Lê Hoàn

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In this Vietnamese name, the family name is "Lê", but is often simplified to "Le" in English-language text. According to Vietnamese custom, this person should properly be referred to by the given name "Hoàn".
Lê Hoàn

Lê Đại Hành ()
Emperor of Đại Cồ Việt
A statue of Lê Đại Hành in Hoa Lư
Reign 980–1005
Predecessor Đinh Phế Đế
Successor Lê Trung Tông
Born 10 August 941
Died 1005
Burial Hoa Lư
Spouse Đại Thắng Minh Hoàng Hậu
Phụng Càn Chí Lý Hoàng hậu
Thuận Thánh Minh Đạo Hoàng hậu
Trịnh Quắc Hoàng hậu
Phạm Hoàng hậu
Issue Lê Long Thâu
Lê Ngân Tích
Lê Long Việt
Lê Long Đinh
Lê Long Đĩnh
Lê Long Cân
Lê Long Tung
Lê Long Tương
Lê Long Kính
Lê Long Mang
Lê Long Đề
Era name and dates
Thiên Phúc (天福): 980–988
Hưng Thống (興統): 989–993
Ứng Thiên (應天): 994–1005
House Early Lê Dynasty
Father Lê Mịch
Mother Đặng Thị

Lê Hoàn (黎桓 941–1005), posthumous name Lê Đại Hành (黎大行), was the first emperor of the Early Lê dynasty, succeeding Đinh dynasty as rulers of Đại Cồ Việt (an ethnic Vietnamese polity located in what is now northern Vietnam, which was bordered by the Chinese Song dynasty to the north and the Indic kingdom of Champa to the South.

He started his career as a commander in the army of the first Vietnamese emperor Đinh Bộ Lĩnh and rose to the position of commander-in-chief. Following the death of Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, Lê Hoàn became regent to Đinh Bộ Lĩnh's successor, the six-year-old Đinh Toan. Lê Hoàn deposed the boy, married his mother the Empress Dowager Duong Van Nga, and in 980 proclaimed himself emperor. He retained the imperial capital at Hoa Lư and succeeded in warding off several invasions by the Chinese Song Dynasty, but paid them regular tribute with the aim of securing peaceful relations. When he died in 1005, the Lê Dynasty went into decline; five years later, in 1010, Lý Công Uẩn declared the Lý Dynasty and moved the capital from Hoa Lư to the area of modern Hanoi.

Early life[edit]

Lê Hoàn was born in 941 into a poor family in the southern district of Ai Chau. At that time, the area belonged to the kingdom ruled by Ngô Quyền, the Vietnamese general who had liberated the country from Chinese occupation in 938; today the area is part of Thanh Hóa Province. Lê Hoàn was orphaned while still very young, but had the good fortune of being adopted by a local official who belonged to the Lê family.

As Lê Hoàn matured under the official's tutelage, he proved himself to be both talented and studious. Mundane assessments of his potential were confirmed by auspicious omens. According to legend, one night his adoptive father went to check up on him after Lê Hoàn had gone to bed; he found the boy fast asleep watched by a golden dragon who hovered protectively above him.

Following the death of Ngô Quyền in 944, the country gradually dissolved into chaos For a time, Ngô Quyền's two eldest sons jointly wielded the royal power, but they were not consistently successful in subduing rebellious elements. After they died in 954 and 965 respectively, the country was fractured into the domains of 12 independent warlords. In these chaotic times, Lê Hoàn matured to manhood. Together with other young men, he practiced the martial arts and dreamt of saving the nation.

After years of conflict, the task of reunifying the country under one rule was accomplished by Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, a warlord from Hoa Lư in Ninh Bình Province, who succeeded by means of an adept mixed strategy of warfare and diplomacy. In 968, Bộ Lĩnh declared himself Emperor of Dai Co Viet, establishing his capital at Hoa Lư. Lê Hoàn became a military general under Đinh Bộ Lĩnh's adult son Dinh Lien, and was promoted through the ranks until he became the commander-in-chief of Đinh Bộ Lĩnh's armed forces.

Takeover of the country and enthronement as emperor[edit]

Đinh Bộ Lĩnh was successful in unifying the country and in defeating his rivals. However, he was not successful in providing for an orderly succession. When he and his eldest son Dinh Lien were murdered in 979 by a official with delusions of seizing royal power for himself, Bộ Lĩnh was succeeded by his six-year-old son Dinh Toan. The boy's mother Duong Van Nga assumed the role of empress dowager, while military commander-in-chief Lê Hoàn was made regent, with the idea that he would manage the government until Toan reached the age of maturity.[1]

Painting of Lê Đại Hành (Lê Hoàn)

