Gwanghaegun of Joseon

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Gwanghaegun of Joseon
Hangul 광해
Hanja 光海君
Revised Romanization Gwanghae
McCune–Reischauer Kwanghae
Birth name
Hangul 이혼
Hanja 李琿
Revised Romanization I Hon
McCune–Reischauer I Hon

Gwanghaegun or Prince Gwanghae (3 June 1575 – 7 August 1641; reigned 1608–1623) was the fifteenth king of the Joseon dynasty. His personal name was Yi Hon. As he was deposed in a coup d'état, later official historians did not give him a temple name like Taejo or Sejong.

Birth and Background[edit]

Gwanghaegun was the second son of King Seonjo, born to Lady Kim (Gongbin), a concubine. When Japan invaded Korea to attack the Ming Empire, he was installed as Crown Prince. When the king fled north to the border of Ming, he set up a branch court and fought defensive battles. During and after the Seven Year War (1592–1598), he acted as the de facto ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, commanding battles and taking care of the reconstruction of the nation after the devastating wars, in the place of old and weak King Seonjo.

Although it brought prestige to him, his position was still unstable. He had an elder but incompetent brother Prince Imhae ( Imhaegun, 임해군, 臨海君) and a younger but legitimate brother Grand Prince Yeong-chang (Yeong-chang Daegun, 영창대군, 永昌大君), who was supported by the Lesser Northerners faction. Fortunately for Gwang-hae, King Seonjo's abrupt death made it impossible for his most favorite son Yeong-chang Daegun to succeed to the throne.

Violence of Greater Northerner faction[edit]

Before King Seonjo died, he named Prince Gwang-hae as his official successor to the throne, and ordered his advisers to make a royal document. However, Lyu Young-gyong of Lesser Northerners faction hid the document and plotted to install Prince Yeong-chang as king, only to be found out by the head of the Great Northerners faction (대북; 大北), Chung In-hong. Lyu was executed immediately and Prince Yeong-chang was arrested and died the next year.

After the incident, Gwang-hae tried to bring officials from various political and regional background to his court, but his plan was interrupted by Greater Northerners including Lee Icheom and Chung In-hong. Then Greater Northerners began to take members of other political factions out of the government, especially Lesser Northerners. At last in 1613 Greater Northerners put their hand on Prince Yeong-chang; his grandfather Kim Jenam was found guilty of treason and executed, while Yeong-chang was sent into exile, where he was executed. At the same time Greater Northerners suppressed the Lesser Northerners; In 1618, Yeong-chang's mother, Queen In-mok, was stripped of her title and imprisoned. However, Gwang-hae had no power to stop this even though he was the official head of the government.[citation needed]


Despite his bad reputation in later times, he was a talented and realistic politician. He endeavored to restore the country and sponsored restoration of documents. As a part of reconstruction, he revised land ordinance and redistributed land to the people; he also ordered the rebuilding of Changdeok Palace along with several other palaces. He was also responsible for the reintroduction of the hopae identification system after a long period of disuse.[1]

In foreign affairs he sought a balance between the Ming Empire and the Manchus. Since he realized Joseon was unable to compete with Manchu military power, he tried to keep friendly relationship with the Manchus while the kingdom was still under the suzerainty of Ming, which angered the Ming and dogmatic Confucian Koreans. The critically worsened Manchu-Ming relationship forced him to send ten thousand soldiers to aid Ming in 1619. However, the Battle of Sarhū ended in Manchu's overwhelming victory. The Korean General Gang Hong-rip lost two-thirds of his troops and surrendered to Nurhaci. Gwanghaegun negotiated independently for peace with the Manchus and managed to avoid another war. He also restored diplomatic relationship with Japan in 1609 when he reopened trade with Japan through Treaty of Giyu, and sent his ambassadors to Japan in 1617.

During his reign, Gwanghaegun encouraged publishing in order to accelerate reconstruction and to restore the kingdom's former prosperity. Many books came out during his reign, including the famous medical book Donguibogam, and several historical records were rewritten in this period.

In 1616, tobacco was first introduced to Korea and soon popularized by many aristocratic noblemen.

