taken wives from the lands they had travelled through en route to their new home, and the tribe that settled Ostermark was now a melange of peoples, with a wide variety of customs, faiths and dialects. They inherited a land already dotted with small, independent-minded burghs, less mindful of allegiance to a central authority than in most of the rest of the Empire. With this in mind, it is perhaps surprising how long Ostermark endured as a unitary state.

The people quickly took to their new land, occupying and maintaining the towns and villages and establishing a trading network that would in time lead Ostermark to become one of the richer provinces in the Empire. The early Counts, descendants of Adelhard, were content to allow the towns to develop without too much interference at a provincial level, and the province grew fat and content as a result, albeit with a strong undercurrent of localism. With little to bind the province together culturally, the County of Ostermark was always something of a fiction, an alliance of like-minded settlements and clans rather than a powerful political or military state as in most of the rest of the Empire. The province did take very rapidly to the emerging cult of Sigmarism, however; reverence for the man-god still viewed as the saviour of the Empire, and the Ostagoth tribe in particular, serving to bind the disparate people of the province together.

By the time that the last of the direct heirs of Adelhard died out in the late 300s, the province had become so decentralised that no need was seen to select a new Count who would surely only oppress the people of the market towns in his quest for personal power. Thus, through sloth, Ostermark forfeited its position on the electoral council, and lost its status as a grand province. Only with the Crisis of the Fifth Century did the significance of this become apparent to the rest of the Empire. Following the Diet of Ubersreik, at which several Ulrican-leaning provinces were reinstated with a vote, the Sigmarite faction at Reikdorf was keen to find as many allies as possible to balance the electoral college. The towns of Ostermark were prevailed upon to select a new Elector, but the nobles and burghers had no wish to reinstate monarchical privilege. Instead they opted to grant an office for life only, and nominated a Landholder to represent them at the electoral diet. The Prince of Mordheim was elected by a majority vote of the eligible burgomeisters and provincial nobles, and indeed the Ostermark vote subsequently proved critical in the election of Sigismund II.

While the province of Ostermark was busy splintering into a gang of quasi-independent nobles, busy amassing piles of coin and trade goods without regard for their Imperial position, however, their peers had been more shrewd. By the start of the sixth century, and the Drive to the Frontiers, the majority of Counts had consolidated their control over the local nobility of their own province, and had begun to encroach upon that of their neighbours too. Ostermark, given its composition, was particularly vulnerable to this territorial creep; during periodic bouts of uncertainty and vague threats from across the border (none of which had ever amounted to anything) many of the towns had opted to become vassals of neighbouring rulers in exchange for protection, while other parcels of land had passed to foreign rulers through marriage alliances. The biggest beneficiary of this was the Count of Talabecland, who by 512 was the largest landowner in the province.

In fact many of the towns particularly in the north of the province had never been anything but Talabeclander in nature. While they paid lip service to their membership of the Ostermark polity for mapping and diplomatic purposes, it had common for Talabecland troops to enter the province at the invitation of a landowner or effectively as mercenaries, build a fortress and occupy it, and import civilians to supply them from their own lands. Many towns, even those not owing fealty to the Talabecland Count, maintained substantial Talabecland garrisons.

This had long been a source of some, albeit not serious, tension. As early as the third century Ostermarkers had griped about “the Taleters, who have no manners and barely speak our language.” The Talabeclanders, meanwhile, had been encouraged to think of the Ostermarkers as something of a mongrel people of low character. Their religious authorities, who considering one of their patrons was a fertility goddess, could be remarkably prudish, criticised Ostermark women in particular for their supposedly loose morals, a stereotype dating back to the days following Black Fire Pass when wives had been taken by the Ostagoths from across the Empire.

This attitude finally became a serious problem in the later 6th century, when a young woman of Bechafen was abducted by a gang of Talabeclander soldiers. The precise details of the affair are heavily obscured, but the natives reacted with fury. The Talabecland garrison in Bechafen was murdered and the mania spread from town to town like an outbreak of disease. In a handful of settlements the Talabecland garrison was sufficiently powerful to suppress any public uprising, and in others the civic authority managed to retain control of the situation, but hundreds, probably thousands, of Talabeclanders were massacred.

By the time some of the wiser heads in the province realised the implications, news had already reached Talabheim. A council of leading statesmen was called, and all could see what a disaster it was. Retaliation from the west was surely inevitable, and with barely any standing army of their own, and no unity between the towns, they had precious few resources to oppose a Talabeclander retaliation. Reverting almost to their default option, the council reappointed the Prince of Mordheim as Landholder, with authority over their towns and garrisons.

