Taejo of Joseon
Portrait of King Taejo of Joseon
|King of Joseon|
|Reign||5 August 1392 – 14 October 1398|
|Coronation||5 August 1392|
Gongyang of Goryeo as King of Goryeo
|Successor||Jeongjong of Joseon|
|King Emeritus of Joseon|
|Tenure||14 October 1398 – 28 November 1400|
|Successor||Jeongjong of Joseon|
|Grand King Emeritus of Joseon|
|Tenure||28 November 1400 – 24 May 1408|
|Successor||Jeongjong of Joseon|
October 27, 1335|
Hamheung, Hamgyeong Province, Kingdom of Goryeo
May 24, 1408 (aged 72)|
Changdeok Palace, Kingdom of Joseon
|Burial||Geonwolleung, Part of the Donggureung Tomb Cluster.|
Jeongjong of Joseon|
Taejong of Joseon
|Father||Hwanjo of Joseon|
|Religion||Buddhism (Korean dominated)|
|Hangul||이성계, later 이단|
|Hanja||李成桂, later 李旦|
|Revised Romanization||I Seonggye, later I Dan|
|McCune–Reischauer||Yi Sŏnggye, later Yi Tan|
Taejo of Joseon (27 October 1335 – 24 May 1408), born Yi Seong-gye, whose changed name is Yi Dan, was the founder and the first king of the Joseon dynasty of Korea reigning from 1392 to 1398, and the main figure in overthrowing the Goryeo Dynasty.
Taejo's father Yi Ja-chun was a minor Mongol official,  but his ethnicity was Korean. Taejo's mother Queen Uihye was originally Chinese from the Yantai-Weihai area of Shandong. Taejo joined the Goryeo army and rose through the ranks, seizing the throne in 1392. He abdicated in 1398 during the strife between his sons and died in 1408.
Historical context for rise
By the late 14th century, the 400-year-old Goryeo Dynasty established by Wang Geon in 918 was tottering, its foundations collapsing from years of war and de facto occupation by the disintegrating Mongol Empire. The legitimacy of Korea itself was also becoming an increasingly disputed issue within the court, as the ruling house failed not only to govern the kingdom effectively, but was also tarnished by generations of forced intermarriage with members of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty imperial family and by rivalry amongst the various Goryeo Dynasty royal family branches (even King U's mother was a known commoner, thus leading to rumors disputing his descent from King Gongmin).
Within the kingdom, influential aristocrats, generals, and even prime ministers struggled for royal favor and vied for domination of the court, resulting in deep divisions among various factions. With the ever-increasing number of raids against Goryeo conducted by Japanese pirates (wakō) and the Red Turbans invasions of Korea, those who came to dominate the royal court were the reformed-minded Sinjin aristocracy and the opposing Gweonmun aristocracy, as well as generals who could actually fight off the foreign threats—namely a talented general named Yi Seong-gye and his rival Choe Yeong. With the rise of the Ming Dynasty under a former monk, Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor), Mongol forces became more vulnerable. By the 1350s Goryeo regained its full independence from the waning Mongol Empire, although Mongol remnants effectively occupied northeastern territories with large garrisons of troops.
General Yi Seong-gye had gained power and respect during the late 1370s and early 1380s by pushing Mongol remnants off the peninsula and also by repelling well-organized Japanese pirates in a series of successful engagements. He was also credited with routing the Red Turbans when they made their move into the Korean Peninsula as part of their rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty. Following in the wake of the rise of the Ming Dynasty under Zhu Yuanzhang, the royal court in Goryeo split into two competing factions: the group led by General Yi (supporting the Ming Dynasty) and the camp led by his rival General Choe (supporting the Yuan Dynasty).
When a Ming messenger came to Goryeo in 1388 (the 14th year of King U) to demand the return of a significant portion of Goryeo’s northern territory, General Choe seized the opportunity and played upon the prevailing anti-Ming atmosphere to argue for the invasion of the Liaodong Peninsula (Goryeo claimed to be the successor of the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo; as such, restoring Manchuria as part of Korean territory was a tenet of its foreign policy throughout its history).
