- "If we die, we will die wielding our swords, for there is no better death for a warrior. We will sit at Sigmar's banquet like the heroes of old and our names will be remembered in the songs of our people till the end of time!"
- —Karl Franz's speech to his men, during the Third Battle of Black Fire Pass.
|Full Name||Karl-Franz Holswig Schliestein|
|Reign||2502 - 2526|
|Noble House||House Holswig Schliestein|
|Seat of Power||Altdorf|
Karl Franz, also titled Karl-Franz or Karl Franz I, Protector of the Empire, Defier of the Dark, Emperor Himself and the Son of Emperors, Elector Count of Reikland and Prince of Altdorf is the current Emperor of the Empire of Man,[1a] the Elector Count of Reikland, the Prince of Altdorf and the greatest statesman and general the Empire and perhaps the entire Old World had seen in many centuries.[1b] Karl Franz, who was elected to the Imperial throne in 2502 IC, followed in his father's footsteps, and was hailed as a patron of the arts and sciences, as a military innovator and as a valiant general.[2a]
Thanks to his tireless efforts on the behalf of his people, the Empire flourished during his reign as never before: the Imperial School of Engineers in Altdorf grew, the Colleges of Magic thrived and his armies marched from victory to victory.[2a] The Emperor frequently took personal command of his troops, wielding Ghal Maraz, the fabled magical warhammer given to Sigmar himself by the Dwarf king Kurgan Ironbeard over two thousand years ago, or his Runefang sword, and riding atop Deathclaw, his Griffon mount of many years, alongside his second-in-command and personal friend Reiksmarshal Kurt Helborg.[3a]
- "Only fools seek the chains of governance. But for men like us it is our responsibility."
- —King Louen Leoncoeur, to the young Karl Franz.
In the year 2502 IC, King Louen of Bretonnia was granted a vision of prophecy by the Lady of the Lake. He saw the Old World in ruins, with the Ruinous Powers reigning supreme. He understood that Bretonnia needed an equally strong neighbour to form a bulwark against the predations of the Dark Gods and their followers in the north. The Empire however, was weak, and only stood a chance with Emperor Karl Franz on the throne. The nations of Bretonnia and the Empire had not always been friends, but that was the fault of Kings and Emperors from ages past. If Karl Franz made the same mistake, then the Everchosen would be the only one to claim victory in the decades to come.
The young Prince of Altdorf received the King's summons, given by a mysterious and ethereal Knight. Despite fearing that his rivals would consider him a vassal of Bretonnia, Karl Franz made the journey to Axe Bite Pass, accompanied by a small retinue of Reiksguard and Halberdiers. Here he met with King Louen, and fought back to back with the regal Grail Knight against a horde of Greenskin invaders. Once they were victorious, Leoncoeur informed the Prince of his vision. Franz was to return to his capital. He was to win the election and become Emperor, not for himself, or for Louen, but for the Old World...
- "Will you not die for your Empire? Will you not fight for your families? Sally forth then, into the jaws of death and cry havoc this day, that you may live within the annals of history."
- —Emperor Karl Franz.[4a]
After ascending to the Imperial Throne, Karl Franz wished to prove to his beloved subjects that he was not a man of decadence or greed, but a man that would lead his people in their darkest of times. The Emperor decided that a show of military force could only strengthen his position as the new Emperor, and so he began a military campaign to clear the wilderness of enemy threats. Ever since the Great War Against Chaos in 2301 IC, the number of Beastmen and Chaos cults had steadily increased over time. The Emperor's advisors had told him that in the north the Winds of Magic blow strong once more, and dark omens were abound of a terrible storm that would engulf the world in war. It would take several years or even decades, but the Hordes of Chaos would inevitably return, driven by the expansion of the Chaos Wastes and the call of their Dark Gods.
This resulted in a steady increase in Norse raids along the coastlines and the northern border, growing bolder and ever more numerous with each passing day, creating fear and havoc amongst the many towns and fishing villages along the coast of the province of Nordland. In response, the first act Karl Franz took as the new Emperor was to march his way north at the head of a massive Imperial Army and reinforce the armies of Elector Count Theodoric Gausser. None of his generals or advisors had any way to predict when or where the Norse would strike next, and so he had to rely on his cadre of powerful Celestial Wizards to aid him in his planning, whose members possess the mystical ability to foretell the future by observing the heavens.
When the next massive raid came upon the northern shores of Nordland, the ravenous Chaos marauders were welcomed by a volley of bullets and crossbow bolts fired by a battle-line of Imperial troops. With the carefully concealed longships of the Norsemen sunk by a frightening barrage of lmperial gunfire and cannon batteries, the Norsemen had nowhere to run. Hundreds of the marauders died without a fight, their bodies driven to the bottom of the sea by the heavy bulk of their ships, and those who managed to reach the shores were met by a disciplined line of swordsmen, spearmen and halberdiers. The raiders were massacred to the last and the Emperor himself led the charge against the final shield wall of the Norse's last and most battle-hardened warriors.
