Queen Munjeong

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Queen Munjeong
Grand Queen Dowager of Joseon
Tenure1545 – 5 May 1565
SuccessorGrand Queen Dowager Soseong
Queen Regent of Joseon
PredecessorQueen Jeonghui (with Queen Sohye)
SuccessorQueen Insun
Queen dowager of Joseon
Tenure1544 – 1545
PredecessorQueen Dowager Jasun
SuccessorQueen Dowager Gongui
Queen consort of Joseon
Tenure1517 – 1544
PredecessorQueen Janggyeong
SuccessorQueen Inseong
Born2 December 1501
Kingdom of Joseon
Died5 May 1565 (1565-05-06) (aged 63)
Sodeokdang, Changdeok Palace, Kingdom of Joseon
SpouseYi Yeok, King Jungjong
  • Yi Ok-hye, Princess Uihye
  • Yi Ok-ryeon, Princess Hyosun
  • Yi Ok-hyeon, Princess Gyeonghyeon
  • Yi Hwan, King Myeongjong
  • Princess Insun
Posthumous name
성렬인명문정왕후 聖烈仁明文定王后
HousePapyeong Yun
FatherYun Ji-im
MotherInternal Princess Consort Jeonseong of the Jeonui Yi clan

Queen Munjeong (Hangul: 문정왕후, Hanja: 文定王后; 2 December 1501 – 5 May 1565), of the Papyeong Yun clan, was a posthumous name bestowed to the wife and third queen consort of Yi Yeok, King Jungjong. She was Queen consort of Joseon from 1517 until her husband's death in 1544, after which she was honoured as Queen Dowager Seongryeol (성렬왕대비) during the reign of her step-son, Yi Ho, King Injong. She was honored as Grand Queen Dowager Seongryeol (성렬대왕대비) during the reign of her son, Yi Hwan, King Myeongjong.

Queen Munjeong acted as regent during the minority of her son between 1545 and 1565. She was an effective administrator and the most influential supporter of Buddhism during the early Joseon dynasty. She gave out the land to the common people that had been formerly owned by the nobility. During her regency, her brother, Yun Won-hyeong, wielded enormous power to wipe out their opposition and led the Fourth Literati Purge of 1545.


Early life and background[edit]

The future queen was born on 2 December 1501 during the reign of King Yeonsan. Her father, Yun Ji-Im, was member of the Papyeong Yun clan. Her mother was member of the Jeonui Lee clan. Through her father, she is a great-grandniece of Queen Jeonghyeon, and her nephew eventually married the granddaughter of Kim Ahn-ro. She was also a third cousin of Queen Janggyeong, the second spouse of her future husband.

Yeonsan deposed in 1506 and his half-brother, Jungjong, was placed on the throne as the eleventh king of Joseon by leaders of the Hungu factions, the established power elites that time, who led the coup. Jungjong royal authority was limited due to powerful presence of coup leaders who put him on the throne.

Yun Myung-hye of the Papyeong Yun clan who was Jungjong's second queen consort died in 1515 and posthumously honoured as Queen Janggyeong. Two officials from Sarim faction had petitioned the King to restore status of the Deposed Queen Sin, Jungjong's first queen consort, who was deposed by Hungu faction in 1506. The officials who belong to the Hungu faction were against the idea and even caused that two officials to be exiled. Queen Dowager Jasun who was Jungjong's mother decided to picked new queen consort from her own clan, Papyeong Yun.[1] This decision supported by Yun Im, brother of Queen Janggyeong and uncle of her son, the Crown Prince. The Queen from the Papyeong Yun clan was expected to be the Crown Prince's protectress. So, Yun Ji-Im's daughter chosen as new queen when she was 17 years old in 1517.[2]

Life as queen consort[edit]

After Jo Gwangjo's died and dozens of Sarim scholars were exiled during literati purge in 1520, Jungjong never had the chance to rule on his own. His reign was marked by tumultuous struggle among various conservative factions, each of them backed by one of the King's consorts. Nam Gon and Shim Jung's faction and Kim Anro's faction vied for power after Kim Anro's son married Jungjong's eldest daughter. Later Kim Anro was exiled by Nam Gon and Shim Jung for abusing power.

