I don't know if I'm just being cynical but I find it hard to believe the Emperor could not see the Heresy coming.

I can't help but think that the Emperor orchestrated the events that lead to the Heresy, to bring about his ascension to godhood, without proclaiming himself a god. If he had just told the people he had found/conquered to worship him or else they would have turned on him. He needed humanity to turn to him in their darkest hour.

Here is what I think happened.

  1. The Emperor unites the scattered enclaves of humanity under his rule.

  2. All these groups of humans have different beliefs so he "encourages" them to become atheist.

  3. Then he disappears.

  4. Then the Heresy starts creating a horrifying new threat for humanity.

  5. People start calling out to the benevolent but absent father figure that is the Emperor.

  6. With his final "sacrifice" and the psychic energy of so much of humanity focused on him his ascension is complete.

Now I admit I only read the first 3 Horus Heresy novels and I am no expert but is there any evidence that the Emperor set up the dominoes that lead to the Heresy or was he, the oldest and wisest "human being", just blind to the shortcomings of his sons?

  • An interesting theory. Not one that I prescribe to personally. I would suggest persevering with the series. Some are dross but there are some real gems that really explain the history that we only had hinted and described in brief before now (I say now, the HH series is what 10 years old now?) Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 11:11
  • This is a really interesting idea! I've read the entire Heresy and I don't think I agree with you. The Heresy effectively created Chaos Space Marines who are the greatest threat to all mankind in the galaxy (after the Tyranids, but they hate everyone). They've tortured and killed trillions of humans throughout the galaxy and their sole goal is the kill the Emperor himself. Would the Emperor create the most powerful / destructive force in the galaxy, and also the biggest threat to his own life, in order to complete his ascension to godhood? I don't think so.
    – Daft
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 9:29
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    I would suggest running, suggesting this kind of thing about the emperor is heresy. ;)
    – Theik
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 13:23
  • 2
    Heresy against the Emperor will be dealt with swiftly
    – Rex
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 20:50
  • 2
    Everyone knows the Emperor isn't even that big - he's just two regular guys in a suit.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 11:52

5 Answers 5


[Warning, SPOILERS for the Horus Heresy novels below]

It's an interesting theory, there are after all strong hints that Emperor has a heads up that he will die, but it's unlikely:

  • The Emperor likely stole the bio-tech/warp magic used to create the Primarchs from the Warp.
  • He went to great lengths to safeguard his sons from the warp but lost them anyway.
  • The Imperial truth, reason and the doctrinal atheism that accompanies it is likely the Emperor's defence against warp incursion (if you don't believe in the warp, you're less likely to feed it compared to being horrified of it).
  • The Emperor is likely ruthless in regards to warp taint as strong hints about the purging/absorption of the unknown Primarchs at Russ's hands imply. Many Primarchs fear the knowledge of flaws in their geneseed being shared outside of the chapter
  • The Emperor didn't abandon the Great Crusade, he actually left to begin work on his greatest feat: creation of the Golden Throne in an attempt to connect to the Eldar webway and gain a significant advantage over the Chaos gods.
  • Unfortunately for the Emperor, his time in seclusion was the perfect opportunity for all of Chaos' long-term planning to payoff, sparking the rebellion just in time to eventually bring the development of the Golden Throne to a halt at the climax of the Heresy.

Nothing in the Emperor's planning or actions indicates that he wanted to provoke the Heresy. Rather, if anything it seems he was simply blind to his sons flaws and a frankly a poor father to them. His isolation after Ullanor was intended to cement humanity's domination over not just the galaxy but also the warp. Instead, Horus was unaware of the Emperor's final goal, became vulnerable under the pressure of being Warmaster and eventually succumbed to Chaos.

The Emperor's undoing is really that he trucked with Chaos but kept his sons ignorant of this to a fault. If he could have given Horus and company a better explanation about why he needed to take leave of the Great Crusade, the Heresy would never have happened. However, whether it was the stoicism of shouldering the burden of Chaos himself, or simply ego or poor communication, the Emperor never shared enough of the real Imperial truth with his sons and thereby damned the Imperium to Chaos through the Heresy.

