In early time, the domain of the Southern court was confined in just Thanh Hoa province. After the expedition of Nguyễn Hoàng to reclaim Lê territory in the South from Mạc garrison force, Northern dynasty only controlled the provinces from Thanh Hoa up North. Both dynasties claimed to be the sole legitimate dynasty of Vietnam. The nobles and their clansmen switched side frequently to the extent that loyal retainers such as Prince Mạc Kính Điển were praised even by their foes as rare virtuous men. As lords without land, these nobles and their armies behaved a little or no better than petty thieves, raiding and looting the farmers to feed themselves. This state of chaos brought along the destruction of the countryside and reduced many formerly prosperous cities such as Đông Kinh to poverty.
The two dynasties fought for nearly sixty years, ended in 1592 when the Southern Dynasty defeated the North and recaptured Đông Đô. However, Mac family members had maintained an autonomous rule in Cao Bằng under the protectorate of Chinese Dynasties until 1677.