If the ancient stories are to be believed, then in a time before mortals, the Gods ruled over Tamriel from their seat in High Rock. The Adamantine Tower stands as the single oldest structure in Tamriel, and it said to be the place where the Gods decided the fate of a newly formed planet called Nirn. Perhaps this is merely a myth, but when the ancient Elves first step foot in High Rock, the Tower was already standing, leading us to believe that the history of Tamriel, and possibly Nirn itself, begins at High Rock.
High Rock, the westernmost province on the mainland of Tamriel, is a land of temperate climates and soft rolling hills, split in half by the towering mountains of the Reach. The quaint charm of its hamlets speak of a gentle life. With its fertile soils and generally clement weather, it is little wonder that the region that is now known as High Rock has attracted many cultures throughout its history. Chief among them, the Bretons.
The Bretons are a mix-bred. The descendants of both Elven and Human lineage. In appearance they are more Man than Mer; even so, they are sometimes crudely referred to as ‘the mongrel race of Tamriel’. Call them what you will, but the Bretons benefit immeasurably as a hybrid race. Elven blood moves through their veins. The Bretons have a special talent for all things arcane. This genetic advantage makes the Bretons the strongest spell casters among the other races of Men. This combined with their human decent, makes this race of mortals the most skill battle mages in the realm.
Intellectually the Bretons are better compared with the Altmer, but physically the Bretons most closely resemble their Nordic cousins in Skyrim. At first glance their race is undoubtedly human; however, upon closer examination you can see traces of their highborn ancestry. Bretons are more frail than their human counterparts, and they share the sharp appearance of the elves, including higher cheekbones, lean eyebrows- and some even have slight points in their ears.
Passionate, eccentric, poetic, flamboyant, intelligent, willful, excellent cooks; all these things describe the Bretons. They are a people that share a very rich and very tasteful culture. Regrettably that’s all they share. You see, politically the Bretons are one of the most divided people on Tamriel.
The power struggle amongst the various monarchs and powers of High Rock is a deeply ingrained, and even cherished part of Breton culture. Within the single province of High Rock there is a plethora of kingdoms and nobility. Indeed, it is an old joke among the Bretons: “find a new hill, become a king,” and many have taken it to heart. Youths of all professions and trades in High Rock spend their free time in knightly pursuits, real and imagined, performing good deeds and the like, in hopes to one day achieve, a noble status. This “quest-obsession,” more than anything, has served as High Rock’s sense of national identity that binds its people together.
Today, the social structure of the Bretons has divided itself into a poor middle class and destitute peasantry. Above them stands the magical elite, and even higher rules the noble families. Some visitors outside of High Rock might look at this and dismiss Breton culture as an unfair place to have been brought up. On the contrary, many Bretons embrace this challenge by climbing the ladder to nobility. This culture in where people are raised in the pursuit of their dreams has driven the Breton race to incredible heights.
A Brief History
“We stumbled across their camp just as the morning Sun rose to greet the new day. A few of them were already awake and roaming the encampment, carrying on with their meager tasks, completely unaware that my Nordic brethren and I were watching them from the brush. They were Elves, that much was clear; however, there was something different about them. I brought this up to my shield-brother, ‘An Elf is an Elf’, he said, ‘They all deserve nothing but the cold steel of my axe’. I grunted in agreement, and with that we rushed the encampment, our battle cries striking fear into the hearts of our enemies.
We easily crushed the Elven scum, which made what happened next that much harder to swallow. In the heat of battle I came across one of their elders. Before I could give him a clean death, he began to wail for his life. Normally this would only encourage me to put an end to a milk-drinker cowardly enough to beg for mercy, but then the unexpected happened.
He spoke in my language. I understood him! These were no Elves we were killing, these were our people! Or, at least they used to be…”
What the Nordic war party discovered that day was a mongrel race between elf and human. Upon further investigation, the Nords were able to gather that these mix-breeds were the remnants of one of their long lost human tribes.
You see, the Elves had settled in High Rock centuries before Man did. Centuries later, when the first human settlers eventually did migrate to High Rock, they were stumbling across a highly sophisticated culture of Elves, and as is the popular trend of history, their less sophisticated Human culture was quickly absorbed into a more advanced Elven culture. A new race would eventually emerge out of this assimilation, the race our Nordic war party had encountered. The Bretons.
It took many centuries for the Bretons to become the dominant force in High Rock. The first generation of Bretons were considered second-class citizens to the pure-bred Elves. Although they were their descendants, and thus had Elder Blood coursing through their veins, the infant race of Bretons weren’t treated as equals. For most of the First Era, the elves kept their hold on the land, while the Nords were founding fortified towns along the coasts to support their pillaging parties. The largest of these villages was Daggerfall, which as a kingdom would play a big part in High Rock’s future.
