Legends of Tamriel
Political Climate of Skyrim
Thirty years ago, the Altmer of the Summerset Isles, led by a fanatical faction known as the Thalmor, threw off the Imperial yoke and declared war on the Empire. Weakened by the Oblivion Crisis, the Empire was unable to put down the uprising quickly. After three years of bloody fighting, the Empire signed the White-Gold Concordant granting Summerset Isles autonomous rule, reforming the Adlermeri Dominion. More importantly, they agreed to ban the worship of Talos. Talos, considered the greatest emperor in history, was of Nordic descent, and widely worshipped, especially in Skyrim. Needless to say, the Nords were outraged, and when the Thalmor showed up to enforce the ban, fighting broke out, leading to the Stormcloak Rebellion.
Ulfric Stormcloak slew the High King of Skyrim, calling him a traitor to his people. He now seeks to rally all Nords to kick out the Empire and those of non Nordic traditions.
Currently Skyrim is divided by two factions. The Empire and its supporters control Haafingar, The Reach, Hjaalmarch, and Falkreath Hold. The Stormcloaks control Winterhold, Windhelm, Eastmarch (where Ulrric is Jarl), and the Rift.
Whiterun Hold is a very powerful centralized province, and is neutral for the time being. Balgruff the Greater, Jarl of Whiterun, could tip the balance of power, were he to side with one or the other.