Dethronement and later life[edit]

In 1623 Gwanghaegun was deposed in a coup by the Westerners faction. He was confined first on Ganghwa Island and then on Jeju Island, where he died in 1641. He does not have a royal mausoleum like the other Joseon rulers. His and Lady Ryu's remains were buried at a comparatively humble site in Namyangju in Gyeonggi Province. The Westerners faction installed Neungyanggun as the sixteenth king Injo who promulgated pro-Ming and anti-Manchu policies, which resulted in two subsequent Manchu invasions.


Gwanghaegun's tomb

Although Gwanghaegun is one of only two deposed kings who were not restored and given the temple name (the other one being Yeonsangun, the tyrant who greatly contributed to the decline of the nation), many people consider him a victim of feuds between political factions.[citation needed] However he did a better job of caring for his country than his predecessor King Seonjo, or his successor King Injo. They both contributed to invasions—the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598), the Seven Year War; and the Manchu Invasion. In modern South Korea, Gwanghaegun is considered one of the wiser kings rather than a despot.


  • Father: King Seonjo (선조)
  • Mother: Royal Noble Consort Gong of the Kim clan (공빈 김씨)
  • Consorts and their Respective Issue(s):
    • Queen Munseong of the Yu clan (문성군부인 유씨, 15 August 1576 – 31 October 1623)[2][3]
      • Deposed Prince Successor (폐세자 personal name Yi Ji (이지), 31 December 1598 - 22 July 1623)
    • Hong So-ui (소의 홍씨)[4]
      • No issue
    • Yoon So-ui (소의 윤씨)[5]
      • A Daughter (1619–1664)
    • Heo Suk-ui (숙의 허씨)[6]
      • No issue
    • Won Suk-ui (숙의 원씨)[7]
      • No issue
    • Kwon Suk-ui (숙의 권씨)[8]
      • No issue
    • Im So-yong (소용 임씨)[9]
      • No issue
    • Jeong So-yong (소용 정씨)
      • No issue
    • Sin Suk-won (소원 신씨)[10]
      • No issue
    • Sim Suk-won (소원 심씨)
      • No issue
    • Palace Lady Lady Jo (궁인 조씨)
      • No issue
    • Lady Lee (상궁 이씨)
      • No issue
    • Lady Kim Gae-shi (상궁 김씨, 김개시)[11]
      • No issue
    • Lady Choi (상궁 최씨)
      • No issue

His eulogistic posthumous name[edit]

  • King Checheon Heungun Jundeok Honggong Sinseong Yeongsuk Heummun Inmu Seoryun Ipgi Myungseong Gwangryeol Yungbong Hyeonbo mujeong Jungheui Yecheol Jangeui Jangheon Sunjeong Geoneui Sujeong Changdo Sungeop the Great of Korea
  • 체천흥운준덕홍공신성영숙흠문인무서륜입기명성광렬융봉현보무정중희예철장의장헌순정건의수정창도숭업대왕
  • 體天興運俊德弘功神聖英肅欽文仁武敍倫立紀明誠光烈隆奉顯保懋定重熙睿哲壯毅章憲順靖建義守正彰道崇業大王

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Rutt, Richard; Pratt, Keith L.; Hoare, James (1999). Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary. United Kingdom: Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-0463-9.  (p252)
  2. ^ After her husband's deposition, she was known as "Deposed Queen Yu" (폐비 유씨).
  3. ^ Her posthumous name refers her as "Queen Hyejang" (혜장왕후).
  4. ^ Daughter of Hong Mae
  5. ^ Daughter of Yoon Hong-eop
  6. ^ Daughter of Heo Gyeong
  7. ^ Daughter of Won Soo-sin
  8. ^ Daughter of Kwon Yeo-gyeong
  9. ^ Daughter of Im Mong-jeong
  10. ^ Daughter of Sin Geum-gyeong
  11. ^ She is said to be his father's concubine.
  12. ^ Baek, Byung-yeul (31 May 2013). "Recent Book: Gwanghae's Lover". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2014-01-24. 

See also[edit]

Gwanghaegun of Joseon
Born: 1574 Died: 1641
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Joseon
Succeeded by