|Intro||21st King of Joseon Dynasty in Korean history|
|From||North Korea South Korea Korea|
|Field||Arts Military Royals Science|
|Birth||31 October 1694, Seoul, South Korea|
|Death||22 April 1776, Seoul, South Korea (aged 81 years)|
Yeongjo of Joseon (31 October 1694 – 22 April 1776, reigned 16 October 1724 – 22 April 1776) was the 21st king of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. He was the second son of King Sukjong. His mother was Consort Suk of the Choi clan. Before ascending to power, his name was Prince Yeoning. In 1720, a few months after the accession of his older brother, King Gyeongjong as the 20th King, Yeoning became the Royal Prince Successor Brother (wangseje, 왕세제). This induced a large controversy between political factions. Nevertheless, four years later, at the death of Gyeongjong, Yeongjo ascended the throne.
Yeongjo's reign lasted nearly 52 years and was marked by his persistent efforts to reform the taxation system of Joseon, rule by Confucian ethics, minimize and reconcile the factional fighting under his "Magnificent Harmony" Policy (Tangpyeong, 蕩平, 탕평). His reign was also marked by the highly controversial execution of his son, Prince Sado, in 1762. In spite of the controversies, Yeongjo's reign has earned a positive reputation in Korean history due to his sincere efforts to rule by Confucian virtue.
Succession to the throne
In 1720, his father King Sukjong died and Crown Prince Yi Yun, Sukjong's eldest son, ascended to the throne as King Gyeongjong, at the age of 33. When Sukjong died in 1720, he supposedly told Yi Yi-myoung to name Yeoning-gun as Gyeongjong's heir, but in the absence of a historiographer or scribe, there was no record .
During his time there was infighting and resentment for his low-born origins. The Noron faction (노론, 老論) of the bureaucracy pressured King Gyeongjong to step down in favor of his half-brother Prince Yeoning (the future King Yeongjo). In 1720, two months after the King's enthronement, Prince Yeoning was installed as Royal Prince Successor Brother (wangseje, 왕세제, 王世弟). This aggravated the power struggle and led to a great massacre, namely the Shinim literati purges (신임사화, 辛壬士禍). The Norons sent messages to the king to no effect while the opposing Soron faction (소론, 少論) used this to their advantage – claiming the Noron were trying to usurp power and subsequently getting their rival faction removed from several offices.
Members of the Soron faction then came up with an idea to assassinate the heir (Yeoning-gun) under the pretence of hunting for a white fox said to be haunting the palace, but Yeoning-gun sought shelter with his stepmother, Queen Dowager Inwon, who protected him and he was able to stay alive. Afterwards, he told his half-brother the king that he rather would go and live as a commoner.
On 11 October 1724, King Gyeongjong died. Soron then accused Prince Yeoning of having something to do with his brother's death due to the earlier attempt by the Noron faction to have him replace Gyeongjong on the throne. But historians now agree that he could have died of eating contaminated seafood, as to the symptoms of the illness that caused his death. Homer Hulbert described this in his book The History of Korea where he said, "But we may well doubt the truth of the rumor, for nothing that is told of that brother indicates that he would commit such an act, and in the second place a man who will eat shrimps in mid-summer, that have been brought 30 miles from the sea without ice might expect to die." On 16 October 1724, Prince Yeoning ascended the throne as King Yeongjo, the 21st ruler of Joseon.
King Yeongjo was a deeply Confucian monarch, and is said to have had a greater knowledge of the classics than his officials. During the reign of Yeongjo and his grandson Jeongjo, Confucianization was at its height, as well as the economic recovery from the wars of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His rulership has been called one of the most brilliant reigns of all the Joseon Dynasty.
Yeongjo worried deeply for his people. Annals of the Joseon Dynasty record that one day in the 4th year of his reign, King Yeongjo woke up to the sound of early morning rain and said to his courtiers,
Oh dear! We have had flood, drought and famines for the past four years because of my lack of virtue, and this year we even went through an unprecedented revolt by a traitor named Yi In-jwa. How can my poor people manage their livelihood under such hardship? There is an old saying, 'War is always followed by a lean year.' Fortunately, however, we haven’t had a big famine for the past two years and we pin our hopes on a good harvest this year. Yet I am still nervous because, while the season for harvesting is around the corner, there is no way of knowing if there will be a flood or drought before then. Nobody knows whether a cold rain will pour suddenly and flood the fields awaiting harvest. My lack of goodness might bring upon us such awful things as I fail to win the sympathy of heaven. How can I earn the sympathy of heavens if I do not self-reflect and make efforts myself? I should start with reflecting on myself.