Although the Queen was technically king's chief consort, Jungjong's concubines were older than her and some of them had more power as prince's mother, like Park Gyeong-bin who was Prince Bokseong's mother and Hong Hee-bin who was Prince Geumwon's mother. Hong Hee-bin was the daughter of Hong Kyung-ju, one of the Hungu faction leaders. Hong Kyung-ju, Nam Gon and Shim Jung were collectively called "Evil Three of Gimyo" because their role in the literati purge. Park Gyeong-bin and Hong Hee-bin were supporters of the faction. The Queen barely remained her position by protecting the Crown Prince against ambitious concubines.

During her early years as queen, she had a bad relationship with Park Gyeong-bin who devised a plan to place Bokseong to the throne and the Queen opposed it. Park Gyeong-bin was also plotting all sorts of conspiracy to monopolize Jungjong's love.[3] On the other hand, the Queen herself gave birth to three daughters and had no son for 17 years despite Jungjong's expectation to have a prince. Hong Hee-bin herself lost her prominence after her father's death in 1522.

After Kim An-ro returned from exile after Nam Gon's death, he accused Shim Jung accepting bribes from Park Gyeong-bin to help her put Bokseong on the throne. Later he framed Shim Jung and Gyeong-bin on the charge of cursing the Crown Prince. Later Shim Jung, Park Gyeong-bin and Prince Bokseong were executed in 1533. In 1534, the Queen herself finally gave birth to a son, Yi Hwan, Grand Prince Gyeongwon (경원대군). In the name of protecting the Crown Prince, Kim An-ro attempted to depose the Queen because her son was considered a threat for the Crown Prince, but the Queen noticed the plot beforehand and persuaded the King to get rid of him instead. It made her realize again that it's useless to be in the position without real power.

Kim An-ro was executed in 1537. After that, Yun Im and the Queen's brothers, Yun Won-ro and Yun Won-hyeong filled the power vacuum. Many officials gathered around the two centers of power and developed into separate political factions. Yun Im's faction became known as 'Greater Yun' and the Yun brothers' faction as 'Lesser Yun.' Many Sarim scholars joined the Greater Yun since they had great hopes for the Crown Prince, who studied under Jo Gwang-jo and Yi Hwang.

Although the Crown Prince was the Queen's political protector for a long time, he turned into a political enemy that she should get rid of for the future of her own son. The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty tells the story of the Queen who threatened the Crown Prince to not to kill her brothers and her own son. Her hostility was not only because her ambition, but also from Yun Im's and late Kim An-ro's manipulation to get rid of the Queen.

King Injong’s reign[edit]

Jungjong died in 1544 and the Crown Prince ascended to the throne as 12th king of Joseon (temple name: Injong). The Queen was honoured as Queen Dowager Seongryeol. She expressed her dissatisfaction in many aspects but couldn't directly confront Yun Im who was exercising immense power at the time. Injong dismissed Yun Won-hyeong and Yun Won-ro from their positions after they were impeached by the Greater Yun faction, but they failed to wipe out their opposition completely, since Seongryeol protected the Lesser Yun faction and other opposition officials.

Many in the Sarim faction believed that Injong was poisoned by Seongryeol, but there is no evidence that this was the case. According to unofficial chronicles, there is a tale of Seongryeol finally showing love for her "adoptive" son Injong, after decades of polite indifference (in reality behind-the-scenes hatred).

As Injong went to pay his morning respects, Munjeong’s face started radiating with a smile only a mother could give to her child. Injong took it as a sign that the Queen dowager was finally acknowledging him as the king, and in particular as her own son. He ate the ddeok that his step-mother gave him, not knowing that it would be the beginning of the end. He fell ill slowly, not enough to create any suspicion, but quickly enough that historians would later pick up on the event. Three days passed before Injong mysteriously died (after only 9 months of rule).