A staunchly opposed Yi was chosen to lead the invasion; however, at Wihwa Island on the Amrok River, he made a momentous decision, commonly called "Turning back the army from Wihwa Island", that would alter the course of Korean history. Knowing of the support he enjoyed both from high-ranking government officials, the general populace, and the great deterrent of Ming Empire under the Hongwu Emperor, he decided to revolt and swept back to the capital, Gaegyeong, to secure control of the government.
General Yi swept his army from the Yalu River straight into the capital, defeated forces loyal to the king (led by General Choe, whom he proceeded to eliminate) and forcibly dethroned King U in a de facto coup d'état but did not ascend to the throne right away. Instead, he placed on the throne King U's son, King Chang, and following a failed restoration of the former monarch, had both of them put to death. General Yi, now the undisputed power behind the throne, soon forcibly had a Goryeo royal named Yo, now King Gongyang (공양왕; 恭讓王), crowned as king. After indirectly enforcing his grasp on the royal court through the puppet king, Yi then proceeded to ally himself with Sinjin aristocrats such as Jeong Do-jeon and Jo Jun. In 1392 (the 4th year of King Gongyang), Yi dethroned King Gongyang, exiled him to Wonju (where he and his family were secretly murdered), and ascended the throne. The Goryeo Dynasty had come to an end after 475 years of rule.
One of the most widely repeated episodes that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Goryeo was in 1392, when Taejo's fifth son, Yi Bang-won (later King Taejong), threw a party for the renowned scholar, poet and statesman Jeong Mong-ju, who refused to be won over by Yi despite their numerous correspondences in the form of archaic poems, and continued to be a faithful supporter of the old dynasty, and a leading figure in the opposition to Yi's claim to the throne. Jeong was revered throughout Goryeo, even by Yi Bang-won himself, but he was seen to be an obstacle and as such, in the eyes of supporters of the new dynasty, had to be removed. After the party, on his way home, Jeong was murdered by five men on the Seonjuk Bridge (선죽교; 善竹橋) in Gaeseong. This bridge has now become a national monument of North Korea, and a brown spot on one of the stones is said to be a bloodstain of his which turns red when it rains.
Yi Seong-gye declared a new dynasty in 1392–1393 under the name of Joseon, thereby reviving an older state, also known as Joseon, that was, legendarily, established nearly three thousand years previously, and renamed the country the "Kingdom of Great Joseon".
An early achievement of the new monarch was improved relations with China; and indeed, Joseon had its origin in General Yi's refusal to attack China in response to raids from Chinese bandits. Shortly after his accession, the new monarch sent envoys to inform the Ming court at Nanjing that a dynastic change had taken place. Korean envoys were dispatched to Japan, seeking the re-establishment of amicable relations. The mission was successful; and shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was reported to have been favorably impressed by this initial embassy. Envoys from the Ryūkyū Kingdom were received in 1392, 1394 and 1397. Siam sent an envoy in 1393.
In 1394, the capital was established at Hanseong (Seoul). When the new dynasty was promulgated and officially brought into existence, Taejo brought up the issue of which son would be his successor. Although Taejo's fifth son by Queen Sineui, Yi Bang-won, had contributed most to assisting his father's rise to power, he harbored a profound hatred against two of his father's key allies in the court, the prime minister Jeong Do-jeon and Nam Eun.
Both sides were fully aware of the mutual animosity that existed between each other and constantly felt threatened. When it became clear that Yi Bang-won was the most worthy successor to the throne, Jeong Do-jeon used his influence on the king to convince him that the wisest choice would be in the son that Taejo loved most, not the son that Taejo felt was best for the kingdom.
