The Age of Three Emperors or the Time of Three Emperors, and sometimes called the Age of War or the Dark Ages was a centuries-long period of civil war which engulfed and divided the Empire. It began technically in 1547 and ended officially with the election and crowning of Magnus the Pious in 2304.
The assassination of Mandred Skavenslayer in 1152 lead to a serious political crisis: the Electors simply couldn't agree upon a successor and failed to choose a new Emperor. The absence of a central and unifying authority inevitably led to political turmoil as the provinces became full sovereign states in all but name. The rivalry between the powerful Elector Counts slowly increased as the more ambitious among them tried to gather support, each believing that he should become the next Emperor. During this period, several feuds, including one involving the Graf of Middenheim, turned violent. However, they seemed to be minor events not on the scale of a civil war.
The Count of Stirland, a pawn of the Cult of Sigmar, managed to get himself elected in 1359. His fiercest rival, Countess Ottilia of Talabecland then consulted with the Ar-Ulric, claiming to have evidence that the Cult of Sigmar had been founded by a madman, that Sigmar was not a god but a king blessed by Ulric, and that all Sigmarites were heretics. Tired of the influence wielded by the Cult of Sigmar, the Ar-Ulric readily agreed with Ottilia and moved the center of the Cult of Ulric to Talabheim. With the support of both the Ar-Ulric and the Cult of Taal, Ottilia accused the Count of Stirland of bribing several Elector Counts and denounced the whole election as a sham. She then proclaimed herself Empress Ottilia I in 1360. Her first move was to outlaw worship of Sigmar in Talabecland. Civil war was inevitable.
Stirland, determined to crush this challenge to his authority, invaded Talabecland at the head of a powerful army. In the ensuing Battle of the Talabec he suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a severely outnumbered army led by the Countess. This major defeat cost him most of his political support.
For the following nearly 200 years the Empire was effectively divided among two feuding rulers:
- The Elected Emperors, who took the pretense of election, but were really just chosen by the Grand Theogonist. Most resided in Nuln, but at least one (Frederick III) held court in Altdorf.
- The Ottilian Emperors, hereditary successors of Empress Ottilia I. They resided in Talabheim.
Time of Three Emperors
The situation worsened in 1547. Count Siegfried of Middenland was led to believe that he could be elected Emperor when the Ar-Ulric agreed to support him after a falling-out with the Ottilian Emperor. However, at the electoral council, not everyone agreed, and they made themselves quite clear when they aimed a crossbow at his chest as he attempted to cast his vote for himself. Enraged, he proclaimed himself Emperor upon his return to Middenheim; the ensuing line of claimants became known as the Wolf Emperors. Siegfried immediately declared war on Frederik V, the Ottilian Emperor at the time. Meanwhile, Frederick declared war on the Elected Emperor.
The civil war had religious aspects; the Ottilian Emperors were supported by the cult of Taal and openly hostile to the cult of Sigmar. The antagonized Sigmarite cult supported the Elected Emperors (the Grand Theogonist was sometimes known to crown himself Emperor). The Wolf Emperors were usually staunch followers of Ulric and through a political agreement gained the full support of the cult of Ulric.
During the Time of Three Emperors, a massive decentralization of power occurred. The Elector Counts and self-proclaimed Emperors were not just fighting each other for the upper hand, but also had to spend much of their time quelling rebellions in their own lands and fending off invasions from monstrous armies such as Orcs, Beastmen, and Undead. Desperate war-refugees fled to the safety of the fortified cities which increased in size, population and importance. Increasing populations meant numerous recruits and larger taxes, and the burgomeisters of the more important cities were able to slowly but steadily increase their autonomy. Some cities even began to recruit and equip their own troops.
Even lesser provinces were able to assert their power. In 1550, western Middenland, under the control of the von Bildhofen family, broke off from the control of Middenheim. They were given the Drakwald Runefang by the Elected Emperor in return for their support. However, it's unknown how the Runefang disappeared from the vaults of Middenheim and ended up in the hands of the Emperor in Nuln.
There were also outside invasions that contributed to the gradual decline of Sigmar's Empire. One of them happened in 1705, when Gorbad Ironclaw, an Orc warlord, united several tribes to create a massive Greenskin army. He led them across Black Fire Pass, and ravaged Averland and The Moot. He was later met in battle by Eldred, Elector Count of Solland. Though the battle initially went well for the Sollanders, Eldred and his men knew the day was lost when they saw on the horizon a contingent of Goblin Wolf Riders and Orc Boar Boyz. While most of his army was fleeing, Eldred and his closest companions advanced in a final attempt to slay Gorbad. The bravery of the soldiers that day was unmatched, but none were so brave as Eldred himself, who faced the Orc in single combat. Eldred was no match for Gorbad, however, and he was brutally killed. After this victory, Gorbad marched north. He was finally defeated at the gates of Altdorf where a massive battle took place. While Gorbad was defeated, Sigismund IV, the Elected Emperor at the time, was killed by a wyvern.
Even after his defeat, Gorbad's invasion had a major effect on the Empire. The province of Solland was gone, and its lands all became part of Wissenland. The Runefang of Solland was taken as trophy, and not retrieved for centuries.
Around 1750, there were briefly four Emperors. When Horst the Cautious, the Ottilian Emperor at the time refused to attack an invading army, the city of Talabheim revolted and crowned Helmut II as their own Emperor. However, this state of affairs probably did not last long.
Collapse was complete in 1979 when the Grand Theogonist refused to acknowledge the election of the infant Countess Magritta of Marienburg. This act ended the line of Elected Emperors. The refusal was ignored by Countess Magritta and she moved to Nuln to found a dynasty of claimants there. The counts of Reikland also advanced their own claim for the throne.
During the Wars of the Vampire Counts, which began in 2010 and ended in 2145, the claimants were:
- Ottilia III, Countess of Talabecland, later succeeded by Ottilia IV.
- Ludwig, Count of Reikland, later succeeded by his son Lutwik.
- The Wolf Emperors and Nuln Emperors seem to have relinquished their claim for the throne under unknown circumstances.
The Age of Three Emperors ended in 2304 when Magnus the Pious reunited the Empire after defeating the Warriors of Chaos in the Great War Against Chaos. The Empire has been a united county since.
- In older sources, Siegfried (the first Wolf Emperor) is called Heinrich.
- Eldred's final battle is given multiple locations; some sources state that was near Averheim on the river Aver, while others put it just outside of Pfeildorf.