The chronicles also tell that Seongryeol was frequently visited by spirits at night after Injong's death.[4] So disturbed was she that she moved her residence from Gyeongbok Palace to Changdeok Palace.


After Injong's death in 1545, Grand Prince Gyeongwon ascended to the throne as 13th king of Joseon (temple name: Myeongjong). As the young King's mother and grand queen dowager, Seongryeol acted as regent.

Yun Won-hyeong was reinstated and wielded enormous power. Yun Won-hyeong accused Yun Im and his supporters of plotting to put another prince instead of Myeongjong on the throne after Injong's death. This accusations and rumors of Yun Im's treason led to the Fourth Literati Purge of 1545, in which the prince, Yun Im, and nine of his supporters including Sarim scholars were executed. After this initial purge, Yun Won-hyeong continued to purge his rivals and Sarim scholars over next five years until the total death toll surpassed one hundred. Even he also impeached his older brother, Yun Won-Ro, who was executed a few days later along with his followers in 1546. Facing no opposition from the government, Yun Won-hyeong became Minister of Personnel (이조판서) in 1548, Left State Councilor in 1551 and ultimately Chief State Councilor (영의정) in 1563.

Despite Yun Won-hyeong's violent rule, Grand Queen Dowager Seongryeol was an effective administrator and continued to rule even after her son reached the age of majority, distributing to the common people land formerly owned by the nobility. She was also the most influential supporter of Buddhism during the early dynasty. Throughout the Joseon period, Buddhism had been actively discouraged and suppressed by the Neo-Confucianist government. Buddhist monks were treated as thought they were on the same social level as slaves, and were not allowed to enter the gates of the capital city. She lifted the official ban on Buddhist worship and instigated an impressive revival of Buddhism.

Buddhist Paintings

She commissioned 400 Buddhist artworks and the aim of the commission was to commemorate the opening of Hoeam Temple.[5] The project was started in 1563 and was completed two years later.

The massive commission involved 100 scrolls on each of 4 triads:

  • The Historical Buddha Triad (Sanskrit: शाक्यमुनि Śākyamuni; Korean: 석가모니/석가 seokgamoni/seokga)
  • The Buddha of the Western Paradise Triad (अमिताभ Amitābha; 아미타불 amitabul)
  • The Buddha of the Future Triad (मैत्रेय Maitreya; 미륵보살 mireukbosal)
  • The Medicine Buddha Triad (भैषज्यगुरु Bhaiṣajyaguru; 약사여래/약사불 yaksayeorae/yaksabul)

In each set of 100, 50 were executed in colors and gold, the other 50 in gold only.

As of 2009,[6] only 6 of the commissioned 400 are still extant.

  • 1 painting in the Sakyamuni Triad – made in 1565, formerly belonging to the Hoeam Temple, discovered in Japan (in excellent condition[7]), and purchased and kept by the Mary Jackson Burke Collection in 1990 in New York. The painting is considered by experts in the field and in the Buddhist community to be one of the most important and representative Buddhist artworks produced during the Dynasty.[8]
  • 1 painting in the Bhaisajyaguru Triad – currently on display at the National Museum of Korea.
  • 4 paintings are in Japan.
    • 1 painting in the Sakyamuni Triad
    • 3 paintings in the Bhaisajyaguru Triad

Buddhist temples

Buddhist temples served as another proof of Seongryeol's zealous aim of the revival of Buddhism. The cornerstone of the revival of Buddhism is the Bongeun-sa Temple (a major center of Zen Buddhism).