The transition did not go smoothly. Other great men of the realm suspected that Lê Hoàn would soon attempt to seize power from himself, and went into open rebellion. In addition, the Song Dynasty of China took note of the weakened condition of Dai Co Viet and began to make plans for reconquering the country. The situation was most uncertain. Lê Hoàn, however, was able to suppress domestic opposition to his ascendency. Thereafter, and in collaboration with the empress dowager (the widow of Dinh Bo Linh and mother of Dinh Toan), he deposed the child king, married his mother, and in 980 declared himself Emperor at Hoa Lư. It was the end of the Đinh Dynasty, and the beginning of the Anterior Lê Dynasty, so called in order to distinguish it from the Later Lê Dynasty established in the 15th century by Lê Lợi.[2]

Foreign relations with China and Champa[edit]

The beginning Lê Hoàn's 25-year reign was marked by wars against the foreign powers of Song and Champa, both of which attempted to take advantage of the apparent weakness of the independent Dai Co Viet following the death of Dinh Bo Linh. Lê Hoàn's success in these wars, together with his ongoing diplomatic efforts in relation to Song assured that, for the time being, the country's borders were secure.

Repulsing the Chinese invasion[edit]

It was not longer after Lê Hoàn's usurpation of the throne that an ambassador of the Song Dynasty came to Hoa Lư. The ambassador demanded Lê Hoàn's immediate submission to the emperor of Song, promising that if he complied with the demand, he would be shown clemency, and threatening that if he did not comply, it would soon be too late for regrets. A diplomatic chessmatch ensued. Lê Hoàn sent an emissary to China in the name of the deposed Đinh Toàn; the emissary pretended that Toàn was still the head of the country and offered submission in the name of the Đinh dynasty. Emperor Taizong, for his part, attempted to lull Lê Hoàn into neglecting his military preparations by sending news that he would be willing to accept the submission of Đinh Toàn. Lê Hoàn, however, was not fooled. Remembering the success of Ngô Quyền who, half a century earlier, had defeated the Chinese navy as it attempted to invade Đại Việt by way of the Bạch Đằng River, he copied Quyen's strategy of booby-trapping the river with long sharpened stakes that were out of sight beneath the surface of the water at high tide. Lê Hoàn also strengthened his army by recruiting and training many new soldiers.

The Chinese launched their invasion in 981. Their initial move was to launch a two pronged attack, consisting of an army and a naval force against the former capital of Dai La located in the area of modern Hanoi. The plan was for the two armies to unite and to strike southward against Lê Hoàn's capital of Hoa Lư. However, both armies were thwarted in their advance. The naval force attempted to make its way up the Bạch Đằng river and ran into the stakes that the Vietnamese had planted there in preparation. The second Battle of Bạch Đằng ended in an decisive defeat for the Chinese. The land army became mired in broken terrain, where it likewise suffered a decisive defeat. The remainder of the Chinese force retreated north. The Song emperor Taizong accused and executed the generals responsible for the Chinese defeat, but thereafter desisted from ordering any further invasions of Đại Cồ Việt.

Sacking Champa[edit]

To the South, the Indic kingdom of Champa also saw the chaotic condition of Đại Việt as an opportunity. In 979, after the death of Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, the King of Champa, Parameshvaravarman I launched an unsuccessful maritime expedition against Hoa Lư, but his hopes were dashed when a storm destroyed much of his fleet. When the threat of the Chinese invasion was looming, Lê Hoàn sent an ambassador to Champa to establish friendly relations, but the king of Champa would have none of it and had the ambassador arrested. In 982, with the Chinese invasion having been turned back, Lê Hoàn personally led his troops south to sack the capital of Champa. His loot included women from the king's entourage, gold, silver and other precious objects.[3]:56–57[4]:124–125

Diplomacy with Song[edit]

After repulsing the Song invasion of 981, Lê Hoàn pursued a policy of reconciliation with the Song Empire. He sent diplomats to the Song court in Dongjing and received Song emissaries in Hoa Lư. In addition, he consented to the Song Emperor's offers to award him traditional titles held by top Chinese officials during the Tang-era Chinese occupation of Vietnam: "Governor of Annam", and "Peaceful Sea Military Governor." However, he refused to genuflect before a Chinese emissary, giving the phony excuse of being unable to do so due to an injury, and attempted to intimidate the emissary with displays of military force and bizarre gifts of a tiger and a python. On one occasion, Lê Hoàn assigned a learned monk named Đỗ Thuận to impersonate a menial servant and to impress a Chinese diplomat with his literary acumen, and thus to convey the impression that the ordinary people of the realm were skilled in Chinese poetry and speech. Thus, Lê Hoàn complied with Emperor Taizong's demand for recognition, while at the same time signalling his own independence and potential for belligerence.

Domestic affairs : development of the country and the state[edit]

On the domestic scene, the reign of Lê Hoàn was marked by efforts to strengthen the fragile structure of the infant Vietnamese state and to put the country on the path of development.