  • 9
    He was also quite blind to the fact that Horus could do any wrong. Of all the Primarchs, he spent the most time with Horus, and we see at the end that he even struggles to fight him, believing he can save him until he sees how far his favoured son has fallen. When Magnus tries to warn him (and the subsequent fallout that caused) he believes Magnus is the one that has been tainted.
    – TommyBs
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 7:35
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    I wish I could give an additional +1 for "Rather, if anything it seems he was simply blind to his sons flaws and a frankly a poor father to them.". I still wonder why the Emperor didn't explain his plan to his sons. Particularly to Magnus whose mind was brilliant enough to understand it.
    – Taladris
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 7:51
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    Also, if he wanted to be worshiped, he sure went about it a long-about way. The cults were already pushing for him to be a God, and he fought them every step of the way.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 2:20
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    Maybe he was worried that, by being worshipped his presence in the warp would actually grow at an alarmingly fast rate and alert the Chaos Gods to his plan to destroy them too quickly. Rather by eliminating faith, he could weaken the Chaos Gods to a point where he would have the power to directly challenge them (perhaps after getting more people to believe in him). And by using the webway he would have been able to 'blind' the Chaos Gods a bit more easily to this plan
    – TommyBs
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:33
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    @warpstone are you sure that the geller fields mean that it was INSIDE the warp? IT could have been that the fields were there just to be a safeguard AGAINST a warp intrusion into the real world (the fall of the eldar should have happenednot too long before the primarchs creation and thus the fabric of space was quite....tender). Also one point in general the emperor was warned by Ulthwe and...disregarded it (stated in a few old novels and tabletop books)
    – Thomas
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 0:28

In Malcador: First Lord of the Imperium Malcador talks to his dying personal astropath.

In the course of there conversation he explains that the heresy was always planned and intended by himself and the emperor.

Just as the thunder warriors where wiped out so the plan was for the primarchs to eventually war with each other and wipe each other out.

To this end the emperor fostered favorites and put different legions and primarchs in situations to foster hostility. The idea was that in the right moment they would be prompted to turn on each other so wipin them all out and leaving humanity.

The mistake Malcador and the emperor made apparently was in underestimating the ability of chaos who where able to bring the heresy about far earlier then intended so leading to the calamity it became.

However at the end of the book after she does Malcador states that he lied, exactly what about is unsure there are other things in the story he might have been making up to make her feel better as he died so as usual with anything Malcador says, this can be taken with a pinch of salt (I.e retconned when games workshop realise they don’t want this to be true any more)

  • This IMHO is the correct answer to this question. It's an official BL text which states that the HH was always The Emperor's plan, it just happened too soon.
    – Liath
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 10:16

I think it's important to remember We have only seen the line about the emperor "stealing power" or "tricking / double crossing" chaos from the mouths of demons and traitors at this point, hardly reliable or unbiased viewpoints.

Maybe the emperor did use warp energy In the creation of the primarchs, but the big four don't own the warp. They just live in it. warp energy is created by the emotions of sentient beings, not chaos gods.

Maybe it's a lie designed to turn horus with the revelation of the emperors percieved hypocrisy.

Chaos lies, and could've shown horus and angel talk whatever they wanted to further their own goals.

I just cant see a) the emperor doing a deal with the devil Or B) chaos trusting the 'anathema', it just doesn't sit with what we know about the motivations of either party, namely the destruction of the other.


In the book Master of Mankind the Emperor makes it clear he had no idea the Horus Heresy was going to take place.

Ra asks the Emperor specifically why he didn't see the events happening.

The Emperor explains he made his children aware of the risks of Chaos, he prepared them and hoped they would be careful and not be corrupted by the forces of the warp. He then uses an analogy of climbing a cliff face and crossing an ocean to show that while he can focus on a specific goal and how he will get there he can't predict every action that will take place or what will happen when he reaches that goal. His only aim had been to remove Humanity's reliance on the warp via the Great Work (the webway accessed from under the palace). But this was undone by Magnus in efforts, corrupted by the chaos gods, to reach the emperor.

  • Please see answer below for a different explanation in a different book,
    – Richard C
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 17:20

Ok- as for the initial question: yes. Reading the outcast dead makes it clear. If humanity transcends all other races, the crusade reaches conclusion and the race is won, humanity will grow weak and be easy prey for the coming shadow in the warp. (Read nids) If chaos wins humanity is doomed. The only way humanity survives is if the result is a draw- an eternal conflict that weeds out the weak and prepares a whole species for a prolonged future of constant war.

Why do you think half the primarchs turned? Even malcador admits it in the sigilite audio book. Read a thousand sons and tell me where Magnus is given any sort of choice. You even feel sorry for Lorgar when you consider how the emperor drives him to chaos worship in first heretic.

I love this series but the more I read the more I am adamant that the heresy was engineered by the emperor throughout as mankind a best chance for long term survival.

  • The Nids where not the oncoming shadow, they are not heading for the galaxy until the Pharos Beacon is destroyed, that sends a pulse that attracts them.
    – Richard C
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 14:46

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