Yeonsangun of Joseon

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"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).
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 in 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 hall of study as a personal pleasure ground. Because he was overthrown, Yeonsan-gun did not receive a temple name.

Execution of his mother[edit]

Deposed Queen Yoon, formally known as Queen Jeheon, 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 Yoon 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, now known as the Deposed Queen Yoon, into exile. After several popular attempts to restore the deposed Queen 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 poor people. He also showed signs of violent side when he killed Jo Sa-seo, one of his tutors, soon after becoming the king. He eventually learned what happened to his biological mother and tried to restore his mother's title and position posthumously. When the government officials belonging to political faction called Sarim opposed his efforts on the account of 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, which gave Yeonsangun enough cause to order execution of many Sarim officials[1] and mutilation of Kim Jong-jik's remains. This is called the First Literati Purge of 1498 (무오사화 戊午士禍).

In 1504, Im Sa-hong revealed to Yeonsangun details of his mother's death and showed blood-stained piece of clothing, which was allegedly blood vomited by her after drinking poison.[2] Soon afterward, on March 20, 1504, Yeonsangun beat to death two of his father's concubines,[3] for their responsibility for his mother's death. His grandmother, Grand Queen Insu,[4] died when she was pushed by Yeonsagun after one of the altercations. He executed many government officials who 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.[5] Meanwhile, Im Sa-hong was promoted, and he and his allies received many important offices and other awards.[6] This is known as the Second Literati Purge of 1504 (갑자사화 甲子士禍).

Suppression of speech and learning[edit]

He also closed Seonggyeongwan, the royal university, as well as Wongak-sa temple. and converted it to his pleasure grounds, for which young girls and horses were gathered from the whole Korean Peninsula. He intended to open brothels in their place.[7] He demolished a large residential area in the capital and evicted 20,000 residents to build hunting grounds.[8] He also forced people into involuntary labor to work on those 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 his actions, he abolished the Office of Censors (whose function was to criticize inappropriate actions or policies of the king) and Hongmoongwan (library and research center that advised the king with Confucian teachings).[9] 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).)[10] When the chief eunuch Kim Cheo-sun, who served three kings, entreated Yeonsangun to change his ways, the latter killed him by shooting arrows and personally cutting off his limbs, and punished his relatives down to the 7th degree.[clarification needed] When Yeonsangun asked the royal secretaries whether such punishment was appropriate, they didn't dare to say otherwise.[11] He also exiled a minister of rites for spilling a drink that he had poured.

Many people were afraid of his despotic rule and their voices were quelled, in stark contrast to the liberal era of his father.


In 1506, the 12th year of King Yeonsan-gun, a group of officials - notably Park Won-jong,[12] Seong Hui-ahn, Yoo Soon-jeong and Hong Gyeong-ju[13] - 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 to the Gyodong island, where he died the same year after only a few weeks.[14] Consort Jang Nok-su was regarded as the 'femme fatale' that encouraged Yeonsangun's misrule and was beheaded. Yeonsangun's young sons were killed as well.


  1. Princess Consort Munseong of the Shin clan[16][17] (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)[18]
    1. Prince Yangpyeong (양평군)
    2. Prince Yi Don-soo (왕자 이돈수)
    3. A Daughter
  6. Suk-yong Jang Nok-su (숙용 장녹수, ?–1506) [19][20]
    1. A Daughter
  7. Woo Suk-yong (숙용 우씨)[21]
  • 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 down the ground
  • In the television series Dae Jang Geum, he was portrayed as the worst king that Korea had ever had. The first episode was shown with government officials in the reign of King Seongjong poisoning the Deposed Queen Lady Yun, while he was the first born but not yet the Crown Prince. After discovering the incident during his reign, he ordered an investigation leading to the Second Literati Purge. He was deposed when a civil rebellion occurred. His half-brother, Grand Prince Jinseong, the future King Jungjong, succeeded him, through the coup.
  • He was the subject of the hit 2005 film King and the Clown,[22] 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. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234
  2. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  3. ^ Namely, (1st) Jeong Gwi-in & Eom Gwi-in
  4. ^ Formally called Queen Sohye
  5. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  6. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  7. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  8. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  9. ^ Annals, July 14, 1506
  10. ^ "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. 
  11. ^ Annals, April 1, 1505
  12. ^ His adopted daughter (biological daughter of Park Soo-rim) would later become the Royal Noble Consort Gyeong of Grand Prince Jinseong (when the latter becomes Jungjong).
  13. ^ His daughter would later become the Royal Noble Consort Hui of Grand Prince Jinseong (when the latter becomes Jungjong).
  14. ^ (Polish) Joanna Rurarz (2009). Historia Korei. Dialog. ISBN 978-83-89899-28-6. P.234-235
  15. ^ Jeheon is a posthumous title. She was known as "Deposed Queen Yun" during his son's reign.
  16. ^ Daughter of Shin Seung-seon, and younger sister of Shin Su-geun.
  17. ^ Afterwards was known as "Deposed Queen Shin" (폐비신씨)
  18. ^ Daughter of Lee Gong.
  19. ^ Daughter of Jang Han-pil and younger sister of Jang Bok-soo.
  20. ^ Before she became Prince Yeonsan's concubine, she was a domestic slave of Grand Prince Jean
  21. ^ Daughter of Woo Boo-ri.
  22. ^ "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 Korea
Succeeded by