Bongeun-sa[9] was established in 794 by Ven. Yeon-hoe,[10] and was originally called Gyeonseong-sa.[11] It was rebuilt in 1498 (by Queen Jeonghyeon's patronage) and renamed Bongeun-sa; in 1562 it was moved about 1 km to its current location and rebuilt. Its fate was destruction by fire (1592 and 1637) and repetitive rebuilding and renovations (1637, 1692, 1912, 1941, and 1981). A three-story stone stupa enshrines the Sari of Sakyamuni Buddha, brought from Sri Lanka in 1975.

The temple fell into decline during the late Goryeo era, but was reconstructed in 1498. Before the reconstruction, Buddhism fell under severe state-imposed oppression as the government maintained Neo-Confucianism as the sole state ideal. With Seongryeol's strong support for the re-awakening of Buddhism, she reconstructed Bongeun-sa and it was to become a cornerstone for early-Joseon Buddhist revival.

Ven. Bo-woo played a key role at this critical period, having been assigned as the Chief Monk of Bongeun-sa in 1548. He revived an official system of training and selecting monks in both the Seon (meditation) and Gyo (doctrinal, scholastic) sects of Korean Buddhism.[12] In 1551, Bongeun-sa became the main temple of the Jogye Seon Order, then soon became the main base for the overall restoration of Korean Buddhism. This revived training system produced such illustrious monks as Ven. Seo-san, Ven. Sa-myeong, and Ven. Byeok-am. However, after Seongryeol died, Ven. Bo-woo was killed by anti-Buddhist officials.


Grand Queen Dowager Seongryeol died in 1565 during the reign of her son. She had wanted to be buried at Jeongneung along with her husband, but the land around Jeongneung was low and prone to flooding and she was buried instead in the Taeneung Royal Tomb. She posthumously honoured as Queen Munjeong.

After her death, Yun Won-hyeong lost all political power and exiled from the capital. Unable to make a political comeback, he and his second wife, Jeong Nan-jeong, committed suicide by poison.

It's said that within the queens who were involved in Joseon Dynasty politics, Queen Munjeong, along with Queen Wongyeong, Queen Myeongseong, and Empress Myeongseong, were considered the most political, bold, and broad-minded Queens of their time.


  • 2 December 1501 – 1517: Lady Yun, daughter of Yun Ji-Im of the Papyeong Yun Clan
  • 1517 – 29 November 1544: Her Majesty Queen Consort of Joseon (왕비; 王妃)
  • 29 November 1544 – 8 August 1545: Her Majesty Queen Dowager Seongryeol (성렬왕대비; 成烈王大妃)
  • 8 August 1545 – 5 May 1565: Her Majesty Grand Queen Dowager Seongryeol (성렬대왕대비; 成烈大王大妃)
  • Posthumous title: Queen Munjeong (문정왕후; 文定王后)



  • Father − Yun Ji-Im (1475 – 14 April 1534) (윤지임)
    • 1) Grandfather − Yun Uk (1459 – 1485) (윤욱, 尹頊)
      • 2) Great-Grandfather − Yun Gye-Gyeom (1442 – 1483) (윤계겸)
        • 3) Great-Great-Grandfather − Yun Sa-Heun (1422 – 1485) (윤사흔, 尹士昐); younger brother to Queen Jeonghui
          • 4) Great-Great-Great-Grandfather − Yun Beon (1384 – 1448) (윤번), Prime Minister during the reign of King Sejo of Joseon
          • 4) Great-Great-Great-Grandmother − Grand Internal Princess Consort Heungnyeong of the Incheon Lee clan (흥녕부대부인 인천 이씨, 興寧府大夫人 仁川 李氏) (1383 – 1456)
        • 3) Great-Great-Grandmother − Lady Kim of the Gyerim Kim clan (계림 김씨)
    • 1) Grandmother − Lady Jeong of the Yeongil Jeong clan (영일 정씨) (? – 1520)
  • Mother − Internal Princess Consort Jeonseong of the Jeonui Lee clan (전성부부인 전의 이씨, 全城府夫人 全義李氏) (1475 – 1511)


