While they claimed to be the loyal followers of the Later Lê dynasty, in reality they were de facto rulers in the south of the country, while the Trịnh lords ruled the north. Their descendants later ruled the whole of Vietnam as the Nguyễn dynasty and posthumously elevated their titles to emperors. Their rule consolidated earlier southward expansion into Champa.
The Nguyễn–Trịnh alliance
The Nguyen lords traced their descent from a powerful clan originally based in Thanh Hóa Province. The clan supported Lê Lợi in his successful war of independence against the Ming dynasty. From that point on, the Nguyễn were one of the major noble families in Vietnam. Perhaps the most famous Nguyễn from this time was Nguyễn Thị Anh, the queen-consort for nearly 20 years (1442–1459).
In 1527 Mạc Đăng Dung replaced the last Lê emperor Lê Cung Hoàng and started a new dynasty. The Trịnh and Nguyễn clans returned to Thanh Hóa province and refused to accept the rule of the Mạc. All of the region south of the Red River was under their control but they were unable to conquer Đông Đô for many years. During this time, the Nguyễn–Trịnh alliance was led by Nguyễn Kim, his daughter was married to the Trịnh clan leader, Trịnh Kiểm.
In 1545 Nguyễn Kim was assassinated. One logical successor to the leadership of the Nguyễn-Trịnh alliance was his eldest son, Nguyễn Uông but instead, Uông was killed and Trịnh Kiểm took control. The younger son Nguyễn Hoàng was sent to the far south to administer the newer province of Ô-châu (modern Quảng-bình to Quảng-nam), in what used to be Champa lands. Governing from the new city of Phú Xuân (modern Huế), the Nguyễn clan, under Nguyễn Hoàng, slowly expanded their control to the south while the Trịnh clan waged their war for control over the north of Vietnam.
In 1592 Đông Đô (Hanoi today) was captured the last time by the Trịnh army under Trịnh Tùng and the Mạc Emperor was executed. The next year, Nguyễn Hoàng came north with an army and money to help defeat the remainder of the Mạc forces, but soon afterwards Nguyễn Hoàng refused to obey the orders coming from the new court at Hanoi.
In 1600, a new Lê emperor took the throne, Lê Kính Tông. The new emperor, like the previous Lê emperors, was a powerless figurehead under the control of Trịnh Tùng. Also, a revolt broke out in Ninh Bình Province, possibly instigated by the Trịnh. As a consequence of these events, Nguyễn Hoàng formally broke off relations with the Court, rightly arguing that it was the Trịnh who ruled, not the Lê emperor. This uneasy state of affairs continued for the next 13 years until Nguyễn Hoàng died in 1613. He had ruled the southern provinces for 55 years.
His successor, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, continued Nguyễn Hoàng's policy of essential independence from the Court in Hanoi. He initiated friendly relations with the Europeans who were now sailing into the area. A Portuguese trading post was set up in Hội An. By 1615 the Nguyễn were producing their own bronze cannons with the aid of Portuguese engineers. In 1620 the emperor was removed from power and executed by Trịnh Tùng. Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên formally announced that he would not be sending any money to the Court nor did he acknowledge the new Emperor as the Emperor of the country. Tensions rose over the next seven years till open warfare broke out in 1627 with the new leader of the Trịnh, Trịnh Tráng.
The war lasted until 1673 when peace was declared. The Nguyễn not only fought off the Trịnh attacks but also continued their expansion southwards along the coast, though the war slowed this expansion. Around 1620, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên's daughter married Chey Chettha II, a Khmer king. Three years later, 1623, the Nguyễn formally gained permission for Vietnamese to settle in Prei Nokor which was later reborn as the city of Saigon.
Wars over the south
In 1714 the Nguyễn sent an army into Cambodia to support Keo Fa's claim the throne against Prea Srey Thomea (see also the article on the Dark ages of Cambodia). Siam joined in siding with the Prea Srey Thomea against the Vietnamese claimant. At Bantea Meas the Vietnamese routed the Siamese armies but by 1717 the Siamese had gained the upper hand. The war ended with the negotiated enthronement of the Siamese candidate but the Nguyễn lords wrested more territory from the weakened Cambodian kingdom.
Two decades later (1739) the Cambodians attempted to reclaim to the lost coastal land. The fighting lasted some ten years, but by end, the Vietnamese fended off the Cambodian raids and secured their hold on the rich Mekong Delta.
With Siam embroiled in war with Burma, the Nguyễn mounted another campaign against Cambodia in 1755 and conquered additional territory from the ineffective Cambodian court. At the end of the war the Nguyễn had secured a port on the Gulf of Siam (Hà Tiên) and were threatening Phnom Penh itself.
