Each of the nine Holds of Skyrim are governed by a Jarl. The Jarls are largely independent, but they swear fealty to Skyrim's High King. The Jarl is the official in charge of the local Hold, controlling the local militia and regulating trade.
The position of Jarl is hereditary, passing from parent to their first-born child, daughters are apparently equal in the line of succession, as Idgrod the Younger of Morthal clearly states that she is to inherit the office of Jarl from her mother, Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone. Dowagers may inherit the title from their deceased husbands.
After the death of Skyrim's High King or Queen, the Jarls convene a Moot to elect the next High King. In the Fourth Era, upon the death of High King Torygg, the Jarls could not agree on the next High King. Torygg's widow, Elisif the Fair, Jarl of Solitude, had the most legitimate claim to the throne, although according to Ancient Nord tradition, when the High King is bested in battle, his defeater becomes High King. This gave Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm, claim to the throne as well, erupting in Civil War. Sympathizers of Ulfric fought members of the Imperial Legion, who sought to give the crown to Elisif, an avid supporter of the Cyrodilic Empire. If the Stormcloaks won the war, Ulfric became High King. If the Legion won the war, it is assumed Elisif became Queen instead.
Each Jarl elects a cabinet of officials to assist them with governing their Hold:
- Stewards control public relations and are often approached about business, civil disputes, and the purchasing of property, instead of approaching the Jarl directly.
- Court Wizards serve as the Jarl's specialist on arcane knowledge, though it is very rare for Court Wizards to be involved in the court, instead focusing on their experiments. It is also rare for Court Wizards to change with a regime, as demonstrated throughout the Civil War questline.
- Housecarls or personal bodyguard protect the Jarl at all times, although the hold guards also possess this responsibility.
- Thanes appointed by the Jarl are also considered members of the Court. They are often nobles, who serve the Jarl as advisors and councillors, however Thanes are not a necessary part of a Hold's government.
Residence and apparel
Jarls reside in lavish palaces in the main cities of the holds in which they govern. There, they sit upon the throne, surrounded by their subjects. Jarls also wear specific coronets, similar to circlets, with the exception of Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak and Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone. Jarls from all holds wear Noble Clothes, a set of which can be found on a shelf in the East Empire Company Warehouse.
Form of address
As a title, Jarls are addressed to as Jarl (Name) i.e. "What do you say on this matter, Jarl Ulfric?" The full name is not required when addressing to a Jarl. The "J" is pronounced as a "Y", as in the word "Yacht".
Since the Jarl is the head of the court, he or she can grant the title of Thane to the Dragonborn, but first they need to prove themselves before being granted the honor and title of Thane. Thanes are also members of the Jarl's Court. The number of Thanes a Hold has varies largely depending on its size.
These are the original Jarls that start at the beginning of the Game:
- Balgruuf the Greater - Jarl of Whiterun. (Neutral, later Imperial)
- Elisif the Fair - Jarl of Solitude. (Imperial, later Stormcloak)
- Idgrod Ravencrone - Jarl of Morthal. (Imperial)
- Igmund - Jarl of Markarth. (Imperial)
- Korir - Jarl of Winterhold. (Stormcloak)
- Laila Law-Giver - Jarl of Riften. (Stormcloak)
- Siddgeir - Jarl of Falkreath. (Imperial)
- Skald the Elder - Jarl of Dawnstar. (Stormcloak)
- Ulfric Stormcloak - Jarl of Windhelm. (Stormcloak)
These are the Jarls that will take over as Jarl when a City is taken over by either the Imperials or Stormcloaks:
- Brina Merilis - Jarl of Dawnstar (Imperial)
- Brunwulf Free-Winter - Jarl of Windhelm (Imperial)
- Dengeir Of Stuhn - Jarl of Falkreath (Stormcloak)
- Kraldar - Jarl of Winterhold (Imperial)
- Maven Black-Briar - Jarl of Riften (Imperial)
- Sorli the Builder - Jarl of Morthal (Stormcloak)
- Thongvor Silver-Blood - Jarl of Markarth (Stormcloak)
- Vignar Gray-Mane - Jarl of Whiterun (Stormcloak)
- "The Bear", Jarl of Windhelm. Ulfric Stormcloak's father.
- Dengeir Of Stuhn, Jarl of Falkreath, now Thane.
- Elgryr the Unminded, Jarl of Windhelm sometime during the Second Era.
- Hanse, Jarl of Winterhold.
- Hosgunn Crossed-Daggers, Jarl of Riften. 
- Hrolfdir, Jarl of Markarth.
- Olaf One-Eye, Jarl of Whiterun.
- Pelagius Septim III or Pelagius the Mad, Jarl of Solitude before he ascended to the rank of Emperor.
- Torygg, Jarl of Solitude.
- Valdimar, Jarl of Winterhold during The Great Collapse.
- Jarls are a historical title in Norse culture comparable to the Earls of Anglo-Saxton peerage.
- Alternative names for the Jarl rank in the nobility structure are used in other parts of Tamriel, such as Count in the province of Cyrodiil.