|Royal Noble Consort rank 1|
|Tenure||1699 – 9 April 1718|
|Born||December 17, 1670|
|Died||April 9, 1718 (aged 47)|
Ihyeon Palace, Korea
|Spouse||King Sukjong of Joseon|
|Issue||King Yeongjo of Joseon|
|Revised Romanization||Sukbin Choessi|
The future Royal Noble Consort Suk was born in 1670 on the sixth day of the eleventh lunar month in the eleventh year of the reign of Hyeonjong of Joseon. She was the younger daughter of Choi Hyo-won and Lady Hong of Namyang (1639–1673). (Korean: 최효원; Hanja: 崔孝元; 1638–1672) She had one older brother, Choi Dong-hu (Korean: 최후; Hanja: 崔垕), who married Lady An of Sunheung, and one older sister who married Seo Jeon (Korean: 서전; Hanja: 徐專).
She entered the palace at the age of 7. She belonged to the "cheonmin" class which was the lowest class during the Joseon Dynasty. How she and the King had their first encounter is unknown. The most accepted version is that she was a "musuri", i.e. a water maid, in the palace, i.e. a palace slave, during the time when Queen Inhyeon was deposed and exiled, and the concubine, Jang Hui-Bin, had acquired the status of queen. One night, Choi Suk Bin was praying for Queen Inhyeon's well being when King Sukjong of Joseon, who was returning to the palace from a trip, overheard her and was moved by her words. The book 수문록 authored by Yi Mun Jeong (1656–1726) describes the events that led to the execution of Jang Hui-Bin. The author who lived during Sukjong's time, recorded the encounter as follows:
- "One night, the King [Sukjong] couldn't sleep, and suffering from insomnia decided to go out. When returning to the palace and passing by the servants' chambers, he suddenly heard sobbing coming from a small room. Out of curiosity, he took a peep into the room, then to his surprise in this neat and tidy room, he saw there was a setup of an offering for a banquet. He then saw a young palace Musuri dressed in her official uniform, weeping bitterly in front of the table set for a memorial ritual. The memorial tablet was set for the former Queen Inhyeon. The King was surprised, since Queen Inhyeon had been deposed. The Musuri had placed the memorial tablet because the deposed Queen Inhyeon had sacrificed herself for the King's sake. But fearing Queen Jang Hui Bin's influence, no one dared to commemorate the deposed Queen Inhyeon, as no one wanted to be accused and executed. The King was surprised that even under these perilous circumstances someone dared to risk death to honor and pray for Queen Inhyeon's well being, and he spoke to her. The Musuri (later to become Choi Suk Bin) heard his voice, and turning around, was stunned to see the King. Recognizing him, she knelt before him and he asked her for an explanation. The Musuri answered with a trembling voice, "Chon Na, I used to serve under Queen Inhyeon when she was Queen. Today is her birthday, I cannot forget the kindness that Queen Inhyeon rendered to me when I served under her, thus privately I set a memorial for her. Please punish me with death." Hearing such an extreme plea, the King was taken aback and was astonished. Others in her situation would have played safe and not put themselves at risk, but this Musuri risked death to honor her former queen. Commendable and virtuous indeed was she and the King, finding himself witnessing this, was moved. He then brought the young Musuri to his bed chambers. His feelings turned from sympathy into fondness and then into love, and he spent many nights with her. Over time, this Musuri came to be known as Choi Suk Bin".
Favored by the King, in the fourth lunar month of the nineteenth year of King Sukjong's reign (1693), she became Sukjong's concubine with the rank of Suk-won, after giving birth to a prince who died young. In 1694, during the twentieth year of Sukjong's reign, she was elevated to the rank of Suk-ui (Royal Noble Consort, rank 2) after giving birth to a son, Prince Yeoning. In 1695, she was again elevated to the rank of Gwi-in. In 1698, she gave birth to another prince who died in childbirth. In 1699, she was again promoted to the rank of Bin (rank 1 of Royal Noble Consorts), with the adjective Suk, meaning (淑) "pure."
Lady Choi openly supported Queen Inhyeon and was against Jang Hui-bin, who history had described as an evil and cruel woman. By 1693, the King was growing disillusioned with Jang Hui-bin and the Southerner faction. In 1694, King Sukjong brought back Queen Inhyeon and demoted Jang to Hui-bin. In 1701, Queen Inhyeon died of unknown causes; some historiographers believe she was poisoned, but this is unconfirmed. According to one version, Sukjong found Jang Hui-bin in her room with a Korean shaman, making merry over having caused the Queen's death through black magic. Another interpretation based on a vague passage of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty states that it was Choe Suk-bin who told the King that sorcery had been used to try to bring harm to the Queen. Under the title, Queen's Will, it is written:
- "Oegan (外间) Quote--"Choi Suk-bin with her usual grace gives tribute to the Queen (Inhyeon) (追慕), and weeping (痛哭) for the one that could not win the heart of the King, she informed the King of the secret."
