Queen Sinjeong (21 January 1809 - 4 June 1890) (신정왕후 조씨) also known as Queen Dowager Hyoyu (효유왕대비) was the only wife of Crown Prince Hyomyeong of Joseon and mother of king Heonjong of Joseon. She served as nominal regent of Joseon during the minority of Gojong’s reign, whom she had selected to place upon the throne, in 1864-1873, although she left all de facto power to the king's father Heungseon Daewongun and only kept the formal title as regent.
Sinjeong was the spouse of Crown Prince Hyomyeong, who died in 1830. Her son, Heonjong of Joseon, became king in 1834 but died childless in 1849, and was succeeded by a distant relative, Cheoljong of Joseon. After the death of her son, she was given the title Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong.
In January 1864, King Cheoljong died without an heir. There were no male heirs, the result of suspected foul play by a rival branch of the royal family, the Andong Kim clan. The Andong Kim clan had risen to power through intermarriage with the House of Yi. The selection of the next king was in the hands of three dowagers: Queen Sinjeong, mother of King Heonjong; Queen Myeongheon, King Heonjong’s wife; and Queen Cheorin, Cheoljong's wife. The "designation right" resided with Dowager Queen Sinjeong, as she was the oldest of the dowagers.
Queen Cheorin, the queen consort of Cheoljong and a member of the Andong Kim clan, claimed the right to choose the next king, although traditionally, the eldest queen dowager is the one with the authority to select the new king. Cheoljong’s cousin, Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong (the widow of King Heonjong's father [entitled Ikjong]) of the Pungyang Jo clan, who too had risen to prominence by intermarriage with the Yi family, currently held this title.
Queen Sinjeong saw an opportunity to advance the cause of the Pungyang Jo clan, the only true rival of the Andong Kim clan in Korean politics. As Cheoljong fell deeper under his illness, the Grand Royal Dowager Queen was approached by Yi Ha-eung, a descendant of King Injo (r.1623–1649), whose father was made an adoptive son of Prince Eunsin, a nephew of King Yeongjo (r.1724–1776). The branch that Yi Ha-eung's family belonged to was an obscure line of descent of the Yi clan, which survived the often deadly political intrigue that frequently embroiled the Joseon court by forming no affiliation with any factions. Yi Ha-eung himself was ineligible for the throne due to a law that dictated that any possible heir to the kingdom be part of the generation after the most recent incumbent of the throne, but his second son Yi Myeong-bok, and later Emperor Gojong, was a possible successor to the throne.
The Pungyang Jo clan saw that Yi Myeong-bok was only twelve years old and would not be able to rule in his own name until he came of age, and that they could easily influence Yi Ha-eung, who would be acting as regent for the future king. As soon as news of Cheoljong's death reached Yi Ha-eung through his intricate network of spies in the palace, he and the Pungyang Jo clan took the hereditary royal seal — an object that was considered necessary for a legitimate reign to take place and aristocratic recognition to be received — effectively giving her absolute power to select the successor to the throne. By the time Cheoljong's death had become a known fact, the Andong Kim clan was powerless according to law as the seal lay in the hands of the Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong.
In an apocryphal story, Queen Cheorin sent a minister to fetch the son of Yi Ha-eung, eleven-year-old Yi Myeong-bok, who was flying a kite in a palace garden. The son was brought to the palace in a sedan chair, where Queen Sinjeong rushed forward and called him her son, thus producing the new Joseon king, King Gojong, adopted son of Crown Prince Hyomyeong. This story may or may not be true.
These facts, however, are known to be correct. On 16 January 1864, Yi Myeong-bok was appointed the Prince of Ikseong by Dowager Queen Sinjeong. The next day, his father was granted the title Heungseon Daewongun. On 21 January, Yi Myeong-bok was enthroned as King Gojong, and Dowager Queen Sinjeong began her regency. Yi was apparently chosen because "he was the only suitable surviving male member of the Yi clan and closest by blood to the royal house".
Since Gojong was so young, Queen Sinjeong invited the Daewongun to assist his son in ruling. She virtually renounced her right to be regent, and though she remained the titular regent, the Daewongun was in fact the true ruler.
- Father : Jo Man-Yeong (1776 - 1846) (조만영)
- Grandfather : Jo Jin-Gwan (1739 - 1808) (조진관)
- Grandmother : Lady Hong of the Namyang Hong clan (1739 - 1799) (남양 홍씨)
- Mother : Lady Song of the Eunjin Song clan (1776 - 1834) (은진 송씨)
- Husband : Yi Yeong, Crown Prince Hyomyeong (18 September 1809 - 25 June 1830) (이영 효명세자)