Taejo of Joseon

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King Taejo of Joseon
King Taejo Yi 02.jpg
Reign August 5, 1392 – October 14, 1398
Coronation August 5, 1392
Predecessor Gongyang of Goryeo
Successor Jeongjong of Joseon
Spouse Queen Sin-ui,
Queen Sindeok
Issue Prince Jinan,
Jeongjong of Joseon,
Taejong of Joseon
House House of Yi
Father Yi Ja-chun
Born (1335-10-27)October 27, 1335
Died June 18, 1408(1408-06-18) (aged 72)
Changdeok Palace
Burial Geonwolleung, Part of the Donggureung Tomb Cluster.
Korean name
Hangul 태조
Hanja 太祖
Revised Romanization Taejo
McCune–Reischauer T'aejo
Pen name
Hangul 송헌
Hanja 松軒
Revised Romanization Songheon
McCune–Reischauer Songhŏn
Birth name
Hangul 이성계 later 이단
Hanja 李成桂 later 李旦
Revised Romanization I Seonggye later I Dan
McCune–Reischauer Yi Sŏngkye later Yi Tan
Courtesy name
Hangul 중결
Hanja 仲潔
Revised Romanization Junggyeol
McCune–Reischauer Chunggŏl

Taejo of Joseon (October 27, 1335 – June 18, 1408; r. 1392–1398), born Yi Seong-gye, whose changed name is Yi Dan, was the founder and the first king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, and the main figure in overthrowing the Goryeo Dynasty. He was posthumously raised to the rank of Emperor in 1899 by Gojong, the Gwangmu Emperor, who had proclaimed the Korean Empire in 1897.

Taejo's father Yi Ja-chun was a minor Mongol official, but his ethnicity was Korean. Taejo joined the Goryeo army and rose through the ranks, seizing the throne in 1392. He abdicated in 1398 during the strife between his sons and died in 1408.

Historical context for rise[edit]

By the late 14th century, the 400 year-old Goryeo Dynasty established by Wang Geon in 918 was tottering, its foundations collapsing from years of war and de facto occupation by the disintegrating Mongol Empire. The legitimacy of Goryeo itself was also becoming an increasingly disputed issue within the court, as the ruling house failed not only to govern the kingdom effectively, but was also tarnished by generations of forced intermarriage with members of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty imperial family and by rivalry amongst the various Goryeo royal family branches (even King U's mother was a known commoner, thus leading to rumors disputing his descent from King Gongmin).

Within the kingdom, influential aristocrats, generals, and even prime ministers struggled for royal favor and vied for domination of the court, resulting in deep divisions among various factions. With the ever-increasing number of raids against Goryeo conducted by Japanese pirates (wakō) and the Red Turbans invasions of Korea, those who came to dominate the royal court were the reformed-minded Sinjin aristocracy and the opposing Gweonmun aristocracy, as well as generals who could actually fight off the foreign threats—namely a talented general named Yi Seong-gye and his rival Choe Yeong. With the rise of the Ming Dynasty under a former monk, Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor), Mongol forces became more vulnerable. By the 1350s Goryeo regained its full independence from the waning Mongol Empire, although Mongol remnants effectively occupied northeastern territories with large garrisons of troops.

Military career[edit]

General Yi Seong-gye had gained power and respect during the late 1370s and early 1380s by pushing Mongol remnants off the peninsula and also by repelling well-organized Japanese pirates in a series of successful engagements. He was also credited with routing the Red Turbans when they made their move into the Korean Peninsula as part of their rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty. Following in the wake of the rise of the Ming Dynasty under the Zhu Yuanzhang, the royal court in Goryeo split into two competing factions: the group led by General Yi (supporting the Ming Dynasty) and the camp led by his rival General Choe (supporting the Yuan Dynasty).

When a Ming messenger came to Goryeo in 1388 (the 14th year of King U) to demand the return of a significant portion of Goryeo’s northern territory, General Choe seized the opportunity and played upon the prevailing anti-Ming atmosphere to argue for the invasion of the Liaodong Peninsula (Goryeo claimed to be the successor of the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo; as such, restoring Manchuria as part of Korean territory was a tenet of its foreign policy throughout its history).

A staunchly opposed Yi was chosen to lead the invasion; however, at Wihwa Island on the Amrok River, he made a momentous decision, commonly called "Turning back the army from Wihwa Island", that would alter the course of Korean history. Knowing of the support he enjoyed both from high-ranking government officials, the general populace, and the great deterrent of Ming Empire under the Hongwu Emperor, he decided to revolt and swept back to the capital, Gaesong, to secure control of the government.


