Ulfric Stormcloak is one of the most critical NPCs in Skyrim. He is not only the head of the Stormcloak rebellion and, therefore, a possible commander to the Dragonborn but also the Jarl of Windhelm.
In every good RPG, the writers and developers will include several characters that may not interact with the player too much but still have unique and exciting backstories of their own. This not only serves to flesh out the world as a whole, but it also serves to teach the player always to look deeper.
By never accepting that a seemingly minor or mostly irrelevant character will have nothing important to say, the player will actually search for the exciting plot lines and dialogue options placed in the game for their own interest. After all, there is no fear, quite like the fear of missing out.
One of the key characters which the developers and writers of Skyrim ensured would have such a backstory was Ulfric Stormcloak. I know, I know, he is, of course, a very crucial character in Skyrim, considering he is the leader of the second-biggest faction in the game and the cause for the raging civil war that the player finds themselves in.
However, I will point out that you do not actually interact with Ulfric all that often during the course of the game as a whole, and should the player decide to take the Empire’s side during the civil war questline, these interactions will dwindle in number further still.
Therefore, despite his relevance to some major plot points, I would contest that the background and lore that surrounds Ulfric is more exciting and compelling than the amount of recorded dialogue the character actually has in the game.
So, with all of this being said, I think it would be great to take a closer look into the life and lore surrounding the Stormcloak leader, if not only to find out more about the Stormcloak movement reason for its genesis. Also, hopefully, this guide will give you, the reader, a deeper insight into the man and why he behaves as he does through the game, possibly even motivating you to choose a faction based on said revelations. So, lets’ get right into it!
In the Beginning
Ulfric was born as the first son of his Jarl father, Hoag Stormcloak. His exact year of birth is unclear; however, we know he ascended to the throne of Jarl of Windhelm at a rather young age in the year 4E 176. Between his birth and becoming a Jarl, the young Ulfric was involved in many things, growing up in a manner not too different from many highborn young men throughout Skyrim and Tamriel as a whole.
It would be fair to say that during the years of his father’s reign in Windhelm, the young Ulfric did not experience much strife; in fact, he seemed blessed. You see, even though he was the son of the Jarl and benefited from everything that came with him, his luck did not end there.
Unlike other highborn children, it was determined that Ulfric had a rather rare gift, the ability or aptitude for studying and applying the voice, the dragon language, which brings power to both the dragons and the men who could who are blessed enough to wield it.
He would stay here as a pupil of the Greybeards for over ten years and seemingly enjoy his studies, quietly hoping that he would become a Greybeard himself one day. We will never know whether this was possible due to his highborn status and subsequent duties as the heir to Windhelm.
However, during these studies, the Greybeard apprentice first began hearing tales of war ripping its way through Tamriel. It seems that after his ten years of education under the monks atop High Hrothgar, his path would diverge from his teachings in 4E 171. This is the year that the Great War broke out between the Third Aldmeri Dominion and the Empire of Tamriel.
Hearing of this war, Ulfric could not sit still; his highborn birth combined with an inherent love for Skyrim, her people, and the values it upheld forced him out the door and down the mountain to join the Imperial Legion. Joining up, in his eyes, was the only way to stem the tied of the encroaching arm of the Altmer people. A fascist union of the elven race, hell-bent on world domination, and the outlawing of Talos worship worldwide.
This is one thing that angered the young Ulfric; as a true son of Skyrim, Talos was a representative of his homeland, and therefore he could not sit idly by atop a mountain and wait for his worship to be outlawed.
- Ulfric Stormcloak was born as the son and heir to the throne of Windhelm, situated to take over the role as and when his father passed. This position also gave him many opportunities that others would never get.
- He began training with the Greybeards as a young man and remained there for over ten years until the Great War began.
- Ulfric is a great believer in freedom and Talos worship. Therefore, the Altmer invasion was anathema to him and had to be stopped.
War, War Never Changes
This borrowed tagline from another Bethesda franchise sums up Ulfric’s experience during the great war rather nicely if you ask me; however, this is something we will get onto later. For now, we should look at how his life in service to the Empire got started.
First of all, when he signed up, he would begin fighting almost immediately. His battle record is unknown, but one can assume that the praise and reverence paid to him by people who served alongside him, such as Galmar Stone-Fist, who now acts as his second in command over the entire Stormcloak army.
