Tự Đức

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Emperor Tự Đức
Vua Tự Đức.jpg
Portrait by L.Ruffier
Emperor of Đại Nam
Reign5 October 1847 – 19 July 1883
PredecessorThiệu Trị
SuccessorDục Đức
Emperor of Nguyễn Dynasty
Reign5 October 1847 – 19 July 1883
PredecessorThiệu Trị
SuccessorDục Đức
Born(1829-09-22)September 22, 1829
Imperial City, Huế, Đại Nam
DiedJuly 19, 1883(1883-07-19) (aged 53)
Imperial City, Huế, Đại Nam
SpouseEmpress Trang Ý
Nguyễn Thị Bích
more than 300 concubines
IssueNone (childless)
Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Ái (adoptive)
Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Kỷ (adoptive)
Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Đăng (adoptive)
Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Nhậm ()
Nguyễn Phúc Thì ()
Era name and dates
Tự Đức (): 1847–1883
Posthumous name
Thể thiên Hanh vận Chí thành Đạt hiếu Thể kiện Đôn nhân Khiêm cung Minh lược Duệ văn Anh Hoàng đế
Temple name
Dực Tông ()
HouseNguyễn Phúc
FatherThiệu Trị
MotherEmpress Từ Dụ
ReligionRuism, Buddhism

Tự Đức (Hanoi: [tɨ˧˨ ɗɨk̚˧˦], Hán tự: , lit. "inheritance of virtues", 22 September 1829 – 17 July 1883) (personal name: Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Nhậm , also Nguyễn Phúc Thì) was the fourth emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty of Vietnam; he ruled from 1847 to 1883.


The son of Emperor Thiệu Trị, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Nhậm was born on 22 September 1829, and succeeded his father on the throne, with the reigning title of Tự Đức, but family troubles caused his era to have a violent start. Thiệu Trị had passed over his more moderate eldest son, Hồng Bảo, to give the throne to Tự Đức, known for his staunch Confucianism and opposition to foreigners and innovation. As a result, and due to the repressive policies of the previous Nguyễn Dynasty emperor, there was now a great deal of dissatisfaction with Nguyễn rule and a legitimate royal figure to rally this opposition.


Conflict with Hồng Bảo[edit]

Prince Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Bảo became the leader of a rebellion against Tự Đức, consisting of Confucian scholars who were angered that the family hierarchy had been dishonored (by passing over the eldest son) some remaining supporters of the Lê Dynasty (who many still considered the legitimate dynasty of Vietnam) as well as the usual peasants angry over Nguyễn taxation and the usual corrupt mandarins as well as the Roman Catholic missionaries and Christian converts who had been so persecuted by Minh Mạng and Thiệu Trị. With swift military force, Tự Đức suppressed the rebellion and was set to execute his brother, but was dissuaded by his mother, Dowager queen Từ Dũ, and Hồng Bảo killed himself in prison.

Religious suppression[edit]

Emperor Tự Đức continued the policies of his predecessors, shutting Vietnam off from the outside world and refusing all efforts to modernize the country. Accounts of his personal life show a gentle and educated man, but his policies brought on conflict with Europe that Vietnam could not win. He oppressed all foreigners in Vietnam, especially the Christian community, who had tried to overthrow his grandfather, such as in the Lê Văn Khôi revolt, calling their religion a "perverse doctrine". The Christian mandarin Nguyễn Trường Tộ tried to convince Tự Đức that this was a suicidal policy, but he did not listen, confident that France was too involved with the chaos in Europe in 1848 to respond, but he was mistaken.

Attempts at reforms[edit]

In 2018 Lê Minh Khải claimed that he found two instances where the Tự Đức Emperor had ordered the Chinese edition of several classic books on science and industry from the West to be read by the mandarins and soldiers of the country.[1] As an example he mentioned the book "Vạn Quốc Công Pháp" (萬國公法), a Chinese translation of The Elements of International Law, first published in 1836 by American lawyer Henry Wheaton, a book noted by many researchers to have made a profound contribution to the ideological transformation of the ruling elites in Qing China and Japan.[1] It is noted that the very slow adoption of the ideas from this work in the Nguyễn dynasty showed how slowly its elites adopted Western ideas and despite learning about Western ideas they proved to be unable or unwilling adopt them or adapt to them.[1]

European conquest[edit]

France responded with a large military expeditionary force and attacked up from southern Vietnam. The Nguyễn army fought bravely for some time, but their antiquated weapons and tactics were no match for the French, who suffered more from the climate and disease than from enemy resistance. The fighting around Hanoi against the Black Flag[2] pirates ended with France victorious and China gave up their position as feudal master of Vietnam and recognized France as the ruling power over the region.


