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Bảo Đại

Bảo Đại Vietnamese emperor

Vietnamese emperor
Bảo Đại
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Vietnamese emperor
A.K.A. Bao Dai, Bao-Dai, Bao Daï, Bao Đai
Was Politician Statesperson
From Vietnam
Type Politics
Gender male
Birth 22 October 1913, Huế, Vietnam
Death 30 July 1997, Paris, France (aged 83 years)
Star sign LibraLibra
Mother: Hoang Thi Cuc
Father: Khải Định
Spouse: Nam PhuongLê Thị Phi ÁnhMonique Vinh Thuy Bùi Mộng Điệp
Children: Phương MaiBảo ThắngBảo LongBảo ÂnPhương LiênPhuong DungPhương MinhNguyễn Phúc Phương Thảo
The details


In the Vietnamese name below, Nguyễn is the surname.

Bảo Đại ([ɓa᷉ːw ɗâːjˀ], Hán tự: , lit. "keeper of greatness", 22 October 1913 – 30 July 1997), born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, was the 13th and final Emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty, the last ruling family of Vietnam. From 1926 to 1945, he was Emperor of Annam. During this period, Annam was a protectorate within French Indochina, covering the central two-thirds of the present-day Vietnam. Bảo Đại ascended the throne in 1932.

The Japanese ousted the Vichy-French administration in March 1945 and then ruled through Bảo Đại. At this time, he renamed his country "Vietnam". He abdicated in August 1945 when Japan surrendered. From 1949 until 1955, Bảo Đại was the chief of state of the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Bảo Đại was criticized for being too closely associated with France and spending much of his time outside Vietnam. Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm eventually ousted him in a fraudulent referendum vote in 1955.

Early life

Bảo Đại was born on 22 October 1913 and given the name of Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy (阮福永瑞) in the Palace of Doan-Trang-Vien, part of the compound of the Purple Forbidden City in Huế, the capital of Vietnam. He was later given the name Nguyễn Vĩnh Thụy. His father was Emperor Khải Định of Annam. His mother was the Emperor's second wife, Tu Cung, who was renamed 'Doan Huy' upon her 1913 marriage. She held various titles over the years that indicated her advancing rank as a favored consort until she eventually became Empress Dowager in 1933. Vietnam had been ruled from Huế by the Nguyễn Dynasty since 1802. The French government, which took control of the region in the late 19th century, split Vietnam into three areas: the protectorates of Annam and Tonkin and the colony of Cochinchina. The Nguyễn Dynasty was given nominal rule of Annam.

At the age of nine, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy was sent to France to be educated at the Lycée Condorcet and, later, the Paris Institute of Political Studies. In 1926 he was made the emperor after his father's death and took the name Bảo Đại ("Protector of Grandeur" or "Keeper of Greatness"). He did not ascend to the throne given his age and returned to France to continue his studies.


On 20 March 1934, age 20, at the imperial city of Huế, Bảo Đại married Marie-Thérèse Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan (died 15 September 1963, Chabrignac, France), a commoner from a wealthy Vietnamese Roman Catholic family. She was subsequently given the name Nam Phương (Direction of South). The couple had five children: Crown Prince Bảo Long (4 January 1936 – 28 July 2007), Princess Phương Mai (born 1 August 1937), Princess Phương Liên (born 3 November 1938), Princess Phuong Dung (born 5 February 1942), and Prince Bảo Thắng (9 December 1943 – 15 March 2017). She was granted the title of Empress in 1945.

Enthronement ceremony of the emperor at the Imperial City, Huế
Prince Vĩnh Thụy
Emperor Bảo Đại

Bảo Đại had six other wives and concubines, four of whom he wed during his marriage to Nam Phương:

  • Lê Thị Phi Ánh [vi], a distant cousin, whom he married c. 1935, and by whom he had one daughter and one son, Princess Phương Minh [vi] and Prince Bảo Ân.
  • Lý Lệ Hà, from Hanoi, c. October 1945, no issue.
  • Hoàng Tiểu Lan (born Jenny Wong), a Chinese woman from Hong Kong, whom he married in 1946.
  • Bùi Mộng Điệp, whom he married in 1955 and by whom he had three children, Princess Phương Thao (born 1949), Bảo Hoàng, and Bảo Sơn.
  • Christiane Bloch-Carcenac (1922-2009), during the period of 1957-1970. The last child was Patrick-Edouard Bloch (born 1958).
  • Monique Baudot, a French citizen whom he married in 1972 and who was styled "Imperial Princess" and renamed Monique Vĩnh Thụy.

