On a blog, this topic came up. Many people blame the Nords for repression of the Reachmen, but this isn't wholly true; the Empire has reined in Reachmen culture too, and repressed them, forcing them onto cheap Labour.
But that is not the point. The point is are the Reachmen/Forsworn to blame for their negative reputation, or are they simply fighting for freedom by deplorable means?
First, let's make a distinction:
First of all, Reachmen and Forsworn are not interchangeable. Not any more, anyway. They were in the First Era though, when the Reach was assimilated into Skyrim, and later, the Empire. Reachmen seem somewhat repressed in Fourth-Era Markath. Many are forced to work cheap in the mines, and many others just assimilate with Forsworn. Many others, however, have assimiliated into Markath's society. Some own land outside the city, in the countryside. However, many of these fall pray to Forsworn raids and Silverblood payoffs. The myth that these men and women were in the Reach before the Nords is logically impossible; they are the children or Bretons and Nords, thus they could not have been there before Nords.
Something much meaner entirely. We've all heard the tales of Forsworn carving their armour and weapons from Nord bones, and this is true. These men and women are terrorists, make no mistake. But they are terrorists with an origin as people, not terrorists. Citizens of the Reach, while it seems to have changed hands between control of different factions in earlier eras. In a way, they were freedom fighters, but it seems most of the Reachmen have developed in Nordic and Imperial society, and Forsworn are now seen as people who worship Hagravens and mutilate innocents. At least one of these is true and the other we can take for granted. But how is the Forsworn problem solved? The practice of assimilating and in the past subjugating Reachmen created the Forsworn, but now they have been assimilated (though many are cheap labour) this leaves the Forsworn without purpose. This is why they are terrorists and not rebels, in my mind. Though bandying around the word terrorist to describe a historic, fictional faction is stupid at best, so I best call them Troublemakers.
The Markath Incident
This event is not completely clear. As far as I am aware, there is only one source for this event, which is Imperial propoganda. What we do know is that it happened. Jarl Igmund of Markarth had his throne taken by the Forsworn, Madanach in particular, until Ulfric Stormcloak took back the city with a Nordic Army. Some say he killed everyone who assisted the Forsworn. What is certain though is that the Forsworn were imprisoned or kicked out of the city. Some take this as proof Ulfric is a bad person, but they forget that he was effectively dealing with Terrorism and the Empire sanctioned him.
This event seems to have speeded up the downward spiral of the Forsworn to remnants of an exotic rivalry between High Rock and Skyrim.