What are the Crowns and the Forebears?

This week on Written in Uncertainty we’re we examine one of the fundamental splits in Redguard culture, that of the Crowns and Forebears.

This is my view on the Crowns and the Forebears, based on what I can find and infer. I could be getting a bunch of stuff wrong, and I probably am.  You may have different ideas, and if so I’d love to  hear them. Please drop me a line at writteninuncertaintypodcast@gmail.com, tweet me at @aramithius, and join the conversation in the Written in Uncertainty Discord server.

I also wanted to add an additional caveat to this episode, mostly to do with the sources: a lot of what we think of as “historical accounts” about the two factions comes from sources outside of the Crowns and Forebears themselves, which makes me question a lot of their accuracy. However, as I’ve noted before we don’t have that many first-hand Yokudan accounts other than individual tales of bravery, which carry their own form of inflation. So there will be liberal amounts of interpretation applied here. You have been warned.

And now, to the Crowns and Forebears.

The Crowns and Forebears are treated as a bunch of things in the Elder Scrolls lore, but mainly political factions, formed by the different waves of the Ra Gada as they settled on Hammerfell. The Forebears came first, and then the Crowns arrived some years after. The Forebears are more assimilated with the culture of Tamriel, and the Crowns are more concerned with the preservation of Yokudan culture and values.

These groups were replicating a pattern that was possibly present on Yokuda, which we’ll get to , but it was formalised by Reman Cyrodiil, and exacerbated.over the years. The two groups were frequently at war, which has gone on for years although as of the Fourth Era it may be that the animosity between the two is coming ot an end, although I’m a little sceptical that it will last.

The thing being, the Crowns and he Forebears have quite a few differences based on how the factions came about, which have only really grown worse as the centuries went on. The Crowns are an evolution of the Na-Totambu, the old Yokudan ruling class, and they assumed that role again on Tamriel. The Forebears were the warriors who fought in the first Ra Gada wave, and were the first arrivals on Tamriel. They also founded Sentinel, the current capital of Hammerfell, although the status of the city between the Crowns and the Forebears has been one that has switch back and forth throughout the Redguards’ history.

The Crowns and the Forebears have been antagonistic throughout most of their relationship, and for reasons that we’ll get to. However, it looks like the invasion of the Aldmeri Dominion in the Fourth Era at least put the idea of a truce between the factions on the table, so we could be looking at a potential reconciliation between the factions in future.

So how did the Crowns and the Forebears happen in the first place?

It’s a mixture of things. The different waves of migration are a good place to start, with the sword-singers who would become the Forebears travelling straight from Yokuda to Tamriel, while the Na-Totembu stayed on Herne for some years before moving to the mainland. The Pocket Guide to the Empire puts it like this:

This vanguard “warrior wave” of Yokudans, the Ra Gada, swept into the country, quickly slaughtering and enslaving the beastfolk and Nedic villagers before them, bloodily paving the way for their people who waited at Herne, including the Na-Totambu, their kings and ruling bodies.

We don’t have a precise timeline for this, and this narrative makes it seem like the Na-Totambu were sending their warriors ahead of them deliberately to pave the way for their eventual arrival. However, I think that’s unlikely. The Forebears were the direct descendents from Frandar Hunding and the Sword-Singers, who had just won a civil war in Yokuda. While there isn’t anything explicitly linking the Crowns with their opponents, the Hiradirge, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was what happened. The Sword-Singers leave, and the remnants of the Hiradirge follow later as Yokuda’s sinking becomes a problem. That being the case, it’s not surprising that the two groups didn’t get along.

However, you’d have thought that they would band together against a hostile Tamriel, but that’s not what happened, possibly because of these two stages of migration. The Forebears started to integrate with Tamriel, out of the necessity for trade and communication if nothing else, and so they were somewhat looser in their attachment to Yokudan traditions. The Emperor’s Guide to Tamriel puts it like this:

The most recent immigrants from lost Yokuda have settled here and call themselves the Crowns. They abide by archaic Yokudan observances with a zeal that would impress a priest of Arkay. They are as stubborn as a case of Black-Heart Blight. They believe the Forebears to be tainted by “Tamrielic affectations” and are suspicious of the Daggerfall Covenant.

It makes sense that the Crowns attach themselves to Yokudan traditions, as that’s what grants them their legitimacy as rulers. Believing oneself to be superior because tradition says so is something of a time-honoured tradition in every culture. However, it also means that those that don’t adhere to those traditions are seen as something lesser, which makes them less inclined to feel sympathetic to the Forebears. I can almost sense some some sort of linguistic snobbery going on here too; we have this line from the first edition Pocket Guide:

They took much of Nedic custom, religion, and language for themselves in the process, and eventual contact with the surrounding Breton tribes and Colovian Cyrodilics hastened their own assimilation into the larger Tamrielic theater. Yoku, the Redguard oral language, was almost entirely replaced as the need for foreign commerce and treaties increased.