General Yi swept his army from the Yalu River straight into the capital, defeated forces loyal to the king (led by General Choe, whom he proceeded to eliminate) and forcibly dethroned King U in a de facto coup d'état but did not ascend to the throne right away. Instead, he placed on the throne King U's son, King Chang, and following a failed restoration of the former monarch, had both of them put to death. General Yi, now the undisputed power behind the throne, soon forcibly had a Goryeo royal named Yo, now King Gongyang (공양왕; 恭讓王), crowned as king. After indirectly enforcing his grasp on the royal court through the puppet king, Yi then proceeded to ally himself with Sinjin aristocrats such as Jeong Do-jeon and Jo Jun. In 1392 (the 4th year of King Gongyang), Yi dethroned King Gongyang, exiled him to Wonju (where he and his family were secretly murdered), and ascended the throne. The Goryeo Dynasty had come to an end after 475 years of rule.

One of the most widely repeated episodes that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Goryeo was in 1392, when Taejo's fifth son, Yi Bang-won (later King Taejong), threw a party for the renowned scholar, poet and statesman Jeong Mong-ju, who refused to be won over by Yi despite their numerous correspondences in the form of archaic poems, and continued to be a faithful supporter the old dynasty, and a leading figure in the opposition to Yi's claim to the throne. Jeong was revered throughout Goryeo, even by Yi Bang-won himself, but he was seen to be an obstacle and as such, in the eyes of supporter of the new dynasty, had to be removed. After the party, on his way home, Jeong was murdered by five men on the Seonjuk Bridge (선죽교; 善竹橋) in Gaeseong. This bridge has now become a national monument of North Korea, and a brown spot on one of the stones is said to be a bloodstain of his which turns red when it rains.

Views on Taejo Yi Seong-gye[edit]

Despite the fact that he overthrew the kingdom of Goryeo, and purged officials who remained loyal to the old regime, many regard him as a revolutionary and a decisive ruler who deposed the inept, obsolete and crippled governing system to save the nation from many foreign forces and conflicts.[citation needed]

Safeguarding domestic security led the Koreans to rebuild and further discover their culture. In the midst of the rival Yuan and Ming Dynasties, the Joseon Dynasty encouraged the development of national identity which once was threatened by the Mongols. However, some scholars view him as a mere traitor to the old regime, paralleling him to a bourgeois apostate, and General Choe Yeong as a military elite, who conservatively served the old regime of Goryeo to death.[citation needed]

His diplomatic policy successes in securing Korea in the early modern period is notable.[1]


Yi Seong-gye declared a new dynasty in 1392–1393 under the name of Joseon, thereby reviving an older dynasty also known as Joseon that was founded nearly four thousand years previously, and renamed the country the "Kingdom of Great Joseon".[citation needed] An early achievement of the new monarch was improved relations with China; and indeed, Joseon had its origin in General Yi's refusal to attack China in response to raids from Chinese bandits.[2] Shortly after his accession, the new monarch sent envoys to inform the Ming court at Nanjing that a dynastic change had taken place.[3]

Envoys from the Ryūkyū Kingdom were received in 1392, 1394 and 1397. Siam sent an envoy in 1393.[3] In this process of establishing the new dynasty's foreign relations, envoys were dispatched to Japan, seeking the re-establishment of amicable relations. The mission was successful; and Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was reported to have been favorably impressed by this initial embassy.[4]

In 1394, the capital was established at Hanseong (Seoul).[5] When the new dynasty was promulgated and officially brought into existence, Taejo brought up the issue of which son would be his successor. Although Taejo's fifth son by Queen Sineui, Yi Bang-won, had contributed most to assisting his father's rise to power, he harbored a profound hatred against two of his father's key allies in the court, the prime minister Jeong Do-jeon and Nam Eun.

Both sides were fully aware of the mutual animosity that existed between each other and constantly felt threatened. When it became clear that Yi Bang-won was the most worthy successor to the throne, Jeong Do-jeon used his influence on the king to convince him that the wisest choice would be in the son that Taejo loved most, not the son that Taejo felt was best for the kingdom.

In 1392, the eighth son of King Taejo (the second son of Queen Sindeok), Grand Prince Uian (Yi Bang-seok) was appointed Prince Royal, or successor to the throne. After the sudden death of the queen, and while King Taejo was still in mourning for his second wife, Jeong Do-jeon conspired to pre-emptively kill Yi Bang-won and his brothers to secure his position in court.