In 1392, the eighth son of King Taejo (the second son of Queen Sindeok), Grand Prince Uian (Yi Bang-seok) was appointed Prince Royal, or successor to the throne. After the sudden death of the queen, and while King Taejo was still in mourning for his second wife, Jeong Do-jeon conspired to pre-emptively kill Yi Bang-won and his brothers to secure his position in court.
In 1398, upon hearing of this plan, Yi Bang-won immediately revolted and raided the palace, killing Jeong Do-jeon, his followers, and the two sons of the late Queen Sindeok. This incident became known as the First Strife of Princes. Aghast at the fact that his sons were willing to kill each other for the crown, and psychologically exhausted from the death of his second wife, King Taejo immediately crowned his second son Yi Bang-gwa, later King Jeongjong, as the new ruler. Thereafter, King Taejo retired to the Hamhung Royal Villa.
In 1400, King Jeongjong invested his brother Yi Bang-won as heir presumptive and voluntarily abdicated. That same year, Yi Bang-won assumed the throne of Joseon at long last as King Taejong.
|Ancestors of Taejo of Joseon|
|Joseon dynasty monarchs|
- Father: King Hwanjo of Joseon (1315 – 1 January 1361) (조선 환조) (이자춘, 1315-January 1361)
- Grandfather: King Dojo of Joseon (? – 1342) (조선 도조)
- Grandmother: Queen Gyeongsun of the Munju Park clan (경순왕후 박씨)
- Mother: Queen Uihye of the Yeongheung Choi clan (의혜왕후 최씨)
- Grandfather: Choi Han-Gi (최한기)
- Grandmother: Lady Joseonguk of Lee clan (조선국대부인 이씨)
- Consorts and their Respective Issue:
- Queen Shinui of the Anbyeon Han clan (September 1337 – 21 October 1391) (신의왕후 한씨)
- Yi Bang-U, Grand Prince Jinan (1354 - 15 January 1394) (이방우 진안대군)
- Yi Bang-Gwa, Grand Prince Yeongan (18 July 1357 – 15 October 1419) (이방과 영안대군)
- Yi Bang-Ui, Grand Prince Ikan (1360 – 26 September 1404) (이방의 익안대군)
- Yi Bang-Gan, Grand Prince Hwoean (2 July 1364 – 10 April 1421) (이방간 회안대군)
- Yi Bang-Won, Grand Prince Jeongan (13 June 1367 – 30 May 1422) (이방원 정안대군)
- Yi Bang-Yeon, Grand Prince Deokan (이방연 덕안대군)
- Princess Gyeongshin (? – 29 April 1426) (경신공주)
- Princess Gyeongseon (경선공주)
- Queen Sindeok of the Goksan Kang clan (12 July 1356 – 15 September 1396) (신덕왕후 강씨)
- Royal Noble Consort Seong of the Wonju Won clan (? – 29 December 1449) (성비 원씨)
- Lady Jeonggyeong of the Goheung Yu clan (정경궁주 유씨)
- Princess Hwaui of the Kim clan (? – 1428) (화의옹주 김씨)
- Princess Sukshin (? – 1453) (숙신옹주)
- Lady Chandeok of the Ju clan (찬덕 주씨)
- Princess Uiryeong (? – 1 February 1466) (의령옹주)
His full posthumous name
- King Taejo Jiin Gyewun Seongmun Shinmu the Great of Joseon
- King Taejo Kangheon Jiin Gyewun Seongmun Shinmu the Great of Joseon
- Emperor Taejo Jiin Gyewun Eungcheon Jotong Gwanghun Yeongmyeong Seongmun Shinmu Jeong'ui Gwangdeok of the Korean Empire
The tomb of his Umbilical cord is in Man-In-san, Geumsan-gun, South Chungcheong Province in the Republic of Korea.
Despite the fact that he overthrew the kingdom of Goryeo, and purged officials who remained loyal to the old regime, many regard him as a revolutionary and a decisive ruler who deposed the inept, obsolete and crippled governing system to save the nation from many foreign forces and conflicts.