For the Count in Talabheim, the news was greeted with a mixture of horror and glee. Talabecland's imperial ambitions in Kislev had been foiled by the rapid expansion of Ostland, but the situation now presented a new, unmissable, opportunity. The army of Talabecland marched eastwards, rolling first into the north of the province where its own garrisons could resupply it before moving on to the south and east. The towns owing fealty to Talabheim were simply taken over, sparking a panic in the rest of the province as it finally dawned on the people that they faced an invasion not by some distant foreign barbarian, but by their neighbour and historic ally. The lack of a formal, powerful ruler was keenly felt, as the towns struggled to muster any meaningful resistance to the Talabeclander advance. By the time the Landholder was able to gather anything approximating an army, the war was already lost. Rather than risk serious bloodshed, he opted for surrender, and Ostermark became a formal vassal of Talabecland.

At the insistence of his new ruler, the Landholder took back his place on the Electoral Council, although his vote was now fixed in line with that of his master, and he was crowned again as Count – but by the authority of the Grand Duke of Talabecland, leaving none in any doubt as to who the real power in the province was. It was an astonishing coup, as much for its audacity as its rapidity. By the time that the rest of the Empire could react, it was already a fait accompli. Some protesting voices were raised in Sigmarite provinces but they had little to counter the Talabecland claim that the annexation of the province had been necessary to restore order, in the aftermath of the riots.

For the next three hundred years Ostermark history is hard to distinguish from that of Talabecland, so firmly was it under the thumb of its masters to the west. Even the independence of the larger trading towns was cowed, as the Grand Duke and his puppet Landholder-Count used the combined armies of the two provinces to intimidate them into toeing the line. With no opportunities for glory in expansionist warfare, the elites of the province instead turned their attention to filling their coffers, and the ports and trading posts entered a new age of prosperity. Much of this wealth was funnelled into the culture and arts, and an almost equally large amount into the Church. Whatever the opinions of their masters in Talabheim, the Ostermark populace remained relatively devout Sigmarites and the Church flourished in the region.

The period also saw a dwindling in the traditional powers of the region. As the older noble families died out, they were generally replaced with immigrants from Talabheim, colonists sent to keep the peace in a province the Grand Duke still did not entirely trust. Some of these new arrivals took to their position with gusto, bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to their rule in the east and embracing native culture. Others saw it simply as a cash cow for propping up their home estates in Talabecland.

With the ascent of the notoriously grasping Hohenbachs to the Imperial throne, the rich magnates of Ostermark saw an opportunity for personal aggrandizement. Huge amounts of money were deposited in the Imperial treasury in exchange for new honours, titles and dignities bestowed upon the merchant classes of Ostermark. The Talabecland nobility in the region found themselves facing off now not only against an increasingly uppity merchant class but people of station, with their titles perhaps new, but nonetheless capable of meeting them on equal footing in court. Equally importantly, having bought their way into the nobility, they retained some of their opinions and preferences, an attraction for trade and liberal government policy.

Cash was sent to Talabheim as well as Carroburg. Gradually the new nobles managed to purchase not only station for themselves but rights for their estates and towns. One by one the larger settlements began to assert their autonomy – though nowhere near full indepedence – from the Grand Duke, and the Landholder-Count too. By the start of the 12th century, some outsiders were looking at Ostermark and predicting it would not be long before trouble erupted. During the later and increasingly desperate rule of Boris Goldgather, some of the towns might have seen their opportunity, but any attempt to galvanise support across the province fell victim to a greater evil.

The plague swept across Ostermark in the early 1100s, devastating cities and the veldt alike. Horror stories abound of this period. Remer, noticing that the river level had dropped, became agitated that Heffengen, upstream, had erected a dam. Those they sent to investigate found that the river was blocked, but with bodies: the entire town had succumbed to the plague and dammed the river with corpses. Worse, they brought the disease back to Remer themselves when they reported the news. The so-called Bleak Moors are today littered with ruins, once-great towns and cities entirely destroyed by the plague.

Those who did not fall to the plague fell to war. Rival armies of Vanhal and the Skaven marched back and forth across Ostermark's once green and pleasant land, the communities which had survived the disease either fleeing before them or being marched off into slavery. Somewhere in the region of nine-tenths of the population of Ostermark are believed to have died between 1110 and 1124.

As the Empire began to recover under Mandred, Ostermark found it had little to celebrate. Utterly ravaged by the plague and its accompanying wars, the province had changed its character completely. The “jolly Ostagoth” stereotype of the early Imperial period was gone, replaced by dead-eyed, hollow-cheeked cynics, with a reputation for humourlessness. The Cult of Morr grew greatly in status in the 12th century, its temples rising alongside those of Sigmar in what remained of the larger cities.