Establishing the government[edit]

Lê Hoàn appointed a group of senior officials to help him in managing the civil and military affairs of the state. He divided the country into districts and subdistricts and appointed local officials to manage them. However, the structure of the Vietnamese government remained rudimentary, and the king relied in part on his own sons to second his command. Several of his sons were made provincial governors, with the authority to collect taxes and to have personal armies. Lê Hoàn also relied extensively on the already established network of Buddhist monks as advisors and administrators.

The core of the army was the Forbidden Palace Guard. Other units were raised and disbanded according to need. Each member of the guard had the words "Army of the Son of Heaven" tattooed on his forehead in Chinese characters.

The administration of justice remained a matter of official discretion rather than written laws. As a deterrent to wouldbe offenders, Lê Hoàn maintained the spectacular forms of punishment devised by Đinh Bộ Lĩnh: violators could be handed over to a ferocious tiger, or cast into a vat of boiling oil.

Developing the country[edit]

Under Lê Hoàn, new temples and residential and governmental palaces were constructed in the capital of Hoa Lư. Nhất Trụ Pagoda still stands at Hoa Lư, and includes a pillar that is believed to date from the original foundation of Lê Hoàn.

Lê Hoàn tried to promote the development of agriculture in the country. In 987, he revived an ancient Chinese ploughing ceremony, in which the ruler of the country ploughs the first field. In later times, other Vietnamese dynasties followed his example in celebrating the ploughing ceremony.

To lubricate the economy, Lê Hoàn ordered the casting of bronze coins, each bearing an inscription of four Chinese characters. He also ordered extensive construction and maintenance of key routes of communication, including not only a system of roads but also a network of canals.

Death of Lê Hoàn and end of the Lê Dynasty[edit]

Lê Hoàn died in 1005 at the age of 64. Though he had designated his eldest son Long Viet as his successor in 1004, upon his death the remaining sons, each of whom commanded a private army, disputed the succession. Le Long Viet occupied the throne for only a short time before being murdered by thugs sent by his younger brother Long Dinh. Long Dinh then took over the country, but proved himself to be a depraved man and a cruel and despotic ruler. Unpopular with both the people and the high officials who served him, he became the target of plots by seditious groups hoping to bring the country back into the hands of a humane and capable ruler. Responding to popular demand, in 1010 the commander of the palace guard Lý Công Uẩn seized the throne and founded the Lý Dynasty, the first long-lived imperial dynasty of Vietnam. One of his first important decisions as emperor was to move the capital away from Hoa Lư and back to the area of modern Hanoi, where he founded the citadel of Thắng Long.

Posthumous honors[edit]

Lê Hoàn's son and successor Lê Trung Tông neglected to give him a posthumous name in accordance with East Asian royal traditions. (The founders of later Vietnamese dynasties would be called "Thái Tổ", meaning "Great Founder.") Instead, Lê Hoàn received the posthumous name "Lê Đại Hành" (), the interpretation of which is controversial.

Lê Đại Hành's tomb at Hoa Lư

Lê Đại Hành's dilapidated tomb is located at the foot of Mã Yên ("Horse Saddle") Mountain in Hoa Lư. A temple in his honor stands in Hoa Lư not far from the temple to Đinh Tiên Hoàng.


  1. ^ Nhung Tuyet Tran, Anthony Reid Viet Nam: Borderless Histories - Page 52- 2006 "When Lê Hoàn decided to expand his role beyond that of regent of the Đinh dynasty's young emperor Đinh Toàn to include the position of viceroy, Prime Minister NguyӼn BӮc and another high official, Dinh /iӸn, became suspicious of ...
  2. ^ Nola Cooke, Tana Li, James Anderson The Tongking Gulf Through History - 2011 Page 96 "fled to the Ruxi garrison on the Song side of the frontier, where the local commander Huang Lingde, likely from an upland Tai-speaking clan, offered the refugees official protection.25 Lê Hoàn ordered the Triêu Dương township's military.
  3. ^ Maspero, G., 2002, The Champa Kingdom, Bangkok: White Lotus Co., Ltd., ISBN 9747534991
  4. ^ Coedès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella, ed. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1. 
  • Trấn Bạch Đằng, Lê Vǎn Nǎm, Nguyễn Quang Vinh, Vua Lê Đại Hành (Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh: Nhà Xuất Bản Trẻ), 1998.
  • Trấn Bạch Đằng, Lê Vǎn Nǎm, Nguyễn Đức Hòa, Cờ Lau Vạn Thắng Vủỏng (Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh: Nhà Xuất Bản Trẻ), 2005.
Preceded by
Đinh Phế Đế
(Đinh Dynasty)
Emperor of Đại Cồ Việt
Succeeded by
Lê Trung Tông