Since his election, Karl Franz has won victory after victory and conquest after conquest, taking command of his troops personally whenever possible, bringing with him the legendary Ghal Maraz and his fellow Griffon companion Deathclaw. It was Karl Franz who led the decisive charge of the Reiksguard Knights against the Knights of Bretonnia at the Battle of Norduin in 2502 IC. On the legendary Field of Blood, it was the courage of the Emperor's own heroics that steadied the Imperial line against the thunderous charge of Waaagh! Spleenrippa. In his war against the Eastern Hordes of Morkhal-hai the Savage, he personally led his Greatsword regiment into the very heart of the enemy army and broke the skull of the Chaos Champion with a single swing of his mighty warhammer.
There is little doubt that Karl Franz was one of the greatest generals of his time. He stood at the forefront of the battle against those that would have seen his beloved homeland torn asunder, a responsibility that weighed heavily upon his shoulders.
The Emperor often rode into battle mounted on his loyal companion Deathclaw, the Griffon he himself raised since it was a mere egg, a noble and majestic beast that is reputed to be the mightiest Imperial Griffon to have ever lived. A powerful bond existed between the Griffon and the Emperor, one forged in countless battles and many adventures. As the years passed, the Empire continued to grow in power and influence, and Karl Franz engaged in major projects to improve the well being of his subjects and the common people. Reikmarshal Kurt Helborg fulfilled the will of the Emperor without question, leading the Imperial armies in combat against the Ogre bandits of Tyrant Breaskus, Greenskin raiders of the Broken Tooth tribe and the Skaven that infested the Howling Hills, site of the famous victory of Mandred Skavenslayer during the Great Skaven Wars.
The Emperor himself took up arms in 2519 IC at the request of Marius Leitdorf, Elector Count of Averland to help reinforce his armies against the onslaught of a Greenskin invasion. Dwarf rangers patrolling the foothills of Black Fire Pass had warned the Count of a Greenskin army making its way around the Worlds Edge Mountains from the west and heading directly towards Averland. With the armies of Averland being too poorly trained and equipped to fight such a massive horde alone, the situation forced the flamboyant and prideful Elector Count to ask for the Emperor's aid. Leading his army west, Karl Franz aided the Elector Count in destroying the Greenskins before they managed to run amok in Averlander territory.
Despite the aid he gave to him, the Mad Count of Averland still caused many problems for the Emperor and the stability of the land. Such outbursts included challenging the other Elector Counts and their right to rule, conducting insane campaigns against imaginary enemies and, more generally, disturbing the general peace that the Emperor had worked so hard to maintain. Remembering the brutal repression of the famous Halfing Rebellion of 2502 IC and fearing that the situation might escalate out of control, Karl Franz sent his personal champion, Ludwig Schwarzhelm to watch over the Mad Count and ensure he would be kept in line. Schwarzhelm's orders were simple: he would ensure that the unpredictable attitude of Leitdorf would not in any way put the Empire at risk. Thus, under the strong diplomatic leadership of Karl Franz and the aid of Ludwig Swhartzhelm, Marius Leitdorf appointed new counsel to aid him in matters of state, ensuring an uneasy stability in the region.
Third Battle of Black Fire Pass (2519 IC)
- "Black Fire Pass has seen the best of us and it has seen the worst as well. Its history is written in the blood of our people, and though it makes us rich I still hold that we have paid a heavy price for our proximity to that bleak and terrible place."
- —Ludwig von Hoss, A History of the Province of Averland, Volume XIX.
It was in that same year that Marius Leitdorf warned the Emperor when a new Greenskin Waaagh! poured out of Black Fire Pass and threatened to overrun the province of Averland. He responded personally to this call and went to face the horde before it was too late, culminating in what would become the Third Battle of Black Fire Pass. The Imperial army arrived just in time to block the entrance of Black Fire Pass from the onrushing hordes of Greenskin warriors.
With a battle-line of Imperial soldiers holding the enemy at bay, a barrage of Imperial artillery rained down cannonballs and grapeshots upon the tightly packed enemy horde. The first few waves consisted mostly of Goblins and a handful of Orcs, but the appearance of a beserking Giant would soon threaten the Imperial Line. Karl Franz, upon his Griffon, personally fought the massive behemoth, but in the process Deathclaw was injured and was forced to retreat back to the command post.