Safeguarding domestic security led the Koreans to rebuild and further discover their culture. In the midst of the rival Yuan and Ming Dynasties, the Joseon Dynasty encouraged the development of national identity which once was threatened by the Mongols. However, some scholars, particularly in North Korea, view him as a mere traitor to the old regime, paralleling him to a bourgeois apostate, and General Choe Yeong as a military elite, who conservatively served the old regime of Goryeo to death.
Portrayals in adaptations
- Portrayed by Ji Jin-hee in the 2012-2013 SBS TV series The Great Seer.
- Portrayed by Yoo Dong-geun in the 2014 KBS1 TV series Jeong Do-jeon.
- Portrayed by Lee Dae-yeon in the 2014 film The Pirates.
- Portrayed by Lee Do-kyung in the 2015 JTBC TV series Maids.
- Portrayed by Son Byong-ho in the 2015 film Empire of Lust.
- Portrayed by Chun Ho-jin in the 2015-2016 SBS TV series Six Flying Dragons.
- Portrayed by Kim Ki-hyeon in the 2016 KBS1 TV series Jang Yeong-sil.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Taejo of Joseon.|
- Encyclopedia of Korean Culture 의혜왕후 懿惠王后. Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. Retrieved 2017-02-08.
- Doosan Encyclopedia 의혜왕후 懿惠王后. Doosan Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2017-02-09.
- Hussain, Tariq. (2006). Diamond Dilemma: Shaping Korea for the 21st Century, p. 45; Hodge, Carl Cavanagh. (2008). Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914: A–K, p. 401.
- Goodrich, L. Carrington et al. (1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368–1644 (明代名人傳), Vol. II, p. 1601.
- Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, p. 320; Northeast Asian History Foundation: Korea-Japan relations> Early Modern Period> Foreign Relations in Early Joseon Archived 2009-10-28 at the Wayback Machine..
- "Seoul municipality website". Archived from the original on 2011-05-15.
- "About Seoul> History> General Information> Center of Korean Culture". Archived from the original on 2012-12-03.
- Seoul municipality: News> Features> Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty> Ggureung Tomb Complex at Guri-si, Gyeonggi-do.
- One of the many issues demonstrating the early strained relationship between the early Joseon & Ming was the debate of Taejo's genealogy, which began as early as 1394 [Taejo Sillok, vol.6, 14 July 1394, entry 1] and became a sort of diplomatic friction that lasted over 200 years. The Collected Regulations of the Great Ming (then known as simplified Chinese: 大明会通; traditional Chinese: 大明會通; pinyin: Dà Míng Hùitōng) erroneously recorded "Yi Dan" (이단; Taejo's original name) as the son of Yi In-im (이인임), and that "Yi Dan" killed the last four kings of Goryeo, thereby establishing Ming's opinion of Taejo as an usurper first and foremost, from the time of the Hongwu Emperor when he repeatedly refused to acknowledge him as the new sovereign of the Korean peninsula (1373-1395). The first mention of this error was in 1518 (about 9 years after the publication; Jungjong Sillok, vol.32, 03 June 1518, entry 1), and those who saw the publication wrote petitions towards Ming demanding for redress, among others Fourth State Councillor (좌찬성) Lee Gye-maeng (이계맹) & then-Minister of Rites (예조판서) Nam Gon, whose petition "Jong'gye Byeonmu" (종계변무 宗系辨誣) [Jungjong Sillok, vol.33, 03 July 1518, entry 1] took until 1584 (after many Ming envoys had seen it), through Chief Scholar (대제학) Hwang Jeong-uk (황정욱), that the issue was finally addressed Seonjo Sillok, 02 December 1584, entry 2]; the Wanli Emperor commissioned a second edition in 1576 (covering the years covers the years between 1479 and 1584). About a year after its completion, Yoo Hong (유홍) saw the revision, and returned to Joseon with the good news [Seonjo Sillok, vol.22, 23 April 1588, entry 1; 19 May 1588, entry 1].
- Also known by his Mongolian name "Ulus Buqa" (吾魯思不花/吾魚思不花).