  • Older brother − Yun Won-Gae (윤원개, 尹元凱)
  • Sister-in-law − Lady Yi
    • Nephew − Yun Gi (윤기, 尹紀)
    • Nephew − Yun Kang (윤강, 尹綱)
    • Niece − Lady Yun (윤씨)
    • Nephew-in-law: Gu Yun (구윤, 具潤) of the Neungseung Gu clan
  • Older brother − Yun Won-Ryang (1495 – 1569) (윤원량, 尹元亮)
  • Sister-in-law − Lady Jang of the Suncheon Jang clan (순천 장씨)
    • Nephew − Yun So (윤소, 尹紹) (1515 – 1544)
      • Grandniece − Lady Yun (윤씨, 尹氏) (? – October 1566)
    • Nephew − Yun Chan (윤찬, 尹纘)
    • Nephew − Yun Chi (윤치, 尹緻)
    • Niece − Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Papyeong Yun clan (숙빈 윤씨, 淑嬪 尹氏) (? – 1595)[13]
  • Older brother − Yun Won-Pil (1496 – 9 May 1547) (윤원필, 尹元弼)
  • Sister-in-law − Lady Jeong of the Gyeongju Jeong clan (경주 정씨)
    • Nephew − Yun Yun (윤윤, 尹綸)
    • Nephew − Yun Wi (윤위, 尹緯)
    • Nephew − Yun Hoe (윤회, 尹繪)
    • Nephew − Yun Jib (윤집, 尹緝)
  • Older brother − Yun Won-Ro (? – 1547) (윤원로, 尹元老)
  • Sister-in-law − Lady Yi of the Jeonju Yi clan (전주 이씨)
  • Sister-in-law − Lady Yi of the Pyeongchang Yi clan (평창 이씨)
    • Nephew − Yun Baek-won (윤백원, 尹百源) (1528 – 1589)
    • Niece-in-law − Lady Kim Seon-ok (김선옥, 金善玉) of the Yeonan Kim clan (1531 – ?)[14][15]
      • Grandniece − Yun Gaemichi (개미치) (? – 1589)[16]
    • Niece-in-law − Lady Bok-yi (복이)
      • Grandnephew − Yun Deok-gyeong (윤덕경)
    • Nephew − Yun Cheon-won (윤천원, 尹千源)
    • Nephew − Yun Man-won (윤만원, 尹萬源)
  • Sister-in-law − Lady Min of the Yeoheung Min clan (여흥 민씨)
    • Nephew: Yun Jo-won (윤조원)
  • Older sister − Lady Yun (윤씨)
  • Younger brother − Yun Won-Hyeong (1503 – 18 November 1565) (윤원형, 尹元衡)
  • Sister-in-law − Lady Kim of the Yeonan Kim clan (연안 김씨)[17]
    • Nephew − Yun Seol (윤설, 尹紲)
    • Nephew − Yun Hyo-won (윤효원, 尹孝源)
    • Nephew − Yun Chong-won (윤충원, 尹忠源)
      • Grandnephew − Yun Myeon (윤면)
    • Nephew − Yun Dam-yeon (윤담연, 尹覃淵)
    • Niece-in-law − Lady Yi
    • Niece-in-law − Lady Kim
  • Sister-in-lawJeong Nan-Jeong (? – 13 November 1565) (정난정, 鄭允謙) of the Chogye Jeong clan[18]
    • Niece − Lady Yun (윤씨, 尹氏)
  • Younger half-brother − Yun Ji-sun (윤지손, 尹支孫)
  • Younger half-brother − Yun Seo-sun (윤서손, 尹庶孫)
  • Younger half-brother − Yun Bang-sun (윤방손, 尹傍孫)
  • Younger half-brother − Yun Jeo-sun (윤저손, 尹低孫)
  • Younger half-sister − Lady Yun (윤씨, 尹氏)