This could mean that Choe was merely delivering the queen's last words. Yet, rumor in the palace was that Jang Hui-Bin had been using a Shaman to curse Queen Inhyeon. According to Min Chin-won, Queen Inhyeon came to know about these rumors, and in the Annals of Joseon recorded in 1701, Min Chin-won and Min Chin-hu informed King Sukjong of Jang Hui-Bin's sorcery claiming that in doing so they were in compliance with Queen Inhyeon's last request to them before dying.
However, regardless of how the King came to know about this, he decided to look into the matter and discovered the truth behind the rumors that Jang Hui-bin had built a shamanist altar within her quarters, where effigies with the name of Inhyeon were found. Later, her ladies-in-waiting declared that she had ordered them to shoot arrows at a portrait of Queen Inhyeon three times at day, and had buried dead animals under the Queen's garden palace. Despite the many pleas of the Southerner Party to pardon her, King Sukjong felt her conduct was so wicked, and in 1701 ordered that she and all the others involved should die by poison. After sentencing her, King Sukjong passed a law forbidding a concubine with the rank of "bin" to become Queen.
A misunderstanding exists that Choi Suk-bin was the next on line to become Queen, but this had no basis. The next to become Queen was Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Kim clan (영빈 김씨). In addition other concubine, Royal Noble Consort Myeong of the Miryang Park clan (명빈 박씨), daughter of the Yangban class, gave birth to a prince in 1699 and was probably more suited for the title of Queen after Royal Noble Consort Yeong of Kim Clan. Choi Suk-bin's lower class status as a Musuri was an impediment to her becoming a Queen as the Confucian society was ruled by a class system. We can clearly see this in the life of King Yeongjo (son of Choi Suk-bin) who was threatened in the beginning of his rule partially because of his mother's class. Later when his rulership was firmly established, he considered it a personal insult if his mother's background as a slave was mentioned.
Controversy of rank
Her only surviving son was Prince Yeoning (Yi Geum, later King Yeongjo of Joseon), who was known to be a child prodigy and became one of the greatest kings in Joseon. King Sukjong was very proud of his son with Lady Choi and his treatment of him tended towards the lavish. But because Yeongjo had been born from a low-born concubine, the officials who were born in noble houses and had noble wives maintained a condescending view of the Prince and his mother, and were quick to lecture Sukjong on frugality and modesty; however, the King ignored them. In 1704, the King celebrated the wedding of Prince Yeoning with a grand and lavish party, but again, the ministries complained about the excessive favoritism the King showed to the Prince. Later the same year, the King gave his winter house, Ihyeon Palace (where Sukjong had spent the days of his youth), as a gift to Choi Suk-bin.
Although Yeongjo in his adulthood was very sensible about the origins of his mother, one cannot deny the deep love he had for his birth mother, Choe Suk-bin. His reverence for his mother had no limit. He wrote her many poems and said in one of them:
- "My father begot me, my mother fed me, led me, bred me, brought me up, reared me, kept her eye on me, tended me, at every turn aided me. Their goods deeds I would requite".
Yeongjo fought at court to have his mother Choi Suk-bin recognized as a public mother, but she was like other concubines—mothers of Kings but regarded as a "private mother of the King". But Yeongjo wanted to change that and have her as his "public mother"; however, the officials were opposed to making her a public parent as this meant the ministers would have to honor her and gave the King the right to visit her tomb often as a part of his royal ceremonies.
During the time he was fighting this, there are two interesting accounts of his feelings about this situation. In 1739, the day before the scheduled visit to Choi Suk-bin's tomb, dissatisfied with the protocols that the Board of Rites had drawn up, he censured two officials who were directly responsible for them. The Sillok explains the measure:
- "The King respectfully served his private parent [Choi Suk-bin], but he suspected that the officials were unwilling to comply with his desire. Thus, on each occasion sudden clashes erupted, inevitably followed by a distressing royal declamation."
On another occasion, the King was leaving her tomb for the Palace. About to mount the palanquin, he instead summoned the Minister of Military Affairs, Kim Songung. Breaking into sobs, he said:
- "Since 1737, this was the first time I came to pay respect to my mother. For those years, my heart has been filled with sadness. When children fall down, they automatically call out for their mother. This is human nature. At the time of divination, if there is no person offering earth, how can there be a divination? I have sent down orders [to make his birth mother a public or legal mother], but the bureaus in charge have ignored them. True, the ruler is not allowed to have private concerns, but it is wrong to lose trust [in his officials]. The elite scholars of today are just too cold-hearted. Those elite scholar must also have parents. They could not have fallen from Heaven or sprung from earth."
In the end, he got what he wanted and Choe Suk-bin was made Yeongjo's public mother.
In 1704, the Annals of Joseon stated that for Yeoning Geum's marriage, the King ordered a very expensive wedding. The nobles complained about the expensive cost of the wedding (since he was not even the Crown Prince, but the son of a Concubine).
