Yi Gwal

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Yi Gwal
Hangul 이괄
Hanja 李适
Revised Romanization I Gwal
McCune–Reischauer Yi Kwal

Yi Gwal (1587–1624) was a general during the Joseon Dynasty, Korea. His family belonged to the Gosung Yi clan.

Perhaps he is best known for his rebellion against the government of King Injo in 1624, but prior to that date, he was a very able and brilliant commander.

Background[edit]

In 1622, he joined the Injo revolution, which was a movement in Korea to get rid of the government of King Gwanghaegun, who advocated evenhanded diplomacy between the Ming and the Qing. At that time, the Han Ming Dynasty had recently fallen to the invading Jurchen, who had renamed themselves the Manchu. Historically, Korea was in a long time conflict with the Jurchen tribes, who inhabited the wide plains of Manchuria. They took Liaoning during the late Ming and established the Later Jin dynasty.

Yi Gwal revealed his military genius during the revolution, and was one of the first to capture the capital of Hanyang and exile Gwanghaegun. However, despite his amazing victories in the revolution, he was rewarded only as a second class helper and neglected by the King.

As the relations with Later Jin deteriorated, the Korean government sent Yi Gwal to the border of Pyongan Province to ward off invasions. There, Yi strengthened the walls and fortresses around the border and maintained strict military order. Moreover, recent historians argue that the reason Injo sent Yi Gwal to the border was not due to political crisis. The popular argument states that Injo was very aware of Yi Gwal's talented skills and sent him north to give him the command of a powerful army of Korea.

Out of the fifteen thousand troops stationed in the northern border, Yi Gwal had command of ten thousand, stationed in Yongbyon while the five thousand stayed with General Jang Man in Pyongyang.

Yi Gwal's Rebellion[edit]

Interestingly, Korea's political stance at the time caused the downfall of this able general. Since the establishment of a Confucian dynasty by King Taejo, there had been political disputes between the parties in the government. Some disputes even ended up in bloodshed, like the one which occurred in the time of King Yeonsangun. Also, during the time of King Seonjo just before the Japanese invasions of Korea, the political parties had been divided between East and West. The Eastern Party gradually split up into two parties called the Northern and Southern Parties.

In January 1624, the Western Party, recently unsatisfied with the success of Yi Gwal (who was part of the Northern Party), made a petition to the King stating that Yi-Gwal and some members of the Northern Party were planning a rebellion. As these ministers all had a close relationship with the King, the petition was examined. However, the reports proved false, and the Western Party failed to condemn Yi Gwal. They tried again soon after, which provoked the suspicion of the King.

The government soon sent an examination and arrest party to Yongbyon to arrest Yi Gwal's son Yi Jeon. As he suspected that he himself would be condemned if his son confessed, he decided on a pre-emptive strike. Finally, he killed the arrest party and the rebellion officially began on January 22, 1624. He and his ten thousand troops headed straight for Hanyang, to relieve the capital and capture the King.

The first clash with the government troops happened on the Hamgyong province, where the government troops were being led by his close friends, Jeong Chung-sin and Nam Yi-hong. He tried to avoid these two generals and surpassed their troops. During the march to the capital, Yi Gwal met much opposition, but all were defeated. Injo soon abandoned the capital and Yi Gwal captured it on February 10. Since the establishment of the Joseon Dynasty, it was the first time a rebel army had captured the capital.

Yi Gwal then put Heungangun on the throne, a royal relative of the King. Moreover, he put fliers all over the city so the people would support his troops. However, the rebel occupation of the capital did not last long.

The Hanseong was soon threatened by Jang Man and other generals from the government forces. Yi Gwal sent Han Myeong-ryun to combat the enemy, but the rebels were defeated due to inferior geographical position. By this time, Yi Gwal tried to escape the capital as the rebel army had disbanded and separated. As Yi Gwal and Han Myeong-ryun tried to escape on February 15, they were murdered by their own troops led by Gi Ik-heon, who were seeking forgiveness from the government.

Aftermath[edit]

Therefore, the Rebellion of Yi Gwal had failed, but Joseon society effectively entered a period of chaos, which then provoked and facilitated the First Manchu invasion of Korea in 1627.

See also[edit]