Yeongjo worried that rain would ruin the harvest forcing his unfortunate people to starve. The King ordered his courtiers to reduce taxes on the people and decrease the number of dishes in his own meals. Reducing the range of foods he ate was a decision made out of concern for his starving people.
One early morning 25 years later circa 1753, the continuous rain reminded Yeongjo of the flood during the 4th year of his reign, when he had eaten less food: "Oh! Floods and droughts really happen because I lack virtue. I am much older than that year, but how can my compassion for the people and will to work hard for them be less than back then?". Yet again, Yeongjo ordered a reduction in the number of dishes on his dining table. People around him described him as an articulate, bright, benevolent and kind King. He was penetrating in observation and quick of comprehension.
Yeongjo realising the detrimental effect on state administration of factional strife during the latter half of the 17th century, attempted to end factional strife as soon as he ascended the throne. Yeongjo reinstated the short-lived universal military service tax, then he even went beyond the palace gate and solicited the opinion of officials, literati (scholars), soldiers and peasants. Yeongjo reduced the military service tax by half and ordered the variance be supplemented by taxes on fisheries, salt, vessels and an additional land tax. Yeongjo also regularized the financial system of state revenues and expenses by adopting an accounting system. His realistic policies allowed payment of taxes on grain from the remote mountainous areas Gyeongsang do province, to the nearby port, with payment in cotton or cash for grain. The circulation of currency was encouraged by increasing coin casting.
Yeongjo's concern for improvement of the peasant’s life was manifest in his eagerness to educate the people by distributing important books in the Korean script (Hangul), including the Book of Agriculture.
The pluviometre was again manufactured in quantity and distributed to local administration offices and extensive public work projects were undertaken. Yeongjo upgraded the status of posterity of the commoners, opening another possibility for upward social mobility and inevitable change. Yeongjo policies were intended to reassert the Confucian monarchy and a humanistic rule, but they couldn't stem the tide of social change that resulted.
Mercantile activities rapidly increased in volume. The accumulation of capital through monopoly and wholesales expanded through guild organisations and many merchants were centred in Hanyang. The traditional division of government chartered shop, the license tribute goods suppliers and the small shopkeepers in the alley and streets were integrated and woven into a monopoly and wholesale system.
Regardless of status, many yangban class aristocrats and commoners engaged in some kind of merchant activities. Thus Hanyang made great strides as a commercial and industrial city in the 18th century. The popular demand for handicrafts and goods such as knives, horse hair hats, dining table and brassware was ever-increasing. Restrictions on wearing the horse hair hat originally denoting a Yangban class status, virtually disappeared
Even bootlegging of books became commercialised as competition developed among the well-to-do Yanban engaged in publication of collected literary works of their renowned ancestors. This also led to printing popular fiction and poetry. The people especially appreciated satire and social criticism. One example is the Chunhyangjeon (Tales of Chunghyang) about the fidelity of the Gisaeng’s (entertainer's) daughter was widely read as a satire aimed to expose the greed and snobbery of government officials.
The King is also renowned for having treasured Park Mun-su, who he appointed as Amhaeng-eosa (암행어사), a secret government inspector for the King. Park, who had earned great merit in putting down Yi In-jwa's rebellion in 1728, went around the nation arresting corrupt local officers in the name of the King.
The only significantly dismal incident during Yeongjo's reign was the death of his son, Crown Prince Sado. History indicates Sado suffered from mental illness; randomly killing people in the palace and raping palace maids. By court rules King Yeongjo could not kill his son by his own hands, so Sado was ordered to climb into a large wooden rice chest on a hot July day in 1762. After eight days, Sado died. During the 19th century, there were rumors that Prince Sado had not been mentally ill, but had been victimised by a court plot; however, this is contradicted by both the memoirs written by Sado's widow and Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.
Yeongjo was the first to take action against Roman Catholic activities in the country. By the 18th century, Catholicism was beginning to acquire a following especially in the Gangwon and Hwanghae provinces. In 1758, Yeongjo officially outlawed Catholicism as an evil practice.
Fourteen years after Crown Prince Sado's death, Sado's son, Yeongjo's grandson Jeongjo, became king. The early part of the new King's years were marked by political intrigues and fear of court officials who were afraid that Jeongjo would seek revenge on them for petitioning the punishment that caused the death of his father, Crown Prince Sado.
Yeongjo was buried in the dynastic tombs at Donggureung. Yeongjo is buried with his second wife in the royal tomb of Wonneung (원릉, 元陵) in the city of Guri.