With his Griffon returning to the comforts of Altdorf, the Emperor watched as the battle continued its course. Time and again, the Greenskins crashed against the disciplined ranks of the Imperial army like a wave upon a cliff. After many hours of fierce fighting, a clamour arose to the north-east as a wave of Greenskin warriors riding upon massive boars appeared from nowhere and tore through the Imperial artillery. Lead by Warlord Vorbad Ironjaw, the Greenskin cavalry smashed into the left flank of the Empire battleline. Entire regiments were caught while turning their formation to face the new threat and were easily routed and butchered. A few units broke ranks and fled, as panic started to spread through the Imperial army. The Goblins at the front-lines were ruthlessly trampled to death as a new wave of heavily armoured Orc warriors and massive Trolls joined the fray.
In a short amount of time, the Empire lines were in tatters, with only the right flank conserving some sense of its former order. Upon the centre of the battlefield, a small knot of determined Greatswords stood alone in a sea of Greenskins as they fought side-by-side with Marius Leitdorf. Warlord Vorbad drove his gigantic mount through the Greatswords company, tossing them aside like dolls, and made his way towards the Count himself. Marius came forward to meet the monster, dodging the charging beast as he swung his Runefang in a deadly arc. The massive boar was disembowelled by the magic sword and its rider fell to the ground. When the Warlord rose to his feet, he smashed the Elector Count into submission within mere seconds. The Warlord grabbed the Count by the throat in a powerful grip, and after a few seconds of struggle, the Count's strangled snarl was cut short by the chilling noise of bones snapping. In that instant, Marius Leitdorf was dead.
Desperate to hold the enemy back from ravaging the beautiful countryside of the Empire, the Emperor lead one final assault upon the Greenskin hordes. Upon his warhorse, the Emperor lead his Reikguard Knights in a massive cavalry charge that tore through the enemy ranks. As the Emperor faced the Warlord, Vorbad made a charge. Karl Franz dodged his assault and struck back with Ghal Maraz. The hammer hit the Orc on the shoulder, and the pain sent the Orc Warlord into a berserk fury, attacking Karl Franz with bestial ferocity.
As the two fought, the battlefield around them soon stood silent as each army stopped and watched the two leaders fight it out. Though the Emperor was a magnificent warrior, Karl Franz could not overcome such a massive opponent. His strength was waning as time and again the blows began to take its toll upon his body. Finally the Emperor began to give ground and eventually fell to one knee. At that sight a cry of pain came from the Empire troops. Tasting victory, the Warlord savoured the moment before he prepared to deliver the killing blow. Karl Franz was overwhelmed with pain, but in his heart he wished to continue for, should he have fallen that day, the lands of the Empire would be ravaged by war, plundered and its people murdered. Deep down in his heart he prayed for deliverance, for the strength to overcome his foe just like Sigmar had done all those centuries ago. His silent prayer was sincere and was not ignored.
In that instant, a blinding aura shimmered around the Emperor's body as the Hammer glowed with a fierce golden light. All of a sudden his pain was gone, his muscles became filled with unearthly strength and a primal fighting spirit blossomed in his heart. As the Emperor rose to meet the huge Orc once more, the Warlord stopped in his tracks as the Emperor's appearance changed into a gigantic barbarian dressed in fur. The man shouted a loud battle cry that boomed amongst the mountains as it had done so all those centuries ago.
At that sound the instincts of the Warlord were overcome by memories inscribed in the soul of his race; memories of mighty barbarians defeating the Orcs in a war for the dominion of the rich plains, and driving them to the desolation beyond the mountains. In those times, these Men were led by this very same champion, he who had denied the possession of this land to the Greenskins. In that moment and for the first time in his life, the Warlord felt the coldness of fear upon him. The Warlord stood dumbstruck, a split second of hesitation that would cost him everything.
The Barbarian King swung his giant warhammer at the Orc's skull and, with a thunderous crack, smote the beast down. The events of Black Fire Pass were re-enacted and the Greenskin horde panicked and fled the battlefield at the sight of their Warlord's fall. As the Warlord's life drained from his body, he saw again through his bloodied eyes the wounded man in black armour, and not the god-like enemy that had vanquished him. The Warlord could not understand, and in defiance he raised a claw in one last futile attempt to fight back, but all his strength was gone and his arm fell back, powerless, before his life left him. From that day on, the name of Karl Franz has been pronounced in the Empire with even greater pride, for all heard tales of the duel. And even though in years to come the stories about the battle were embellished and exaggerated, everybody always agreed that on that day, Sigmar himself had fought alongside his descendant.
Karl Franz was the greatest statesmen the Old World had ever known, a great patron of the arts and sciences, innovator in military matters and a valiant warrior of great courage and tenacity. Through his efforts, the Empire prospered under his reign. The Imperial School of Engineering developed new and deadlier war machines for the benefit of the Imperial army, while the Colleges of Magic grew in strength and size, aiding the Imperial army in victory after victory. Karl Franz showed more skill and character than even the greatest of his predecessors and he kept his promise to establish a strong government under a just and moral standing.
