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|Revised Romanization||Sim On|
Sim On (1375 – 18 January 1419 (the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month 1418)) was a Prime Minister or Chief State Councillor of the Korean Joseon Dynasty from September 1418 to December 1418 and the father of a Queen and father-in-law to King Sejong. He is known for his treason charges, which eventually led to his death and further strengthening of the royal power.
Born of the Cheongsong Sim clan (靑松 沈氏), during the late Goryeo Dynasty, he passed the examinations and entered the government at age eleven. At that time, general Yi Seong-gye had full control of the government and had eliminated most of his rivals throughout Goryeo. Sim On, fully realizing that the Goryeo dynasty was at its end, joined Yi’s fraction and worked hard in bringing about a new dynasty. Finally, when General Yi rose to the throne in 1392, Sim On was one of those who gained a new post and influence in assisting Yi found the Joseon Dynasty.
In 1411, under King Taejong’s rule, Sim On was appointed to the post of administrating the province of Hamgyong-do. He dismissed corrupt sheriffs and judges, and toiled in improving the governmental power in the region.
As Sim On was a very capable civil administrator, he was promoted several times, and also worked in the roles of the Minister of Industry, Civil Affairs and Agriculture. When the court began selecting the candidates for the princess consort of Chungnyeong (later King Sejong), he included his daughter in the candidacy, resulting in her selection.
When Chungnyeong became king in the year 1418, Sim’s daughter "Lady Sim" (심씨; 沈氏, women were referred by only their family names; ssi means family) became Queen Sohunhwanghu, and Sim On rose to the office of "Prime Minister" the highest non-royal role in the country.
Scandal and Demise
When Sim On was appointed to the office of Prime Minister, the office of the "Western Minister" was occupied Park Eun (박은; 朴訔), of the bon-nam park ssi. Park clan. The relationship between these two ministers was atrocious, and there were frequent disputes between them.
At the time, King Taejong had resigned from his post of monarch and occupied the post of Retired King (태상왕; 太上王). However, most of the nation’s internal and external affairs were run by Taejong, and the current King Sejong remained as a figurehead. As he was a general during the late Koryo days, Taejong was a firm, conservative, totalitarian despot. He frequently worried about the fact that, in the future, the dynasty would be ruled mostly by ministers, rather than by the Crown, like the Goryeo Dynasty. Therefore, he took extensive measures to strengthen the authority of the royal court.
Due to this fact in the government, Sim-On’s younger brother Sim Jeong, complained that the King’s power was totally limited by the looming presence of Taejong. When this statement reached the ears of the Retired King, he condemned the whole Sim family. As Sim-On was one of the most influential men of the country. As the prime minister and father of the Queen, his presence could not be ignored.
Furthermore, "Western Minister" Park Eun framed Sim-On by revealing that On’s influence was overflowing. At this time, Sim-On had fulfilled his duty of Prime Minister by visiting the Ming Empire as an emissary of Joseon at Saeunsa (사은사; 謝恩使). He was just returning from his trip when he was arrested at the Korean territory of Uiju (의주; 義州) and transported under custody to the capital Hanyang, then to the city of Suwon (수원; 水原).
At Suwon he was tortured to admit his crimes. The director of the torture was Park Eun, who had framed the crime on Sim in the first place. Finally, after days of torture, Sim succumbed to the accusations and confessed. Just before he was executed, he muttered the famous phrase, “My descendants… Do not marry a Park. It will bring shame and misfortune to the family.”
After Sim On was executed for his fabricated crimes, Park Eun was promoted to Prime Minister. Many of the Sim family were condemned, and even the Queen Soheon was threatened to be stripped of her title as queen. However, King Sejong tried to protect her, and succeeded. King Taejong also supported Queen Soheon, telling the minister not to mention the matter of stripping Queen Soheon's title.
However, Sim-On’s name became a taboo during the remainder of Taejong’s presence. Even Sejong could not regain the dignity of the minister’s name. However, when Sejong and Queen Soheon’s son King Munjong rose to the throne, Sim-On was absolved of his crimes, and posthumously reinstated to the office of Prime Minister. He was also made a lord, and is also known as Lord of Anhyo (안효공; 安孝公).
The Sim family continued to prosper, with Sim-On’s second son Sim Hwe becoming Prime Minister during King Sejo’s reign.
700 years after the incident, the Sim and Park families have still not reconciled about the incident, with the Sim family blaming Park Eun for the framing about treason. However, historians generally agree that Park was merely a tool in Taejong’s master plan of royal totalitarianism. As Taejong was a conservative king, he did not want a queen’s family gaining power and influence over the Joseon Dynasty. As his mindset was educated in the Goryeo Dynasty, he came to believe in the danger of handing over the power to another non-royal family, which could have led to another dynasty.
- Chongsong Sim Family Clan homepage: http://www.cheongsongsim.or.kr/