Princess Deokhye

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For the 2016 film, see The Last Princess (film).
Princess Deokhye
Princess dukhye around 1923.JPG
Born (1912-05-25)25 May 1912
Changdeok Palace, Keijo, Japanese Korea
(now Seoul, South Korea)
Died 21 April 1989(1989-04-21) (aged 76)
Sugang Hall, Changdeok Palace, Seoul, South Korea
Burial Hongryureung, Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
Spouse Count Sō Takeyuki
(m. 1930; div. 1953)
Issue Countess Sō Masae
Father Gojong of Korea
Mother Lady Boknyeong (Yang Gui-in)
Princess Deokhye
Hangul 덕혜옹주
Hanja 德惠翁主[1]
Revised Romanization Deokhye Ongju

Princess Deokhye of Korea (25 May 1912 – 21 April 1989) was the last princess of the Korean Empire.

She was born on 25 May 1912 at Changdeok Palace in Seoul. She was the youngest daughter of Emperor Gojong and his concubine, then known as Yang Gui-in. Then, Emperor Gojong bestowed a loyal title, Boknyeong,[2] to Yang when she gave birth to Princess Deokhye.[3] Princess Deokhye was not formally recognized as a princess by Japan until 1917, because she was not a daughter of the queen. In 1917, her name was formally entered into the Imperial Family's registry. Her father, Emperor Gojong, loved her greatly and established the Deoksu Palace(덕수궁) Kindergarten for her in Junmyungdang(준명당[4]), Hamnyeong hall. Girls her age from noble families attended the kindergarten. Princess Deokhye is called Deokhye Ongju in Korea, not Gongju. Gongju refers to the daughters of the queen, and Ongju refers to the daughters of the concubine.

Birth and early life[edit]

She was born on 25 May 1912, a daughter of Yang Gui-in (later Lady Boknyeong) and Emperor Gojong when he was 60 years old. Upon having no given name, she was ignored and was treated like she did not exist. She was then nicknamed "BoknyeongDang". In 1917, Emperor Gojong persuaded Terauchi Masatake, the then-ruling Governor General of Korea to enter her name into the registry of the imperial family, offering her legitimacy and granting her the title of princess. In 1919, Emperor Gojong planned the secret engagement between Princess Deokhye and Kim Jang-han, a nephew of Kim Hwangjin, a court chamberlain. Emperor Gojong had sought to protect his daughter from Japan through this engagement, but the engagement failed due to Japan's intervention. After the failed engagement, Kim Hwangjin was not permitted to enter Deoksu Palace and Emperor Gojong died suddenly on 21 January 1919. In 1921, Princess Deokhye went to Hinodae elementary school in Seoul.

Life in Japan and arranged marriage[edit]

Takeyuki Sō and Deokhye (1931)

In 1925, she was taken to Japan under the pretense of continuing her studies. Like her brothers, she attended the Gakushuin. She was described as silent, isolated and weak. Upon the news of her mother's death in 1929, she was finally given permission to visit Korea temporarily to attend her mother's funeral in 1930. However, she was not allowed to attend her mother's funeral with proper clothes. In the Spring of 1930, upon the onset of mental illness (manifested by sleepwalking), she moved to King Lee's Palace, her brother Crown Prince Eun's house in Tokyo. During this period, she often forgot to eat and drink. Her physician diagnosed her illness as precocious dementia, but by the following year, her condition seemed to have improved. This may be attributed to her upbringing.

In May 1931, after "matchmaking" by Empress Teimei, the consort of Emperor Taishō of Japan, she married Count Sō Takeyuki (武志; 1923-1985), a Japanese aristocrat.[5] The marriage had in fact been decided in 1930; her brother had protested it, and it had been postponed because of her condition, but when she recovered, she was immediately given instructions that the marriage was to take place. She gave birth to a daughter, Masae (正惠), or Jeonghye (정혜)[6] in Korea, on 14 August 1932. In 1933, Deokhye was again afflicted with mental illness to the point of incontinence, and after this, she spent many years in various mental health clinics.

With the defeat of Japan in World War II, Korea once again became independent and her husband lost his nobility title, as the peerage was abolished. The arranged marriage no longer made sense, and they became increasingly detached from one another, until they finally divorced in 1953. Takeyuki So is known to have remarried in 1955 to Japanese Yoshie Katsumura. Having suffered an unhappy marriage, her grief was compounded by the loss of her only daughter who disappeared in 1956, three months after her own marriage and divorce. After this, her condition deteriorated at a slow yet considerable pace.

Return to Korea[edit]

She returned to Korea at the invitation of the South Korean government on 26 January 1962, after 37 years.[7] At first, Korean government refuse to allow the return of the last royal bloodline, because the president Lee Seung Man wanted to avoid political chaos.[8] However, the reporter Kim Eul Han found the princess and persuaded the Korean government for her return, who reluctantly agreed.[9] She cried while approaching her motherland, and despite her mental state, accurately remembered the court manners. She lived in Nakseon Hall, Changdeok Palace,[10] with Crown Prince and Princess Eun, their son Prince Gu, his wife Julia Mullock, and Mrs Byeon Bokdong, her lady-in-waiting. She died on 21 April 1989 at Sugang Hall, Changdeok Palace, and was buried at Hongryureung in Namyangju, near Seoul.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Singer Ho Shim-nam created a 1963 song based upon the life of Princess Deokhye.
  • In 1995, a play based upon Princess Deokhye was held at the Seoul Art Center.
  • A biography for Princess Deokhye was published by Japanese author Yasuko Honma (本馬恭子) and was subsequently translated into Korean by Hoon Lee and published in 1996.
  • The best-selling novel Princess Deokhye by Kwon Bi-young was published in 2009.
  • Korean singer Heo Jinsul's 2010 song "The Rose of Tears" (Hangul눈물꽃; RRNun Mul Kkot) is based upon the life of Princess Deokhye, and was recorded in both English and Korean.
  • The 2013 Korean musical Deokhye, the Last Princess (Hangul덕혜옹주; RRDeokhye Ongju) is based upon the life of Princess Deokhye.[11][12]
  • The Korean film The Last Princess is based on Kwon Bi-young's novel and stars Son Ye-jin as the princess.[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  2. ^ "". Retrieved 10 March 2016.  External link in |title= (help)
  3. ^ "덕혜옹주(Deokhye Ongju)". Doosan Corporation. Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  4. ^ "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  5. ^ Chung, Ah-young. "Life of Joseons Last Princess Revisited". Korean Times. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  6. ^ "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  7. ^ "Late Joseon Princess Deokhye's life revealed". Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  8. ^ "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  9. ^ "The Last Princess of the Joseon Dynasty, Deokhye". The Korea Blog. Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  10. ^ "Princess' belongings to return to Korea :: : The official website of the Republic of Korea". Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  11. ^ "Musical "Deokhye, The Last Princess"". 27 May 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  12. ^ Lim Jeong-yeo (2 March 2015). "Crayon Pop's Choa takes lead role in musical". K-Pop Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  13. ^ Ahn Sung-mi (28 March 2016). "'The Last Princess' wraps up filming". K-Pop Herald. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Princess Deokhye at Wikimedia Commons