However, his time as a member of the Imperial forces would not continue going as smoothly as he may have hoped. Instead of fighting back the Altmer forces and therefore protecting his beloved homeland, the mighty warrior was captured and taken as a hostage during one of his several altercations with the Thalmor and the Aldmeri Dominion.
Whether his captors knew of his noble birth and therefore value to the people of the Empire before his capture, there is no way to be sure.
However, we know that during his interrogation by a Thalmor agent named Elenwen, the heir to Windhelm did inform them of who he was and thus the value his life held. We find all of this out in a Thalmor Dossier kept by Elenwen. She now serves as the Altmer First Emissary and the Ambassador of the Thalmor in Skyrim, 30 years after the capture and assumed torture of Ulfric.
We do not know how long the future leader of the rebellion was held for, and however, it is safe to assume that it was a very long time indeed. Not only did his captors have time to ascertain his true identity and therefore hold him at ransom from the Empire and his Jarl father. But they were also able to confuse the man enough that he was not aware of what information he had given up or not by the end of his torment.
Therefore, when his captors lied to him and said that his information was so helpful to their cause that it may sink the independence of the Imperial City, Ulfric became deliriously mad and remained in such a state for some time. He was not to know that the fall of the Imperial City had already occurred before his interrogation. Therefore this line of questions was merely a device for the Altmer to break their captive further.
He was subsequently held for a brief stint after this ploy until Ulfric either escaped or was freed from his captivity. You see, we are not entirely sure who to believe in this instance; the Thalmor Dossier states that they freed the man, apparently having milked him for any information they would possibly need from a man in his position and deeming his release into the wilderness a more efficient use of their time than merely killing him.
On the other hand, there is a version of this event wherein Ulfric actually frees himself and thus escapes the torture and persecution of the Thalmor all by himself, thus ensuring no more secrets are extracted from him. There is no clear answer here as to who is telling the truth.
However, I do not think it is likely that the Thalmor would relinquish such a valuable prisoner of their own will; it just does not make much sense considering everything we know about such a hardened martial society. However, in the grand scheme of Ulfric’s life, this does not really matter and is merely a bone of contention that mega-fans can argue about on the forums ad-nauseum.
- Ulfric was captured and questioned by Elenwen, who now served as the Altmer First Emissary and Ambassador of the Thalmor in Skyrim.
- Whether Ulfric escaped Thalmor’s captivity or was let go is unclear. The Thalmor Dossier states one thing, but Ulfric disagrees.
- During his captivity, the Thalmor lied to Ulfric, stating that he gave them information that helped them to capture the Imperial City.
Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
After his miraculous survival of the Thalmor questioning, Ulfric is, quite fairly, changed as a human being. The interrogation left him fundamentally different from the man who studied at High Hrothgar; hardened and quick to violence to ensure his and his people’s freedom.
Therefore, when a new Ulfric emerged from his capture and returned to the land of the living, he was ready for some more fighting. He then heard, not long after his escape, that the Great War was officially overdue to the peace agreement deal between the Aldmeri Dominion and the Empire. In this deal, named the White-Gold Concord, all citizens of the Empire, which includes Skyrim, were no longer allowed to participate in the worship of Talos.
As you can imagine, someone who holds any faith with great intensity would become enraged by this. Therefore, Ulfric was ready for battle, and as the old saying goes, if you go out looking for trouble, it will soon find you.
It was not long that the heir to the throne of the Reach, and therefore Markarth asked Ulfric for his help in reclaiming his lands. This heir, Igmund, asked Ulfric to help banish Breton rebels who had risen up during the great and pointless distraction, which was the Great War. Ulfric, of course, accepted this offer with enthusiasm and rode with his militia at an incredible pace, reaching Markarth soon after.
Arriving at the city of Markarth, Ulfric and his men took little time at all before they managed to wrestle control of the city away from these Breton Reachmen, restoring Igmund to his rightful place and holding the leader of the rebels captive. In return for this service, Igmund promised to restore the worship of Talos throughout the Reach and thus Markarth.
However, before he and his men managed to form up and leave Markarth, thus continuing on their way, the Empire’s force had arrived at the city with the sole goal of acquiring control of the Reach once again. Ulfric, of course, did not like this; he was not going to allow the same Empire who bowed to the people who captured him and outlawed Talos worship to move back into Markarth, thus banning Talos worship in the area all over again.