In 1398, upon hearing of this plan, Yi Bang-won immediately revolted and raided the palace, killing Jeong Do-jeon, his followers, and the two sons of the late Queen Sindeok. This incident became known as the First Strife of Princes. Aghast at the fact that his sons were willing to kill each other for the crown, and psychologically exhausted from the death of his second wife, King Taejo immediately crowned his second son Yi Bang-gwa, later King Jeongjong, as the new ruler. Thereafter, King Taejo retired to the Hamhung Royal Villa.

In 1400, King Jeongjong invested his brother Yi Bang-won as heir presumptive and voluntarily abdicated. That same year, Yi Bang-won assumed the throne of Joseon at long last as King Taejong.

Ten years after his abdication, King Taejo died on May 24, 1408 in Changdeok Palace. He was buried at the tomb of Geonwonneung (건원릉, 健元陵) in the city of Guri.[6]




Monarchs of Korea
Joseon dynasty
  1. Taejo 1392–1398
  2. Jeongjong 1398–1400
  3. Taejong 1400–1418
  4. Sejong the Great 1418–1450
  5. Munjong 1450–1452
  6. Danjong 1452–1455
  7. Sejo 1455–1468
  8. Yejong 1468–1469
  9. Seongjong 1469–1494
  10. Yeonsangun 1494–1506
  11. Jungjong 1506–1544
  12. Injong 1544–1545
  13. Myeongjong 1545–1567
  14. Seonjo 1567–1608
  15. Gwanghaegun 1608–1623
  16. Injo 1623–1649
  17. Hyojong 1649–1659
  18. Hyeonjong 1659–1674
  19. Sukjong 1674–1720
  20. Gyeongjong 1720–1724
  21. Yeongjo 1724–1776
  22. Jeongjo 1776–1800
  23. Sunjo 1800–1834
  24. Heonjong 1834–1849
  25. Cheoljong 1849–1863
  26. Gojong 1863–1907
  27. Sunjong 1907–1910
  • Father: Yi Ja-chun (이자춘)[7]
  • Mother: Queen Uihye of the Yeongheung Choe clan (의혜왕후 최씨, dates unknown)[8][9]
  • Consorts and their Respective Issue:
  1. Queen Shinui of the Anbyeon Han clan (신의왕후 한씨, September 1337-September 12, 1391)[10][11]
    1. Yi Bang-woo, the Grand Prince Jinan (이방우 진안대군, 1354-December 13, 1393), 1st son[12]
    2. Yi Bang-gwa, the Grand Prince Yeongan (이방과 영안대군), 2nd son - Jeongjong of Joseon
    3. Yi Bang-ui, the Grand Prince Ik-an (이방의 익안대군, 1360-1404), 3rd son
    4. Yi Bang-gan, the Grand Prince Hoean (이방간 회안대군, 1364-1421), 4th son
    5. Yi Bang-won, the Grand Prince Jeongan (이방원 정안대군), 5th son - Taejong of Joseon
    6. Yi Bang-yeon, the Prince Deok-an (이방연 덕안대군, dates unknown), 6th son
    7. Princess Gyeongshin (경신공주, ?-1426), 1st daughter[13]
    8. Princess Gyeongseon (경선공주, dates unknown), 2nd daughter[14]
  2. Queen Shindeok of the Goksan Kang clan (신덕왕후 강씨, June 14, 1356 – August 13, 1396)[15][16][17]
    1. Yi Bang-beon, the Prince Muan (이방번 무안대군, 1381-August 26, 1398), 1st son
    2. Yi Bang-seok, the Prince Uian (이방석 의안대군, 1382-August 26, 1398), 2nd son
    3. Princess Gyeongsun (경순공주, ?–1407), Only daughter[18]
  3. Consort Seong of the Wonju Won clan[19] (성비 원씨, 1398-December 29, 1449)[20] - No issue.
  4. Lady Jeonggyeong of the Ryu clan (정경궁주 유씨, dates unknown) - No issue.
  5. Kim Chiljeomseon, the Princess Hwaui of the Gimhae Kim clan (김칠점선 화의옹주, ?-1428)
    1. Princess Sookshin (숙신옹주, ?-1453), Only daughter[21]
  6. Joo Chandeok[22] (찬덕 주씨, dates unknown)
    1. Princess Uiryeong (의령옹주, ?-February 1, 1466), Only daughter[23]

His full posthumous name[edit]

  • Emperor Taejo Jiin Gyeun Eungcheon Jotong Gwanghun Yeongmyeong Seongmun Sinmu Jeongeui Gwangdeok Go of Korea
  • 태조지인계운응천조통광훈영명성문신무정의광덕고황제
  • 太祖 至仁啓運應天肇通光勳永命聖文神武正義光德高皇帝