Independence and abdication

In 1940, during the second World War, coinciding with their ally Nazi Germany's invasion of France, Imperial Japan took over French Indochina. While they did not eject the French colonial administration, the occupation authorities directed policy from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France.

The Japanese promised not to interfere with the court at Huế, but in 1945, after ousting the French, coerced Bảo Đại into declaring Vietnamese independence from France as a member of Japan's "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere"; the country then became the Empire of Vietnam. The Japanese had a Vietnamese pretender, Prince Cường Để, waiting to take power in case the new emperor's "elimination" was required. Japan surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, and the Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh aimed to take power in a free Vietnam. Due to his popular political stand against the French and the 1945 famine, Hồ was able to persuade Bảo Đại to abdicate on 25 August 1945, handing power over to the Việt Minh — an event which greatly enhanced Hồ's legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Bảo Đại was appointed the "supreme advisor" to Hồ's Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi, which asserted its independence on 2 September 1945, but was ousted by the French in November 1946.

Return to power and Indochina War

As Vietnam descended into armed conflict — rival factions clashed with each other and also with the remaining French — Bảo Đại left Vietnam after nearly a year as Supreme Advisor to Ho Chi Minh's Government, living in both Hong Kong and China. The French persuaded him to return in 1949 to serve as "head of state" (quốc trưởng), not as "emperor" (Hoàng Đế). He soon returned to France, however, and showed little interest in the affairs of his own country when his own personal interests were not directly involved.

The communist victory in China in 1949 led to a revival of the fortunes of the Việt Minh. The United States extended diplomatic recognition to Bảo Đại's government in March 1950, soon after communist nations recognized Hồ's government. The outbreak of the Korean War in June led to U.S. military aid and active support of the French war effort in Indochina, now seen as anti-communist rather than colonialist.

But the war between the French colonial forces and the Việt Minh continued, ending in 1954 shortly after a major victory for the Việt Minh at Điện Biên Phủ. The 1954 peace deal between the French and the Việt Minh, known as the Geneva Accords, involved a partition of the country into northern and southern zones. Bảo Đại moved to Paris, but remained "Head of State" of South Vietnam, appointing Ngô Đình Diệm as his prime minister.

Second removal from power

In 1955, Diệm called for a referendum to remove Bảo Đại and establish a republic with Diệm as president. The campaign leading up to the referendum was punctuated by personal attacks against the former emperor, whose supporters had no way to refute them since campaigning for Bảo Đại was forbidden.

In any case, the 23 October referendum was widely condemned as being fraudulent, with the official results showing an implausible result of 98.9% in favor of a republic, while there was also evidence of widespread ballot box stuffing: the number of votes for a republic exceeded the total number of registered voters by 155,025 in Saigon, while the total number of votes exceeded the total number of registered voters by 449,084, and the number of votes for a republic exceeded the total number of registered voters by 386,067.

Life in exile

In 1957, during his visit to Alsace region, he met Christiane Bloch-Carcenac with whom he had an affair for several years. This relationship gave birth to his last child, Patrick Edward Bloch, who still lives in Alsace in France.

In 1972, Bảo Đại issued a public statement from exile, appealing to the Vietnamese people for national reconciliation, stating, "The time has come to put an end to the fratricidal war and to recover at last peace and accord". At times, Bảo Đại maintained residence in southern France, and in particular, in Monaco, where he sailed often on his private yacht, one of the largest in Monte Carlo harbor. He still reportedly held great influence among local political figures in the Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên provinces of Huế. The Communist government of North Vietnam sent representatives to France hoping that Bảo Đại would become a member of a coalition government which might reunite Vietnam, in the hope of attracting his supporters in the regions wherein he still held influence.

As a result of these meetings, Bảo Đại publicly spoke out against the presence of American troops on the territory of South Vietnam, and he criticized President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu's regime in South Vietnam. He called for all political factions to create a free, neutral, peace-loving government which would resolve the tense situation that had taken form in the country.

In 1982, Bảo Đại, his wife Monique, and other members of the former imperial family of Vietnam visited the United States. His agenda was to oversee and bless Buddhist and Caodaiist religious ceremonies, in the Californian and Texan Vietnamese-American communities.