  • Daughter − Yi Ok-hye (이옥혜, 李玉惠), Princess Uihye (의혜공주) (1521 – 1564). Husband: Han Gyeong-rok (한경록, 韓景祿)
    • Grandson − Han Ui (한의, 韓漪)
      • Great-grandson − Han Sa-seong (한사성, 韓師聖)
      • Great-grandson − Han Sa-deok (한사덕, 韓師德) (1575 – 1629)
    • Grandson − Han Wan (한완, 韓浣)
    • Grandson − Han Sun (한순, 韓淳)
    • Granddaughter − Lady Han
  • Daughter − Yi Ok-ryeon (이옥련, 李玉蓮), Princess Hyosun (효순공주) (1522 – 1538). Husband: Gu Sa-yeon (구사안, 具思顔) of the Neungseung Gu clan (1523 – 22 April 1562)[19]
    • Unnamed grandson (1538 – 1538); miscarriage
    • Adoptive grandson − Gu Hong (구홍, 具弘)
  • Daughter − Yi Ok-hyeon (이옥현, 李玉賢), Princess Gyeonghyeon (경현공주) (1530 – 1584). Husband: Sin Ui (신의, 申檥)
    • Grandson − Sin Sa-jeong (신사정, 申士楨)
  • Son − Yi Hwan, King Myeongjong (3 July 1534 – 3 August 1567) (이환 경원대군). Wife: Queen Insun of the Cheongseong Sim clan (인순왕후 심씨, 仁順王后 沈氏) (27 June 1532 – 12 February 1575)
  • Daughter − Princess Insun (1542 – 1545) (인순공주)[20]

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 김재영, 조선의 인물 뒤집어 읽기 (도서출판 삼인, 1999) 79페이지
  2. ^ 《조선왕 독살사건》/이덕일 저/다산글방.
  3. ^ 김재영, 조선의 인물 뒤집어 읽기 (도서출판 삼인, 1999) 80페이지
  4. ^ According to the chronicles the spirit is supposedly Injong, screaming with grief at the woman who could never be a mother to him even in death.
  5. ^ A prominent Seon (Chinese: Chan; Japanese: Zen) Buddhist temple, in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province.
  6. ^ "Buddhist Channel | History & Archaeology".
  7. ^ The engraved golden painting's provenance at the bottom of the painting still exists.
  8. ^ Buddhist art is rare as the state ideal was Neo-Confucianism.
  9. ^ "Offering Benefit"
  10. ^ The National Master Monk of Unified Silla at that time.
  11. ^ "Seeing True Nature"
  12. ^ First established by National Master-Monk Jinul Bojo-guksa in the 13th century.
  13. ^ She became a concubine for King Injong
  14. ^ She is the daughter of Princess Hyohye and the maternal granddaughter of Queen Janggyeong and King Jungjong
  15. ^ Her paternal grandfather is Kim Ahn-ro
  16. ^ Died by poisoning in 1589 on being accused of murdering her father
  17. ^ Daughter of Kim Ahn-soo (김안수, 金安遂) and a first cousin of Kim Ahn-ro
  18. ^ She became the wife of the Prime Minister after poisoning his first wife
  19. ^ His is the paternal uncle of Queen Inheon (King Injo's mother)
  20. ^ Died at the age of 2-3

External links[edit]

Queen Munjeong
Papyeong Yun clan
Royal titles
Preceded by
Queen Janggyeong
of the Papyeong Yun clan
Queen consort of Joseon
1517 – 1544
Succeeded by
Queen Inseong
of the Bannam Park clan
Preceded by
Queen Dowager Jasun (Jeonghyeon)
of the Papyeong Yun clan
Queen dowager of Joseon
1544 – 1545
Succeeded by
Queen Dowager Gongui (Inseong)
of the Bannam Park clan
Preceded by
Han Jeong, Grand Queen Dowager Insu (Sohye)
of the Cheongju Han clan
Grand Queen Dowager Myeongui (Ansun)
of the Cheongju Han clan
Grand Queen dowager of Joseon
1545 – 1565
Succeeded by