The “they” here is the Forebears. I can understand them losing the language, but I feel that the Crowns would have hung onto it as a marker of difference, to be honoured and maintained.It also potentially fits the model of aristocracies in parts of the ancient world, where trade was seen as beneath the ruling class. That being the case, they would have no need to speak Tamrielic on a regular basis, and so would have preserved their language. However, in the timeframe of the games, it looks like even the Crowns have reduced Yoku to place names and slang.

The Crowns and the Forebears also appear to occupy different spaces in Tamriel, which would hasten any differences and enmity emerging between the groups. However, I can’t seem to get a definite handle on what those differences are. The Emperor’s Guide has the Crowns settling to the south of Hammerfell, and Hegathe as their capital, while Sentinel, Jewel of the Alik’r has it that the Forebears first landed there. It’s possible that the Forebears moved on afterwards, I guess, but the slight inconsistency bugs me a bit.

Sentinel itself is the only anomaly here. It’s frequently noted as a Forebear city, but it’s also where the Crowns made their governing seat, at least following the collapse of the Reman dynasty and its support of the Forebears. We’ll get to that in a little while, but I’m curious about why Sentinel became a Crown city in itself. It’s possible that it’s just that the city was too prosperous to resist getting in on the trade; I can’t see any non-pragmatic reasons for them to do so.

The differences between the two factions (although that word seems hardly sufficient to cover it) goes beyond simple linguistic quirks. The most obvious cultural difference is that the Forebears have taken onboard some Tamrielic deities, while the Crowns have stuck to the Yokudan pantheon. Perhaps the most obvious difference is that the Forebears revere Akatosh as opposed to Satakal and, at least according to Varieties of Faith, Tu’whacca and Arkay are treated as fundamentally the same being. The Forebears’ faith is a syncretic one, which replaces one god with another and treats both the same, so long as they fulfil the same role, whereas the Crowns’ faith is entirely Yokudan in its outlook. That syncretism is a symbol of the Forebears’ willingness to merge more generally, while the Crowns still stand apart. Quite what that means for the Forebears’ views on cosmology and the afterlife in general I’m not sure, but it could certainly account for some divergent views about the Walkabout that we talked about last week; if the Divines will do just as well as the Yokudan pantheon, then the Walkabout loses much of its meaning.

While there are good reasons for the difference to be from both the history of Yokuda and the actions of both groups since they arrived on Tamriel, but the role of the natives of Tamriel shouldn’t be underplayed either, although the history books certainly seem to do that. There’s an indication in the Redguard Crafting Motif that the Reman Empire may be responsible for the form of the Forebears’ religion, and the first edition Pocket Guide to the Empire notes that the “parties” of the Crowns and the Forebears were “formed to aid Cyrodiil’s administration of Hammerfell” in the Reman Empire. This has generally been in the form of empowering the Forebears, who the nascent Septim Empire also supported against the Crowns following a war between the Crowns and the Forebears in the late Second Era, forcing a republic into existence.

What’s happening here is that an outside power is finding a faction that is friendly to it, and forcing instability in a region by supporting that weaker faction. It’s entirely possible that a unified Hammerfell would never have been incorporated into the Reman Empire, but exploiting the divisions between Crown and Forebear made it possible. As for Tiber Septim, he already showed himself a master of divide and conquer in his treatment of the Dunmer, so it made perfect sense for him to apply the same tactic to Hammerfell.

This is something that seems to have been the way empires work in this world, right from Julius Caesar and the gauls to to the Afro-American slave trade; the Romans supported teh weaker Celtic tribes that needed their support against stronger neighbours, and thereby created buffers between themselves and their effective opposition. It was only when there was a unified response against the Romans in a province that the Roman advance was halted. Also, from what I understand, although I only only have a layman’s understanding, is that white slave traders took advantage of tribal wars in Africa, providing arms to one side or the other in exchange for slaves. In this way, the intervention of an imperial power supported different factions in order to ensure that the factions that were least friendly to them were kept down.

From all this, both internal politics and outside meddling, it feels like war between the two seems like their default state, or at least has become that over time. They were at war in Yokuda, they were then at war after the Reman dynasty collapsed and until Tiber came along, and the book The Great War notes that the factions were fighting again when Titus Mede II came to the throne in 4E 168. The same book notes, however, that there’s a possible reconciliation between the factions after the Forebears broke the siege of Hegathe 5 years later. I’m personally sceptical that it’ll lead to a longer-term mending of fences, but anything is possible.


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