Under his guidance, he skilfully managed to manoeuvre around the Cults of Sigmar and Ulric in their attempts to win his favour. When a crisis arose between the Elector Counts of Stirland and the Elector Counts of Talabecland over a dispute that dated back to the Time of the Three Emperors, other Elector Counts waited anxiously to see which side Karl Franz would support in an event that would decide the outcome of both parties. The Emperor however would have none of it, and decided to go to Talabheim to negotiate a peace term between the two factions.
His talents as a spokesman with tremendous patience were put to the test to solve the issue, but the two rivals finally gave in to his terms and the civil war was avoided by his political genius. Other similar conflicts such as this had since been resolved by the intervention of Karl Franz, his position strengthened by the reassuring and imposing presence of Ludwig Schwarzhelm himself. The mere sight of the personal champion of the Emperor's "Sword of Justice" was enough to make the other Elector Counts far more accommodating and cooperative than they would have been. From what historians and scholars could understand, Karl Franz used a political tactic that would ensure that the agreement would be "mutually acceptable by both parties". With his superior understanding of current politics, the Emperor won many victories by giving the people not what they wanted but what they did not want the others to have. By using this clever political tactic he managed to convince the Merchant Guilds of Altdorf to sign the famous Convention of the Stink Act in 2506 IC, from which they were required to pay huge fines and exorbitant fees not because they believed in the concept of a cleaner Altdorf, but because they hoped that this agreement would ruin their rivals own finances.
Another notable event of his great political skill was the time when the territorial ambitions of the aggressive Theodoric Gausser upon the neighbouring province of Hochland were countered by the intervention of the Supreme Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic, Balthasar Gelt, by Karl Franz's order. Balthasar travelled to the capital city of Salzenmund, the home of Count Theodoric as an ambassador of the Emperor, hoping to dissuade the Elector Count's ambitious dream of expanding his territories. Thanks to the Supreme Patriatch's magical powers of the Winds of Chamon, Balthasar secretly transmuted the gold used for the mercenaries under the Counts employ into lead. Without the gold to finance his expedition, his army would not march with him, forcing Theodoric to relinquish his claims to the lands of Hochland. However, once he discovered what had happened, Theodoric unsheathed his powerful Runefang Crow Feeder, determined to behead the sorcerer for what he had done to his precious gold. But the sorcerer was never found, for he had quickly fled the Nordland capital on his pegasus after finalising his work in the Nordland treasury.
With Karl Franz's peerless talents in warfare and politics, and the aid of powerful advisors and warriors, the Emperor has managed to steer the Empire clear of dangers that would have otherwise overwhelmed the Empire of Sigmar. The stalwart defenders of the Empire knew they needed a strong leader like the Emperors of Old; now more than ever the people of the Empire needed a champion and a leader in one of the darkest times in Imperial History, when the Hordes of Chaos had once more returned, and Archaon the Everchosen battered at the gates of Middenheim. In the inevitable, coming conflict it would be the Emperor and his loyal champions that would aid in its defence, and attempt to avert the End Times that would come to consume the world in Chaos.
Being the Emperor of a powerful and ancient empire, Karl Franz is bestowed by his title as Emperor with some of the most powerful magical weapons and armour in the entire Old World. The Emperor's armour was forged for him by the unparalleled talents of Dwarf smiths, and incorporates some of the actual armour worn by Magnus the Pious at the Battle of Kislev. It is made of black gromril and is richly gilded and adorned with runes and symbols of power.
The Emperor is armed with the Hammer of Sigmar, Ghal Maraz, the weapon given to Sigmar by Kurgan Ironbeard, the ancient Dwarf High King, in thanks for Sigmar's aid. Ghal Maraz, the Skullsplitter, is one of the most potent magical weapons ever crafted by the Dwarfs of old, in the days when their power was at its height. The Emperor also wears an enchanted amulet known as the Silver Seal around his neck. This seal wards against the most powerful attacks and blows his enemies can muster and even counter magic spells cast against the Emperor. It was made for Magnus the Pious by the Warrior Mage Fredrik von Tarnus, after the Great War against Chaos.
- 1: Warhammer Armies: The Empire (8th Edition)
- 2: Warhammer Armies: The Empire (5th Edition)
- 2a: pg. 67
- 3: Warhammer Armies: The Empire (6th Edition)
- 3a: pg. 49
- 4: Warhammer Invasion (Card Game)
- 5: Thunder in the Mountains
- 6: The Prince of Altdorf (Novella)
- 7: The End Times: Glottkin -- p. 120 - 127
- 8: The End Times: Nagash
- 9: Drachenfels (Novel)
- 10: Beasts in Velvet (Novel)
- 11: Genevieve Undead (Novel)