Whether it be the later Breton families or the early Aldmer, the fate of High Rock has primarily been decided by the noble families throughout the ages. Of all the families that have ruled from High Rock, none did it so successfully as the clan of Elves known as Clan Direnni. A powerful family in their own right, Clan Direnni was a hegemony of Altmer merchants who became the undisputed rulers of High Rock. With so many squabbling kingdoms it’s hard to believe anyone could tame the political puzzle that is High Rock, so to make sense of this, we need look no further than the Ayleids.
As it just so happens, it was the Ayleids exile from Cyrodiil that is said to have strengthened Clan Direnni. As empire builders themselves, the Ayleids proved indispensable to Clan Direnni, and before long High Rock, and by extension the Bretons, fell completely under their control. So dominant were they that by the middle of the First Era, the whole of High Rock was commonly called “The Direnni Hegemony”. At the peak of their power, The Direnni Hegemony controlled nearly a quarter of Tamriel, including portions of Skyrim and Hammerfell. The Direnni Hegemony was nothing short of an Empire, so naturally it would one day fall, and who do you think was ready to take control of High Rock after the Elves?
The Bretons, they were operating beneath the eyes of history, and their rise in High Rock was a slow a gradual one that took many generations. After the Hegemony fell, High Rock would be claimed by the Bretons not by any act of war, but simply by means of assimilation. Under the Elves the Bretons had learned the art of politics, culture, and war; but the greatest lesson the Bretons took from their Elven masters was the means to assimilate and absorb other cultures. By the end of the First Era, High Rock was the land of the Bretons, and would be forever more.
High Rock now belongs to the Bretons, but that doesn’t mean they stood united as a race. As I said, the Bretons learned many things from their Elven ancestors, such as the idea of nobility and royal families. The power vacuum left by the decline of Clan Direnni fractured the Bretons into a hundred different kingdoms, fighting for a hundred different kings.
The Bretons carried on like this into the Second Era. According to history, there was only one thing that could stop the bickering Breton nobility long enough to set aside their dreams of ambition- the Daedric Prince, Molag Bal.
When an army of undead poured out of realm of Coldharbor to threaten Tamriel in the Second Era, the kingdoms of High Rock banded together to ensure survival. With the power struggle put on hold for the impending apocalypse, the Bretons pledged their loyalty to a merchant lord, High King Emeric.
The united Breton kingdoms were strong, but the Daedric threat was far too great for any one race to face alone, so the Bretons did what the Bretons do best. They used politics and diplomacy to get what they wanted. What they needed was allies, so they found them by enlisting the help of the Orcs and Redguards. Together their alliance made up what came to be called the Daggerfall Covenant. The Bretons’ natural gifts in magic and diplomacy served the Covenant well, and as home to the capital, High Rock wielded a considerable amount of power during this time of war. Once the threat had subsided however, the Covenant was thrown aside, and the Bretons fell back into their old traditions. High King Emeric would go down in history as the first and only High King of the Bretons.
It is now the dawning of the Third Era, marking the arrival of Tiber Septim. When the Imperials and their legions marched through the province of High Rock they met the harsh welcome of High Rock’s battle mages. For a time some Breton kingdoms resisted the Third Empire, but knowing their divided kingdoms wouldn’t stand for long, many soon elected to join the Empire. Instead of simply assimilating to Imperial rule, the Bretons turned the tables, and used their gifts in diplomacy to influence the Empire. Funny enough, most Emperors of the Third Empire were Bretons themselves, or had spent their youth in High Rock.
Even under the Third Empire internal conflicts continued to dominate High Rock. It seems even the Imperial Empire can’t keep the Breton nobility from grabbing at each others throats. In the later years of the Third Era High Rock stood as divided as it ever was, but something was about to rock the very foundation of Nirn that would redefine the province in the most mysterious way.
They call this event the Miracle of Peace. On the 10th of Frostfall, a strange force exploded over High Rock, displacing armies and decimating whole territories. Though its nature is still unknown, most Bretons believe it was the ancient Gods who had once made High Rock their home. They wished to make it whole once again. Though it was a painful process for most – the Miracle is sometimes spoken of as the Warp in the West – the result was a province that was more unified than it has ever been in modern history.
Where once there were a hundred small squabbling kingdoms, today there are three. Daggerfall, Wayrest, and Orsinium. Orsinium being home to a barbaric beast race the Bretons didn’t often get along with. But that, is a story for another day.