He, therefore, held the city at ransom, allowing the dead and criminals to rot the city from the inside, until finally, the Empire agreed to Ulfric’s request to continue the worship of Talos, in direct defiance of the White-Gold Concord. Ulfric, as a man of his word, therefore allowed their entrance to the city, only to see both Igmund and the Empire turn on him and his men, imprisoning Stormcloak once again.
- Ulfric was not free for long when the Great War ended by signing the White-Gold Concord in 4E 175.
- During the war, the Reach fell to a Breton uprising, Ulfric was tasked by Igmund to reclaim the area. A task he completed, thus restoring Talos worship in the Reach.
- Both Igmund and the Empire lied to Ulfric, banning Talos worship in the Reach again and imprisoning Ulfric.
Rise to Power
Ulfric, thankfully, did not spend too long imprisoned by the Empire; apparently, it does help from time to time to have a mighty family name in Skyrim. However, during this brief incarceration, his father passed away, and the entire city of Windhelm was moved into a state of mourning for their beloved Jarl.
Ulfric, as he was a little bit tied up, being in prison and everything, could not arrive in Windhelm to speak to his father before his death or be there for the funeral. Instead, he used his contacts to smuggle a letter out of prison, a letter that just made it into his father’s hands before he passed. We are sadly not aware of the contents of this letter.
During this time, due to his service for the Empire during the Great War, his love of Skyrim, hatred for the Aldmeri Dominion, and his latest spell in prison due to the Empire’s double-cross, Ulfric became enraged against all forces who wished to rule or use Skyrim for their own means.
This hatred was mostly being turned toward the Empire due to their betrayal, which definitely hurt more considering all Ulfric gave up to go and support them initially during the beginning phases of the Great War.
So, as mentioned, Ulfric did not spend too long in prison this time around, being released in the months following his father’s death. As you might expect, upon release, he would immediately head for his home and take his father’s place as Jarl of Windhelm.
However, his first few days in office were bleak. Indeed, the city he left as a young boy had changed dramatically due to his father’s death and the effects of the Great war. Windhelm was not only mourning the loss of their leader, but they had also turned to anger in their grief, blaming the Empire and the, therefore, the Aldmeri Dominion for their struggles and hardships.
Therefore, as the leader of these troubled people, Ulfric’s role was clear; he could either assuage their anger and calm down the city or stoke their anger towards the Empire and the Altmer people. Should you have already played Skyrim, his decision is probably pretty self-evident.
Choosing to play to their rage, Ulfric used this opportunity to begin the Stormcloak movement and therefore start a rebel movement in Skyrim, the ultimate goal of which being the expulsion of the Empire and their apparent allies, the Aldmeri Dominion.
It was not long after the formation of the Stormcloaks that the leadership of Skyrim came into question. You see, the then High King of Skyrim, Istlod, had died, and thus a meeting of the Jarl’s of Skyrim had to take place to elect the new High King.
As you might imagine, Ulfric saw this as the perfect opportunity for him and his Stormcloak rebellion to gain some legitimacy and power via getting elected as the next High King of Skyrim.
Therefore, at the meeting, Ulfric would push his politics fervently, spouting rhetoric that bordered on insanity in the eyes of most of the gathered Jarls. Due to the mood in the room, it was soon evident that Ulfric had no chance of gaining the nomination and, therefore, the throne, his last hope being dashed when the son of Istlod, Torygg, was finally elected.
The election of Torygg was probably the worst thing that could have happened in Ulfric’s eyes; not only had he lost the election, but a man famous for his close links with the Empire managed to take the throne from him. Therefore, according to Ulfric, he was left with no other option but to challenge Torygg to a duel for the throne; the ending of said duel is still contested to this day.
Some say that Ulfric murdered the High King via the use of the Thu’um, eradicating him with the power of his voice in an act only identifiable as murder. Others, on the other hand, including Ulfric, will say that he challenged Torygg to a duel in the ‘old Nord way,’ wherein the victor’s honor and freedom are protected under Nord tradition.
Ulfric will then say that he used the voice because such an action was not forbidden. However, he did not kill him with this power. Instead, he battered him to the floor with this great power, only finishing him with his sword soon after.