Under a new king Phraya Taksin, the Siamese reasserted its protection of its eastern neighbor by coming to the aid of the Cambodian court. War was launched against the Nguyễn in 1769. After some early success, the Nguyễn forces by 1773 were facing internal revolts and had to abandon Cambodia to deal with the civil war in Vietnam itself. The turmoil gave rise to the Tây Sơn.
The fall of the Nguyễn lords
In 1771 as a result of heavy taxes and defeats in the war with Cambodia, three brothers from Tây Sơn sparked a peasant uprising that quickly engulfed much of southern Vietnam. Within two years the Tây Sơn brothers captured the provincial capital Qui Nhơn. In 1774, the Trịnh in Hà Nội seeing their rival gravely weakened, ended the hundred year truce and launched an attack of the Nguyễn from the north. The Trịnh forces quickly overran the Nguyễn capital in 1774 while the Nguyễn lords fled south to Saigon. The Nguyễn fought on against both the Trịnh army and the Tây Sơn but their effort was in vain; by 1777 Saigon was captured and then nearly the entire Nguyễn Phúc family was killed, all except one nephew, Nguyễn Ánh who managed to flee to Siam.
Nguyễn Ánh did not give up, and in 1780 he attacked the Tây Sơn army with a new army from Siam (he was allied with King Taksin). However, Taksin went insane and was killed in a coup. The new king of Siam, Chulaloke had more urgent affairs than helping Nguyễn Ánh retake Vietnam and so this campaign faltered. The Siamese army retreated, and Nguyễn Ánh went into exile, but would later return.
Nguyễn foreign relations
The Nguyễn were significantly more open to foreign trade and communication with Europeans than the Trịnh. According to Dupuy, the Nguyễn were able to defeat initial Trịnh attacks with the aid of advanced weapons they purchased from the Portuguese (see Artillery of the Nguyễn lords for more details). The Nguyễn also conducted fairly extensive trade with Japan and China.
The Portuguese set up a trade center at Faifo (present day Hội An), just south of Huế in 1615. However, with the end of the great war between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn, the need for European military equipment declined. The Portuguese trade center never became a major European base (unlike Goa or Macau).
In 1640, Alexandre de Rhodes returned to Vietnam, this time to the Nguyễn court at Huế. He began work on converting people to the Catholic faith and building churches. After six years, the Nguyễn Lord, Nguyễn Phúc Lan, came to the same conclusion as Trịnh Tráng had, that de Rhodes and the Catholic Church represented a threat to their rule. De Rhodes was condemned to death but he was allowed to leave Vietnam on pain of death were he to return.
List of the Nguyễn lords
- Nguyễn Hoàng 1558–1613
- Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên 1613–1635
- Nguyễn Phúc Lan 1635–1648
- Nguyễn Phúc Tần 1648–1687
- Nguyễn Phúc Trăn 1687–1691
- Nguyễn Phúc Chu 1691–1725
- Nguyễn Phúc Trú 1725–1738
- Nguyễn Phúc Khoát 1738–1765
- Nguyễn Phúc Thuần 1765–1777 (1776–1777, co ruler with Nguyễn Phúc Dương)
- Nguyễn Phúc Ánh 1778–1801
|Nguyễn Lords family tree|
- Keith Weller Taylor, John K. Whitmore Essays Into Vietnamese Pasts 1995 Page 170 "The "kingdom of Cochinchina" was the polity of the Nguyễn lords (chúa), who had become the more and more independent rivals of the Trịnh lords of the north — if not of the Lê emperors whose affairs the Trịnh lords managed.."
- Patricia M. Pelley Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past 2002 - Page 216 "This fragmentation became more pronounced in the mid-sixteenth century when a distinctly bifurcated pattern of politics arose, with the Trịnh lords in the North and the Nguyễn lords in the South."
- Chapuis, Oscar. A History of Vietname: From Hong Bang to Tu Duc. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. p119ff.
- Andrew David Hardy, Mauro Cucarzi, Patrizia Zolese Champa and the Archaeology of Mỹ Sơn (Vietnam) 2009 - Page 61 "Vietnam's southward expansion as it took place before the period of the Nguyễn Lords ..."
- Phan Khoang (2001). Việt sử xứ Đàng Trong (in Vietnamese). Hanoi: Văn Học Publishing House. pp. 414–425.
- Dupuym R. Ernet and Trevor N. The Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: Harper & Row.
|Ruler of southern Vietnam
Tây Sơn dynasty