In 1704, the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty state that Sukjong bestowed Choi Suk-bin Inhyeon Palace, which she later conferred to his son to consummate his marriage in 1711. It is said it was a large and spacious building located in Seoul.
In 1716, Choi Suk-bin was taken out of the palace while ill. Later that same year, Sukjong received a message from Yeoning Geum informing him that his mother's health had worsened and asking for more medical help.
In 1717, Sukjong retired from politics and allowed his son, the Crown Prince, to take care over most of the affairs of the government.
In her memorial tablet (which is in Soryeongwon, her royal tomb), under the description of her character it is written:
- "Her disposition and her status was absolutely indivisible. She did not scruple on people. She was respectful and always waited on Queen Inhyeon and later on Queen Inwon. Her wisdom and intelligence shined on her interaction with others. She kept to her duty and protocol. She never entered in palace disputes. She spent her days in peace and harmony." She is buried in Soryeongwon (昭寧園) in Paju, designated as historical site no. 358 (address: 267 Yeongjang-ri, Gwangtan-myeon, Paju, Gyeonggi Province).
Sukjong died in 1720, supposedly after telling Yi Yi-myoung to name Prince Yeoning as Gyeongjong's heir.
When her son became king, Yeongjo set up a Jesil to grieve over her death near her grave as a display of his deep filial piety. in addition to building tablet houses on the four spots around her grave, he also erected gravestones, the contents of which were written by him in her memory. Her memorial tablet was enshrined in the Sukbinmyo, later called Yuksangmyo ("shrine"), and Chilgung (historical site no. 149), the place which houses the ancestral tablets of seven royal concubines, all of whom were birth mothers of Kings that never achieved the status of a Queen.
Choi was given the posthumous title "Lady Hwagyeong, Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Choe clan" (Korean: 화경숙빈최씨; Hanja: 和瓊淑嬪崔氏). She was raised to the posthumous titles of Hwa-gyong ("harmonious reverence") in 1753, and was again elevated to Hwi-deok ("magnificent virtue") and An-sun ("tranquil purity").
- Paternal Grandfather
- Paternal Grandmother
- Maternal Grandfather
- Maternal Grandmother
- Choi Dongju
Royal Noble Consort Suk bore King Sukjong three sons:
- Prince Yeongsu (1693), died young.
- Prince Yeoning (1694–1776), later became King Yeongjo.
- unnamed son (1698), died young.
In popular culture
- Portrayed by Lee Mi-yeong in the 1981 MBC TV series Women of History: Jang Hui-bin.
- Portrayed by Kyeon Mi-ri in the 1988 MBC TV series 500 Years of Joseon: Queen Inhyeon.
- Portrayed by Nam Joo-hee in the 1995 SBS TV series Jang Hui-bin.
- Portrayed by Kim Young-ae in the 1998 MBC TV series The Great King's Road
- Portrayed by Park Ye-jin in the 2002 KBS2 TV series Royal Story: Jang Hui-bin.
- Portrayed by Han Hyo-joo and Kim Yoo-jung in the 2010 MBC TV series Dong Yi.
- Portrayed by Han Seung-yeon in the 2013 SBS TV series Jang Ok-jung, Living by Love.
- Portrayed by Yoon Jin-seo in the 2016 SBS TV series Jackpot.
- After his death, Yeongjo upgraded him in status and bestowed on him the title of prime minister, an attempt of Yeongjo to upgrade his maternal family's status.
- "The Confucian Kingship in Korea, Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity " by JaHyun Kim Habous page.57
- "수문록 1 표지".
- Buyers, Christopher. "The Yi Dynasty GENEALOGY". The Royal Ark. Retrieved 2013-08-20.
- Lee, Bae-yong (2008). Women in Korean History. Ewha Womans University Press. p. 81; 109–111.
- The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity By JaHyun Kim Haboush pag. 265
- Women in Korean History 한국 역사 속의 여성들 pag.111
- The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity By JaHyun Kim Haboush, pages 57-58.
- "The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity", page 57
- "Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity", page 280
- "The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity" By JaHyun Kim Haboush, page 55.
- The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity page, 53.
- Annals of Joseon, Sukjong 26 February 21.
- Annals of Joseon Sukjong,30 http://sillok.history.go.kr/inspection/inspection.jsp?mTree=0&id=ksa
- Annal of Joseon, Sukjong 42
- The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, page 22.
- It was customary for Concubines to die out of the Changdeokgung Palace. Some queens voluntarily decided to leave Changdeokgung Palace and died in their own private Palace.
- The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity page 58
- Lee, Ga-on (7 May 2010). "Han Hyo-joo says she "hold fast" to her role in Dong Yi". 10Asia. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
- Sunwoo, Carla (4 February 2013). "KARA's Han to work with Kim Tae-hee". Korea JoongAng Daily. Archived from the original on 13 February 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
- Mumyung, Lee (4 February 2016). "Yoon Jin-seo cast as Choi Suk-bin in Daebak". The Chosun Ilbo. Retrieved 2016-03-29.