The tomb of his Umbilical cord is in Man-In-san, Geumsan-gun, South Chungcheong Province in the Republic of Korea.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kang, Jae-eun et al. (2006). The Land of Scholars, p. 172; Northeast Asian History Foundation > Korea-China relations> Early Modern Period> Korea-China relations during the Joseon.
  2. ^ Hussain, Tariq. (2006). Diamond Dilemma: Shaping Korea for the 21st Century, p. 45; Hodge, Carl Cavanagh. (2008). Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800-1914: A-K, p. 401.
  3. ^ a b Goodrich, L. Carrington et al. (1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644 (明代名人傳), Vol. II, p. 1601.
  4. ^ Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, p. 320; Northeast Asian History Foundation: Korea-Japan relations> Early Modern Period> Foreign Relations in Early Joseon.
  5. ^ Seoul municipality website: About Seoul> History> General Information> Center of Korean Culture.
  6. ^ Seoul municipality: News> Features> Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty> Ggureung Tomb Complex at Guri-si, Gyeonggi-do.
  7. ^ He is given the title "Hwanjo" (환조)
  8. ^ "Uihye" is a posthumous title.
  9. ^ Daughter of Choi Han-gi (최한기, dates unknown), Duke Jeonghyo (정효공) & Internal Prince Yeongheung (영흥부원군); and Lady Lee (이씨), the Lady Joseonguk, Princess Consort to the Internal Prince (조선국대부인).
  10. ^ Posthumously elevated in 1897 as "Shinui, the Empress Go" (신의고황후)
  11. ^ Daughter of Han Gyeong (한경), the Internal Prince Ancheon (안천부원군); & Lady Shin (신씨), the Lady Samhanguk, Princess Consort to the Internal Prince (삼한국대부인).
  12. ^ His princess consort and wife (Lady Samhanguk (삼한국대부인))'s younger sister is one of his younger brother Jeongjong's concubines (Royal Concubine Seong (성빈)).
  13. ^ Later married Yi Ae (이애; earlier name Yi Baek-gyeong (이백경)), eldest son of Yi Geo-yi (이거이), Duke Mundo (문도공) & Internal Prince Seowon (서원부원군); created Internal Prince Consort Sangdang (상당부원군)
  14. ^ Later married Shim Jong (심종), 6th son of Shim Deok-bu (심덕부, 1328-1401), Duke Jeongan (정안공) & Count Cheongseong (청성백); created Prince Consort Cheongwon (청원군). Her elder brother-in-law Shim On (심온)'s eldest daughter later became Sejong's Queen Consort.
  15. ^ Seoul municipality: About Seoul> History> Historical Sites> Royal Tombs & Shrines> Jeongneung.
  16. ^ Posthumously elevated in 19 December [O.S. 17 November] 1899 as "Shindeok, the Empress Go" (신덕고황후)
  17. ^ Youngest daughter of Kang Yoon-seong (강윤성, dates unknown), the Internal Prince Sangsan (상산부원군); & Lady Kang (강씨), the Lady Jinsan, Princess Consort to the Internal Prince (진산부부인)
  18. ^ Later married Yi Je (이제, 1365-August 26, 1398), son of Yi Il-lip (이인립); created Prince Consort Heung-an (흥안군)
  19. ^ Granted first the title of "Royal Concubine" (빈 嬪 bin) in 1406 (Taejong's 6th year), before being raised to the title of Consort (비 妃 bi).
  20. ^ Eldest daughter of Won Sang (원상, dates unknown), Duke Huijeong (희정공); and Lady Sohn (손씨, ?-1414).
  21. ^ Later married Hong Hae (홍해), Military Officer Dangseong (당성위); son of Hong Eon-soo (홍언수).
  22. ^ Chandeok (찬덕) was an old title that was part of the Inner Court of Ladies (내명부) at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, with a grade of Senior 3rd Rank (정3품). This title wasn't unique to the Joseon Dynasty, since during Gaozong of Tang's rule, he reformed the ranks of the imperial consorts, with 2 zanteh (贊德) ranking just below the Empress. Created during Taejong's rule, it disappeared by the time of Sejong's rule.
  23. ^ Later married Yi Deung (이등), Military Officer Gyecheon (계천위); son of Yi Deok-shi (이덕시).


Preceded by
(Goryeo Dynasty) Gongyang
Rulers of Korea
(Joseon Dynasty)

Succeeded by