Yeonsangun of Joseon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Yeonsangun)
Jump to: navigation, search
"Yeonsan-gun" redirects here. For the county in North Korea, see Yonsan County.
"Prince Yeonsan" redirects here. For the 1961 film, see Prince Yeonsan (film).
Yi Yung
King of Joseon
Reign 20 January 1494 – 2 September 1506
Predecessor Seongjeong (Yi Hyeol)
Successor Jungjong (Yi Yeok)
Born 23 November 1476
Died 20 November 1506 (aged 29)
Consort Princess consort Munseong
Posthumous name
King Heoncheon Hongdo Gyungmun Wimu the Great of Korea
House Jeonju Yi
Father Seongjeong (Yi Hyeol)
Mother Jeheon, Deposed Queen consort
Yeonsangun of Joseon
Revised Romanization Yeonsan-gun
McCune–Reischauer Yŏnsan'gun
Birth name
Revised Romanization I Yung
McCune–Reischauer Yi Yung

Yeonsan-gun (23 November 1476 – 20 November 1506, r. 1494–1506), born Yi Yung, was the 10th king of Korea's Joseon Dynasty. He was the eldest son of Seongjong by his second wife, Lady Yoon. He is often considered the worst tyrant of the Joseon Dynasty, notorious for launching two bloody purges of the seonbi elite. He also seized a thousand women from the provinces to serve as palace entertainers, and appropriated the Seonggyungwan study hall as a personal pleasure ground. Overthrown, Yeonsan-gun did not receive a temple name.

Execution of his mother[edit]

Queen Yun, later known as the Deposed Queen Lady Yun, served Prince Yeonsan's father, Seongjong, as a concubine until the death of Queen Gonghye, Seongjong's first wife. With no royal heir, the King was urged by counselors to take a second wife to secure the royal succession. Lady Yun was chosen for her beauty, and was formally married in 1476. Several months later, she gave birth to her first son, Yi Yung, later to become Prince Yeonsan. The new Queen proved to be temperamental and highly jealous of Seongjong's concubines living inside the palace, even poisoning one in 1477. In 1479, she physically struck the King one night, leaving scratch marks. Despite efforts to conceal the injury, Seongjong's mother, Grand Queen Insu, discovered the truth and ordered Lady Yoon into exile. After several popular attempts to restore the deposed Queen Yun to her position at court, government officials petitioned that she be poisoned, and she was.

Two purges[edit]

The Crown Prince grew up and succeeded Seongjong in 1494. During his early reign, he was a wise and able administrator who strengthened the national defense and aided the poor. However, he also showed signs of a violent side when he killed Jo Sa-seo, one of his tutors, soon after becoming the king. He eventually learned of what had happened to his biological mother and attempted to posthumously restore her titles and position. When government officials belonging to the Sarim political faction opposed his efforts on account of serving Seongjong's will, he was displeased and looked for ways to eliminate them. In 1498 Kim Il Son, a disciple of Kim Jong-jik, included a paragraph in the royal record that was critical of King Sejo's usurpation of throne in 1455. Kim Il Son and other followers of Kim Jong-jik were accused of treason by a rival faction, giving Yeonsangun cause enough to order the execution of many Sarim officials[1] and the mutilation of Kim Jong-jik's remains.[2] This came to be known as the First Literati Purge (무오사화 戊午士禍).

In 1504, Im Sa-hong revealed to Yeonsangun details of his mother's death and showed him a blood-stained piece of clothing, the blood allegedly vomited by her after taking poison.[3] Soon afterward, on March 20, 1504, Yeonsangun beat to death two of his father's concubines, Gwiins Jeong and Eom, for their part in his mother's death. His grandmother, Grand Queen Insu, formally the Queen Sohye, died when she was pushed by Yeonsagun after an altercation. He executed many government officials who had supported the execution of his mother, now posthumously known as Queen Jeheon, and ordered the grave of Han Myeong-hoi to be opened and the head cut off the corpse. He even punished officials known simply to be present at the royal court at that time, for the crime of not preventing the actions of those who abused his mother.[4] Meanwhile, Im Sa-hong was promoted, and he and his allies received many important offices and other awards.[5] This came to be known as the Second Literati Purge (갑자사화 甲子士禍).

Suppression of speech and learning[edit]

Yeonsangun closed Seonggyeongwan, the royal university, as well as Wongak-sa temple, and converted them to be his personal pleasure grounds, for which young girls and horses were gathered from the whole of the Korean Peninsula. He intended to open personal brothels in their place.[6] He demolished a large residential area in the capital and evicted 20,000 residents to build hunting grounds.[7] He also forced people into involuntary labor to work on these projects. Many commoners mocked and insulted the king with posters written in hangul. This provoked the anger of Yeonsangun, and he banned the use of hangul.

When ministers protested against his actions, he abolished the Office of Censors (whose function was to criticize inappropriate actions or policies of the King) and Hongmoongwan (a library and research center that advised the King with Confucian teachings).[8] He ordered his ministers to wear a sign that read: "A mouth is a door that brings in disaster; a tongue is a sword that cuts off a head. A body will be in peace as long as its mouth is closed and its tongue is deep within." (口是禍之門 舌是斬身刀 閉口深藏舌 安身處處牢).)[9] When the chief eunuch Kim Cheo-sun, who had served three kings, entreated Yeonsangun to change his ways, Yeonsangun killed him by shooting arrows and personally cutting off his limbs, in addition Yeonsangun punished his relatives down to the 7th degree. When Yeonsangun asked the royal secretaries whether such punishment was appropriate, they did not dare to say otherwise.[10] He also exiled a minister of rites for spilling a drink that he had poured.