Either way, no matter who you believe regarding the High King’s death, Ulfric was again forced to flee the city of Solitude, returning to Windhelm and surrounding himself with his Stormcloaks, beginning his war across Skyrim soon after.
A few months after the death of High King Torygg, it was then that the Empire and General Tullius specifically would think that the Stormcloak rebellion was over after he and his men were captured by the good general en route to Darkwater Crossing. This is, therefore, how Ulfric ends up on the chopping block at the same time as the Dragonborn.
- Ulfric wished to become High King of Skyrim, but Torygg was elected instead, forcing the Jarl of Windhelm to kill him to win the throne.
- Ulfric’s use of the Thu’um is talked about negatively by the Greybeards who educated him in this manner.
- Ulfric is one of the men on the cart with the player during the game’s opening scenes; his mouth is gagged to prevent him from using the power of the voice against the Imperials who hold him.
Ulfric has several unique items on his person should he end up dead via the player choosing to side with the Legion during the civil war questline. These include:
- Ulfric’s Clothes have a base value of 100 gold and a weight of 1. These garments have no armor rating, indicating they were to be worn merely as formal wear.
- Ulfric’s Boots have a base value of 25 gold and a weight of 0.5. These boots also have no armor rating.
- Ulfric’s Bracers are categorized as light armor and therefore have a base armor rating of 5, a weight of 0.5, and a base value of 25 gold.
Quests Involving Ulfric
Ulfric Stormcloak is the leader of the Stormcloak rebellion and is therefore crucial to many civil war questlines. However, if the player sides with the Empire, your interactions with him will be limited.
However, should you side with the Stormcloaks, Ulfric effectively becomes your commander in chief, with all subsequent orders and missions involving the Stormcloaks essentially coming from his mouth. These quests include:
- Joining the Stormcloaks
- The Jagged Crown
- Message to Whiterun
- Battle for Whiterun
- Liberation of Skyrim
- Four different fort skirmishes
- Battle for Solitude
- Season Unending
There is also the opportunity to meet with Ulfric during the final main questline mission entitled, ‘Sovngarde.’ Should the Jarl have been killed earlier in the game, you will find Ulfric here wandering around the place.
- Ulfric has three items of unique armor on his person should he be killed; however, only his bracers have any armor points.
- Should the player side with the Empire, their interactions with Ulfric are severely limited compared to siding with the Stormcloaks.
- Ulfric will appoint the player as a Stormcloak officer and thus provide you with the officer uniform after completing the Fort Snowhawk battle quest.
So, there you have it, a complete guide to one of the greatest sons of Skyrim to ever live, a man who is either a true hero or a terrorist depending on what side of the fence you fall on. This division of opinion in Ulfric’s character between fans makes me like the character so much. His backstory and lore are so well written that I can see anybody sympathizing with him.
However, I can also see how he could come off as entitled or irresponsible with his power. He is genuinely a multi-faceted and layered character which can be pretty hard to find in some RPG.
So, with all that being said, I hope this guide will help you the next time you’re forced to choose between Stormcloak or Legion. If not, it will hopefully change your opinion on the Jarl of Windhelm just a little bit. Either way, good luck out there and happy dragon slaying!
Ulfric Stormcloak Guide: FAQs
Question: Is Ulfric Stormcloak a villain?
Answer: To some, Ulfric is the greatest evil in Skyrim, even after the Dragons come back to life; to others, he is a hero who will bring Skyrim back from the edge of Oblivion, restoring the worship of Talos and actual Nord values. Therefore, with this in mind, it is simply impossible to say for everyone whether Ulfric is a villain or not.
Question Is Ulfric Stormcloak a Dragonborn?
Answer: Whilst Ulfric can use the voice and is seen doing so during the player’s altercation with him during the Battle for Windhelm quest, his knowledge of and ability in the way of the voice is the result of years of training and hard work. He is not a Dragonborn; he is closer to a Greybeard.
Question: Is Ulfric Stormcloak the true High King?
Answer: Ulfric is only the true High King of Skyrim should he have one from Torygg in a fairway. Should their battle come from an honorable agreement, he deserves the throne. However, if he murdered Torygg like many say he did, he is not the rightful High King.