- Taejo first honored his recent agnatic forefathers to the 4th degree and their legal wives with the posthumous titles "King" (왕 wang) & "Consort" (비 bi) on 16 August 1392 [Taejo Sillok, vol. 1, yr. 1, entry 2], further confirmed on 20 November 1392 [Taejo Sillok, vol. 2, yr. 1, entry 1]. Taejong upgraded the earlier honors bestowed on his forefathers by bestowing them the temple names "Progenitor" (조 jo) in the posthumous style of "the Great (King)" (대왕 daewang), & the posthumous title of "Queen" (왕후 wanghu), on 14 May 1411 [Taejong Sillok, vol.21, yr. 11, entry 1]. Yi Ja-chun and his wife Lady Choe were posthumously honored by his son Taejo as "King Hwan" (환왕) & "Consort Ui" (의비) respectively, & their grandson Taejong with the temple name "Hwanjo the Great" (환조대왕; simp. "Hwanjo") & posthumous name "Queen Uihye" (의혜왕후) respectively.
- Daughter of Choi Han-gi (최한기, dates unknown; original name Jo Jo (조조)), Duke Jeonghyo (정효공) & Lord Yeongheung (영흥부원군); and Lady Lee (이씨), Lady Joseonguk (조선국대부인).
- Taejo first honored his deceased first wife with the posthumous title "Consort Jeol" (절비) in 1393, and was upgraded by their 2nd son then-reigning king Jeongjong with the posthumous name "Queen Shin'ui" on 19 December 1398 [Taejo Sillok, vol. 15, yr. 7, entry 1]. Taejong further adulated his mother by upgrading her from "Queen" to "the Great (Queen)" (왕태후 wangtaehu) on 25 September 1408, but on 6 July 1683, Sukjong reverted her posthumous name to that of "Queen". Elevated during the Korean Empire as "Shin'ui, the Empress Go" (신의고황후) in 1897.
- Daughter of Han Gyeong (한경), Duke Gyeongmin (경민공) & Lord Ancheon (안천부원군); & Lady Shin (신씨), Lady Samhanguk (삼한국대부인).
- His princess consort and wife (Lady Ji, Lady Samhanguk (삼한국대부인 지씨))'s two younger sisters became his younger brother Jeongjong's concubines (Royal Concubine Seong (성빈) & (Decent Beauty (숙의)).
- Later married Yi Ae (이애; original name Yi Baek-gyeong (이백경)), eldest son of Yi Geo-yi (이거이, killer of Prince Ui'an-daegun), Duke Mundo (문도공) & Lord Seowon (서원부원군); created Prince Consort Sangdang (상당부원군).
- Later married Shim Jong (심종), 6th son of Shim Deok-bu (심덕부, 1328-1401), Duke Jeong'an (정안공) & Count Cheongseong (청성백); created Prince Consort Cheongwon (청원군). Her elder brother-in-law Shim On (심온)'s eldest daughter later became Sejong's Queen Consort.
- Seoul municipality: About Seoul> History> Historical Sites> Royal Tombs & Shrines> Jeongneung.
- Only called as "Consort Hyeon" (현비), and was never granted a posthumous name due to Taejong's enmity towards her and her sons. In 1669, at the recommendation of Song Si-yeol, Hyeonjong granted her her rightful place at the Royal Shrine on August 30, and the posthumous name "Queen Sindeok" was finally granted on September 14. Elevated during the Korean Empire as "Sindeok, the Empress Go" (신덕고황후) in 19 December [O.S. 17 November] 1899.
- Youngest daughter of Kang Yoon-seong (강윤성, dates unknown), Duke Munjeong (문정공) & Lord Sangsan (상산부원군); & Lady Kang (진주 강씨), Lady Jinsan (진산부부인).