Throughout Bảo Đại's life in both Vietnam and in France, he remained unpopular among the Vietnamese populace as he was considered a political puppet for the French colonialist regime, for lacking any form of political power, and for his cooperation with the French and for his pro-French ideals. The former emperor clarified, however, that his reign was always a constant battle and a balance between preserving the monarchy and the integrity of the nation versus fealty to the French authorities. Ultimately, power devolved away from his person and into ideological camps and in the face of Diem's underestimated influences on factions within the empire.


Bảo Đại died in a military hospital in Paris, France, on 30 July 1997. He was interred in the Cimetière de Passy. After his death, his eldest son, Crown Prince Bảo Long, inherited the position of head of the Nguyễn Dynasty. Crown Prince Bao Long died on 28 July 2007 and his younger brother Bảo Thắng succeeded him as head of the Nguyen dynasty.

In popular culture

  • Bảo Đại was portrayed by actor Huỳnh Anh Tuấn in the 2004 Vietnamese miniseries Ngọn nến Hoàng cung (A Candle in the Imperial Palace).
  • In May 2017, a watch owned by Bảo Đại, a unique Rolex ref. 6062 triple calendar moonphase watch made for him while he was working in Geneva, became one of the most expensive watches ever sold, selling for a then record price of $5,060,427.

Bảo Đại coins

The last cash coin ever produced in the world bears the name of Bảo Đại in Chinese characters.There are three types of this coin. Large cast piece with 10 văn inscription on the reverse, medium cast piece with no reverse inscription, and small struck piece. All were issued in 1933.


  • In 1945 when the Japanese colonel in charge of the Hue garrison told Bảo Đại that he had (in line with the orders of the Allied commander) taken measures ensuring the security of the Imperial Palace and those within it against a possible Việt Minh coup, Bảo Đại dismissed the protection declaring "I do not wish a foreign army to spill the blood of my people."
  • He explained his abdication in 1945 saying "I would prefer to be a citizen of an independent country rather than Emperor of an enslaved one."
  • When, after World War II, France attempted to counter Hồ Chí Minh's popularity and gain the support of the U.S. by creating a puppet government with him, he said "What they call a Bảo Đại solution turns out to be just a French solution."
  • In a rare public statement from France in 1972, Bảo Đại appealed to the people of Vietnam for national reconciliation, saying "The time has come to put an end to the fratricidal war and to recover at last peace and accord."


National Honours

  • Sovereign and Grand Master of the Imperial Order of the Dragon of Annam.
  • Sovereign and Grand Master of the Imperial Order of Merit of Annam (revived and expanded as the National Order of Vietnam on 10 June 1955).

Foreign Honours

  •  Thailand: Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri (Kingdom of Thailand, 1939).
  •  France: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Legion of Honour (10 September 1932).
  •  Cambodia: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Cambodia.
  •  Laos: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol.
  •  Belgium: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown (1935).
  •  Morocco: Knight Grand Cross of the Sharifian Order of Al-Alaoui (Kingdom of Morocco).
  •  Johor: Member First Class of the Royal Family Order of Johor [DKI] (21 March 1933).


16. Thiệu Trị
16. Thiệu Trị
8. Hồng Cai, Duke of Kiến
4. Đồng Khánh
9. Búi Thị Thạnh
2. Khải Định
10. Dương Quang Hường, Duke of Phú Lộc
5. Hựu Thiên Thuần
1. Bảo Đại
6. Hoàng Văn Tích, Duke of Nghi
3. Hoàng Thị Cúc
16. Thiệu Trị
8. Hồng Cai, Duke of Kiến
4. Đồng Khánh
9. Búi Thị Thạnh
2. Khải Định
10. Dương Quang Hường, Duke of Phú Lộc
5. Hựu Thiên Thuần
1. Bảo Đại
6. Hoàng Văn Tích, Duke of Nghi
3. Hoàng Thị Cúc
8. Hồng Cai, Duke of Kiến
4. Đồng Khánh
9. Búi Thị Thạnh
2. Khải Định
10. Dương Quang Hường, Duke of Phú Lộc
5. Hựu Thiên Thuần
1. Bảo Đại
6. Hoàng Văn Tích, Duke of Nghi
3. Hoàng Thị Cúc
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 10 Feb 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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