French and Spanish force capture of Saigon in 1859

To make matters worse, Emperor Tự Đức had to deal with renewed internal rebellions which had become commonplace for the Nguyễn Dynasty. There were literally hundreds of small rebellions and uprisings against Nguyễn rule. Ineffective attempts to enforce the ban on Christian missionaries were also the biggest source of trouble, including the execution of a Spanish bishop which was used to justify the French and Spanish invasion that led to the fall of Saigon. By an order of 1848 Tự Đức commanded all Vietnamese Catholic converts to renounce their religion, otherwise they would be branded on the face with the mark of a heretic and surrender all of their rights and privileges. This rallied most of the European powers against Vietnam, and Tự Đức by doing this had given up any hope of Vietnam gaining help as a victim from the outside world.

Gold lạng (Tael) of Tự Đức


When further rebellions broke out as the French were advancing on the capital, Tự Đức feared that his authority was crumbling. He preferred to make a deal with the French so that he could crush the rebellion since while France may demand humiliating concessions, the rebels would most likely depose and/or kill him. He signed away the southernmost of Vietnam, Cochinchina, to be a French colony and accepted the status of a French protectorate for his country. This caused a huge uproar, and many, such as the famous mandarin Trương Định, refused to recognize the treaty and fought on in defense of their country, denouncing Tự Đức for surrendering any part of their homeland.


Emperor Tự Đức did not live to see the worst effects of colonialism on his country, and he was also the last Vietnamese monarch to rule independently. A case of smallpox left him impotent so he had no children despite a huge harem of wives he kept in his palace. He died in 1883 and, according to legend, cursed the French with his dying breath. His adopted son, Dục Đức, succeeded him but was deposed by court officials after a reign of three days.[3]


Rank Title Name Date of birth-dead Note
Consort Trung Palace lady

Second rank Consort Cần

First rank Consort Thuần/Trung

The imperial noble consort (the same as The empress of Nguyễn dynasty)

Empress Khiêm

Empress dowager Trang Ý

Grand Empress dowager Trang Ý

Empress Lệ Thiên Anh (Lệ Thiên Anh Hoàng hậu- 儷天英皇后)

Võ Thị Duyên 1828–1903
Consort Thiện Palace lady

Second rank consort Chiêu

First rank Consort Thiện

Nguyễn Thị Cẩm
Consort Học Palace lady

Fourth rank concubine Lượng

Second rank consort Khiêm

First rank consort Học

The imperial consort dowager (the title of the emperor's mother but not the empress of the former emperor)

Nguyễn Thị Hương
Concubine Mẫn Palace lady

Third rank Concubine Thận

Second rank Consort Cung

Third rank concubine Mẫn

From Lê family
Concubine Lễ Ninth rank lady

Eighth rank lady

Seventh rank lady

Sixth rank lady

Third rank concubine Lễ

Nguyễn Nhược Thị Bích 1830–1909
Concubine Thận Third rank concubine Thận From Hồ family
Concubine Kiệm Fourth rank concubine Kiệm From Bùi family ?-1893
Concubine Tín Fifth rank concubine Tín From Nguyễn Thanh family
Lady Sixth rank lady From Nguyễn Trinh family
Eighth rank lady From Nguyễn Đình family
Ninth rank lady From Nguyễn Nhược family Concubine Lễ's sister
Ninth rank lady Trương Thị Ân
Ninth rank lady From Lê Family
And more with no informations

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c AN ĐẠT (19 January 2018). "Cuốn sách luật quốc tế này đã có thể góp phần thay đổi vận mệnh Việt Nam? Về số phận cuốn sách kinh điển đầu tiên về luật quốc tế được đưa đến Việt Nam" (in Vietnamese). Luật Khoa tạp chí - Sáng kiến Pháp lý Việt Nam (Legal Initiatives for Vietnam). Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  2. ^ "South China in the Imperial Era: South China from 1800 to the fall of the Qing in 1911". CPA Media. 2008. Archived from the original on 30 August 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010. [...] the Black Flags and their leader, Liu Yung-fu, were to acquire a certain dubious legitimacy and fame in the service both of the Vietnamese king, Tu Duc, and of the latter's Qing suzerains in their struggle against French imperialism in Tonkin.
  3. ^ Bruce M. Lockhart, William J. Duiker Historical Dictionary of Vietnam 2010 -Page 154 "A younger brother and adopted son of Emperor Tự Đức, he succeeded his nephew Dục Đức after the latter was deposed by court officials in 1883. Hiép Hoa attempted to wrest power back from these officials, but he was not strong enough"

External links[edit]

Preceded by Nguyễn Dynasty Succeeded by
Emperor Dục Đức