In stark contrast to the liberal era of his father, many people became afraid of his despotic rule and their voices were silenced.


In 1506, the 12th year of King Yeonsan, a group of officials – notably Park Won-jong,[a] Seong Hui-ahn, Yoo Soon-jeong and Hong Gyeong-ju[b] plotted against the despotic ruler. They launched their coup on 2 September 1506, deposing the king and replacing him with his half-brother, Grand Prince Jinseong. The king was demoted to prince, and sent into exile on Ganghwado, where he died the same year after only a few weeks.[7] Consort Jang Nok-su, who was regarded as a 'femme fatale' who had encouraged Yeonsangun's misrule, was beheaded, Yeonsangun's young sons were also killed.


  • Father: King Seongjong (성종)
  • Mother: Queen Jeheon of the Haman Yun clan[11] (제헌왕후 윤씨)
  • Consorts:
  1. Princess Consort Munseong of the Shin clan[12][13] (거창군부인 신씨, 1472–1537)
    1. Deposed Prince Successor (폐세자)
    2. Grand Prince Changnyeong (창녕대군)
    3. Princess Donsu (돈수옹주)
  2. Deposed Royal Noble Consort of the Jo clan (폐빈 조씨)
  3. Jeon Suk-yong (숙용 전씨)
  4. Kim Suk-won (숙원 김씨)
  5. Lee Suk-ui (숙의 이씨)[14]
    1. Prince Yangpyeong (양평군)
    2. Prince Yi Don-soo (왕자 이돈수)
    3. A Daughter
  6. Suk-yong, Jang Nok-su (숙용 장녹수, ?–1506) [15][16]
    1. A Daughter
  7. Woo Suk-yong (숙용 우씨)[17]
  • No issue

His eulogistic posthumous name[edit]

  • King Heoncheon Hongdo Gyungmun Wimu the Great of Korea
  • 헌천홍도경문위무대왕
  • 憲天弘道經文緯武大王

In media[edit]

  • In the television series Jang Nok-su, which portrays both him and his favorite concubine, the titular Jang Nok-su. Jang Nok-su is widely known as one of the most notorious femmes fatales in Korean history. She was beheaded after Yeonsangun was deposed.
  • In the series Woman of the World (where the main characters are his half-brother's 3rd wife and her 2nd sister-in-law), the coup against Prince Yeonsan is one of the first scenes shown in the first episode. He is portrayed as slightly erratic and insane, trembling and sometimes falling to the ground
  • In the television series Dae Jang Geum, he is portrayed as the worst king that Korea had ever had.
  • He was the subject of the hit 2005 film King and the Clown,[18] which gives a different depiction of Yeonsangun (as a king emotionally and perhaps sexually fascinated by an effeminate male court jester) and the story of deposed Queen Yun (who was portrayed differently as being set up by the Dowager Queen Insu and her husband's two jealous concubines).
  • He was portrayed in the last episodes of 2008 television series The King and I.
  • He was portrayed in the last 5 episodes of 2011 television series Queen Insoo.
  • He was portrayed in the 2015 film The Treacherous.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ His adopted daughter (biological daughter of Park Soo-rim) would later become the Royal Noble Consort Gyeong of Grand Prince Jinseong (when the latter became Jungjong).
  2. ^ His daughter would later become the Royal Noble Consort Hui of Grand Prince Jinseong (when the latter became Jungjong).


  1. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234
  2. ^ In traditional East Asian culture the corpse has to be complete in order for the soul to survive in the afterlife and be reincarnated, to mutilate the corpse was seen as not only a punishment in this life but as in the next too
  3. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  4. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  5. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  6. ^ Rurarz, Joanna (2009). Historia Korei [History of Korea] (in Polish). Dialog. pp. 234–35. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. 
  7. ^ a b Rurarz 2009, p. 234–35.
  8. ^ Annals, July 14, 1506
  9. ^ "연산 52권, 10년(1504 갑자 / 명 홍치(弘治) 17년) 3월 13일(갑술) 8번째기사". The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (in Korean). National Institute of Korean History. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  10. ^ Annals, April 1, 1505
  11. ^ Jeheon is a posthumous title. She was known as "Deposed Queen Yun" during his son's reign.
  12. ^ Daughter of Shin Seung-seon, and younger sister of Shin Su-geun.
  13. ^ Afterwards was known as "Deposed Queen Shin" (폐비신씨)
  14. ^ Daughter of Lee Gong.
  15. ^ Daughter of Jang Han-pil and younger sister of Jang Bok-soo.
  16. ^ Before she became Prince Yeonsan's concubine, she was a domestic slave of Grand Prince Jean
  17. ^ Daughter of Woo Boo-ri.
  18. ^ "E-Annals Bring Chosun History to Everyman". Chosun Ilbo. 27 January 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
Yeonsangun of Joseon
Born: 1476 Died: 1506
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Joseon
Succeeded by