- On 14 September 1406, Taejong bestowed upon his slain half-brothers Yi Bang-beon & Yi Bang-seok the posthumous titles of "Prince Gongsun-gun" (공순군) & "Prince Sodo-gun" (소도군); Taejong never acknowledging the fact that his youngest brother became the Crown Prince (07 September 1392; Yi Bang-gwa stripped him off his title during the First Strife of Princes). On 21 August 1680, Sukjong elevated their posthumous names to "Prince Mu'an-daegun" & "Prince Ui'an-daegun".
- Both princes were slain during the onslaught of the First Strife of Princes (제1차 왕자의 난). Jo Jun (조준) killed Yi Bang-beon out of the city gates; after being stripped off his title as Crown Prince, Yi Geo-yi (father-in-law of his elder half-sister Princess Gyeongshin) and others, appeared from Yeongchumun Gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace and killed him. Their younger sister Princess Gyeongsun's husband Yi Je was killed alongside Jeong Do-jeon's faction.
- Married Yi Je (이제, 1365 – October 06, 1398), son of Yi Il-lip (이인립), nephew of Yi In-im (이인임, ?–1388); created Meritorious Prince Heung'an (흥안군) for services offered during Taejo's foundation of Joseon.
- After the First Strife of Princes, Yi Bang-gwa ordered Princess Gyeongsun out of the palace.
- Became Taejo's concubine and entered the palace on 13 March 1398 [Taejo Sillok, vol. 13, yr. 7, entry 2], and was first bestowed the title of "Royal Concubine" (빈 bin). In 1406, Taejong raised her title to that of Consort (비 bi; equivalent to the highest-ranking conubine reminiscent of Goryeo).
- Married Taejo in 1398, Eldest daughter of Won Sang (원상, dates unknown), Duke Huijeong (희정공); and Lady Sohn (손씨, ?-1414).
- Lady Yu served as a palace girl under Queen Sindeok. On 25 January 1398, along with Chiljeomseon, Taejo bestowed on her the title of "Princess Jeonggyeong" (정경옹주) [Taejo Sillok, vol. 13, yr. 7, entry 1]. Taejong elevated her title to that of "Lady Jeonggyeong" on 29 May 1406 [Taejong Sillok, vol. 11, yr. 6, entry 3].
- Daughter of Yu Jun (유준). Her last known recorded instance was during Sejong's 1st year [Sejong Sillok, vol. 5, 15 October 1419, entry 5].
- Chiljeomseon was born a courtesan of Gimhae. On 25 January 1398, along with Lady Yu, Taejo bestowed on her the title of "Princess Hwa'ui" [Taejo Sillok, vol. 13, yr. 7, entry 1].
- Later married Hong Hae (홍해), son of Hong Eon-soo (홍언수); created Lord Dangseong (당성위).
- Chandeok (찬덕) was an old title that was part of the Inner Court of Ladies (내명부) during the early Joseon Dynasty, with a grade of 3rd Rank (3품) [Taejong Sillok vol.1, 23 March 1401, entry 2; vol.9, 14 February 1405, entry 3]. This title wasn't unique to the Joseon Dynasty, since during Gaozong of Tang's rule, he reformed the ranks of the imperial consorts, with 2 zanteh (贊德) ranking just below the Empress. Created during Taejong's rule, it disappeared by the time of both Sejong's rule & Lady Ju's death.
- Later married Yi Deung (이등), son of Yi Gae (이개); created Lord Gyecheon (계천위).
- Taejong of Joseon Sillok vol.16, 07 August 1408, entry 3.
- Preface to Taejo Sillok, entry 1. The posthumous title "Kangheon" (강헌 康獻) was bestowed from Ming, and was added to Taejo's posthumous name [Taejong Sillok vol.16, 13 October 1408, entry 1].
- Gojong Sillok vol.39, 23 December 1899, entry 1. Gojong notably omitted the posthumous title China bestowed on Taejo as a sign of the Empire's "independence" from Qing
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Taejo of JoseonBorn: 11 October 1335 Died: 24 May 1408
|| King of Joseon
August 5, 1392 – October 14, 1398