- Father: King Sukjong of Joseon (7 October 1661 – 12 July 1720) (조선 숙종)
- Mother: Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Haeju Choi clan (17 December 1670 – 9 April 1718) (숙빈 최씨)
- Grandfather: Choi Hyo-Won (23 February 1638 – 15 August 1672) (최효원)
- Grandmother: Lady Hong of the Namyang Hong clan (1639 – 1673) (남양 홍씨)
- Consorts and their Respective Issue(s):
- Queen Jeongseong of the Dalsung Seo clan (12 January 1693 – 3 April 1757) (정성왕후 서씨) – No issue.
- Queen Jeongsun of the Gyeongju Kim clan (2 December 1745 – 11 February 1805) (정순왕후 김씨) – No issue.
- Royal Noble Consort Jeong of the Lee clan (1694 – 1721) (정빈 이씨)
- Princess Hwaeok (22 April 1717 – 8 April 1718) (화억옹주)
- Yi Haeng, Crown Prince Hyojang (4 April 1719 – 16 December 1728) (이행 효장세자)
- Princess Hwasun (8 March 1720 – 17 January 1758) (화순옹주)
- Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Jeonui Lee clan (15 August 1696 – 23 August 1764) (영빈 이씨)
- Princess Hwapyong (27 April 1727 – 24 June 1748) (화평옹주)
- Unnamed daughter (3 August 1728 – 18 February 1731)
- Unnamed daughter (12 December 1729 – 21 March 1731)
- Unnamed daughter (1 January 1732 – 12 April 1736)
- Princess Hwahyeop (7 March 1733 – 27 November 1752) (화협옹주)
- Yi Seon, Crown Prince Sado (13 February 1735 – 12 July 1762) (이선 사도세자)
- Princess Hwawan (9 March 1738 – 17 May 1808) (화완옹주)
- Consort Gwi-in of the Pungyang Jo clan(16 October 1707 – 1780) (귀인 조씨)
- Unnamed daughter (19 September 1735 – 3 September 1736)
- Princess Hwayu (29 September 1740 – 21 May 1777) (화유옹주)
- Consort Suk-ui of the Nampyeong Mun clan (? – 10 August 1776) (숙의 문씨)
- Princess Hwaryeong (3 March 1753 – 3 September 1821) (화령옹주)
- Princess Hwagil (19 May 1754 – 18 December 1772) (화길옹주)
His full posthumous name
- English: King Yeongjo Jangsun Jihaeng Sundeok Yeongmo Uiryeol Jang-ui Hong-yun Gwang-in Donhui Checheon Geon-geuk Seonggong Sinhwa Daeseong Gwang-un Gaetae Giyeong Yomyeong Suncheol Geon-geon Gonyeong Baemyeong Sutong Gyeongnyeok Honghyu Junghwa Yungdo Sukjang Changhun Jeongmun Seonmu Huigyeong Hyeonhyo the Great of Korea
- Korean: 영조장순지행순덕영모의렬장의홍윤광인돈희체천건극성공신화대성광운개태기영요명순철건건곤영배명수통경력홍휴중화융도숙장창훈정문선무희경현효대왕
In popular culture
- Portrayed by Kim Sung-won in the 1988 MBC TV series 500 Years of Joseon: The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong.
- Portrayed by Park Geun-hyung in the 1998 MBC TV series The King's Road.
- Portrayed by Choi Bool-am in the 1998 MBC TV series Hong Guk Young.
- Portrayed by Jo Min-ki in the 2002 MBC TV series Inspector Park Moon So.
- Portrayed by Lee Tae-ri in the 2002 KBS TV series Jang Hee Bin.
- Portrayed by Kim Sung-gyum in the 2007 CGV TV series Eight Days, Assassination Attempts against King Jeongjo.
- Portrayed by Lee Soon-jae in the 2007 MBC TV series Lee San, Wind of the Palace.
- Portrayed by Lee Hyung-suk and Lee Seon-ho in the 2010 MBC TV series Dong Yi.
- Portrayed by Jeon Gook-hwan in the 2011 SBS TV series Warrior Baek Dong-soo.
- Portrayed by Han Suk-kyu in the 2014 SBS TV series Secret Door.
- Portrayed by Song Kang-ho in the 2015 film The Throne.
- Portrayed by Yeo Jin-goo in the 2016 SBS TV series The Royal Gambler.
- Portrayed by Ryu Tae-joon in the 2017 film The Age of Blood.
- Portrayed by Jung Il-Woo in the 2019 SBS TV series Haechi.