Nor were the new breed of Ostermarkers prepared to tolerate the foreign intrusions into their affairs that they had previously. This did not stop them from meddling in the affairs of others: more than once the Grand Prince of Ostland had to complain to the Landholder-Count about raiders from Ostermark crossing into the Nordmark to seize crops – and even women. But the authority of the Landholder was at its lowest ebb and there was for once little support coming from Talabheim, themselves struggling to recover from the Plague.

In 1138 a group of nobles and burghers representing the larger surviving towns – Mordheim, Bechafen, Nagenhof, Essen, Fortenhaf, Bissendorf and Eisental – declared themselves a Generalitat and petitioned the Emperor to grant them special status, under their selected General, Alders von Bebel. Mandred assented, and while he did not go so far as to disclaim Talabecland rule over the province, it was the next-best thing. The Landholder was sidelined and while the General paid lip service to the authority of the Grand Duke, the province became functionally independent.

This state of affairs lasted less than fifteen years. When Mandred was assassinated and with the Electors squabbling over a successor, the Grand Duke equipped the Landholder with an army and dispatched him against the Generalitat. General von Bebel, and most of his supporters, were arrested on charges of treason, and subsequently executed. The rule of Talabheim by proxy was restored, but the experiment in self-rule was not forgotten.

A number of attempts were made to re-establish Ostermark independence during the Age of Wars, but it was rare that more than two towns could be brought to cooperate. A series of Pensionaries, Presidents and Consuls rose to power and were quashed in turn. But the province would not remain quiescent and the Grand Dukes were forced to expend more and more energy keeping the cities in line. In the mid-14th century, as Grand Duchess Ottilia heaped more and more pressure on the hapless Emperor to recognise her as his heir, Ostermark felt it finally had a bargaining chip it could use. The Landholder was blackmailed: in exchange for restorations of charters as free towns, exemption from feudal dues, privileges regarding serfdom, and the usual slate of concessions the towns would demand, they would support Ottilia in her bid for the Imperial crown. Otherwise they would withhold duties from the Landholder and petition the Emperor once again for direct intervention. Recognising that without Ostermarker support Ottilia's Imperial bid was doomed, the Landholder assented, and was duly free to vote for her in the ensuing election of 1359.

When Ottilia was defeated, the Ostermarkers were delighted. Having eaten their cake once, they were now presented with a new one. As the rest of the Empire disintegrated into civil war, the newly freed towns once again banded together and declared themselves the Alliance of Free Ostermark Cities, their selected leader the Secretary-Advocate. Initially they paid lip service to the titles of Ottilia and the Landholder, but their true objective soon became clear. When Ottilia declared herself Empress and began issuing crowns in her name, the Alliance towns refused to accept the new coinage. Instead they continued to trade in the old Talabecland ducats, the electoral Imperial crowns, and, in a deliberate tweaking of Ottilia's nose, their own new guilders, minted in Eisental.

Ottilia was furious, but, surrounded by enemies, could do little. When the Emperor finally declared war, the Alliance declared for the electoral Empire, and their troops deserted en masse to the Stirland banner. Many of the regiments that fought for the Empire in that campaign were local Ostermark ones, taking up the cause of their own provincial freedom.

When Ottilia's army subsequently broke the Imperial one and secured Talabecland's independence, it was widely viewed as a disaster in Ostermark. Having declared their hand so publicly, they could not easily return to Ottilia's side, and retribution was sure to come. Sure enough, it did, with Talabecland armies returning in force to sweep across the province, but this time the forces of Ostermark were ready for them. The garrisons of Bechafen and Remer held out for weeks, buying time for the veterans of the Imperial campaign to gather and defend the south. With assistance from mercenaries and a few Electoral officers, the army of Ostermark managed a fighting retreat across the Veldt, exasperating the Talabheim troops who found themselves unable to force a decisive victory. After five years of war, the Ottilia called for peace.

The ceasefire left the province divided roughly in two, between the Talabheim-controlled areas in the north and west and the free Alliance territory in the south and east. Bechafen, Remer, Bissendorf and Kiel remained under Talabecland rule, and while Remer and Bechafen were to survive, it proved the ruin of Kiel and Bissendorf. Already wounded by the plague, the Talabeclander occupation proved motivation enough for many of their most skilled residents to migrate away. Some made it as far south as Wurtbad, Pfeildorf and Nuln, but most headed upriver, to Mordheim and Essen, which grew substantially even as their western cousins were falling into decline.
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