Hyeonjong of Joseon

From New World Encyclopedia
Hyeonjong of Joseon
Hangul 현종
Hanja 顯宗
Revised Romanization Hyeonjong
McCune-Reischauer Hyŏnjong
Birth name
Hangul 이연
Hanja 李棩
Revised Romanization I Yeon
McCune-Reischauer I Yŏn
Courtesy name
Hangul 경직
Hanja 景直
Revised Romanization Gyeongjik
McCune-Reischauer Kŏngjik

King Hyeonjong of Joseon (1641-1674) was the eighteenth monarch of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, reigning from 1659 to 1674. Hyeonjong was born in 1641 at Shenyang, the Manchu capital, while his father Hyojong was living there as a political hostage of the Qing court, and returned to Korea in 1645 along with his father. He was made Crown Prince in 1651.

Hyeonjong’s reign was mostly marked by conflict among Joseon’s heavily entrenched political factions over various issues. The first year of his reign, there was a disagreement between the “Westerners” faction and the “Southerners” faction over the appropriate length of the mourning period for his father Hyojong’s stepmother. Hyeonjong maintained a temporary balance of power by siding with the Westerners while retaining the Southerner Heo Jeok as Prime Minister. Hyeonjong ended his father's plans to attempt a conquest of the Qing Dynasty, because the Joseon and the Qing dynasties had established friendly relations and the Qing Dynasty’s forces had become too massive for the tiny military of the Joseon Dynasty to defeat. Hyeonjong continued Hyojong's military expansion and reconstruction of the nation which had been devastated by the Seven-Year War and two Manchu invasions. He also encouraged the development of astronomy and printing.


King Hyojong, father of King Hyeonjong

King Hyojong (1619-1659), the seventeenth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, was the second son of King Injo( 인조 仁祖, the sixteenth king). In 1623, when the Westerners political faction (西人) launched the coup that removed Gwanghaegun( 광해군 光海君, the fifteenth king) from the throne and crowned Injo, Hyojong was called to the palace along with his father. In 1626, he was given the title Bongrimdaegun (Grand Prince Bongrim). In 1627, as a result of King Injo's hard-line diplomatic policy, war broke out between Korea and the Manchu Qing Dynasty. In 1636, the Qing Dynasty defeated the Koreans. King Injo pledged his loyalty to the Qing emperor at Samjeondo, bowing down at Hong Taiji's feet eight times, and signed a treaty which included the provision that the Manchu would take Crown Prince Sohyeon, Injo's oldest son, and Hyojong to China as political hostages.

Hostage of the Qing Dynasty

During his exile in China, Hyojong tried to defend his older brother from the threats of the Qing Dynasty. Hong Taiji and his Manchu forces were still at war with the Chinese Ming Dynasty and also engaged in battle with Mongols and Chinese Muslims; many times Qing emperor requested Prince Sohyeon to go to the battlefield and command troops against Manchu enemies. Hyojong was worried about his brother, because he was the official heir to the throne of Joseon Dynasty and had no military experience. He went out to fight the Chinese in his brother's place, and he also followed Sohyeon to battles against Uyghurs and Muslims on western front.

Along with his brother, Hyojong made contact with Europeans while he was in China; and he also realized that Joseon needed to develop new technology and a stronger political and military system in order to protect itself from foreign powers. He developed a deep grudge against the Qing Dynasty, which had separated him from his home country and his family. During this period that he developed a massive plan to conduct northern campaigns against the Manchu in retaliation for the war of 1636.

Hyojong’s son Hyeonjong (Yi Yeon) was born in 1641 while his father was still a hostage of the Manchu Qing Dynasty. He was born at Shenyang, the Manchu capital before Qing Dynasty officially move its capital to Beijing after defeating the Ming Dynasty in 1644. Heonjong returned to Korea in 1645 along with his father and became Crown Prince in 1651.


In 1645, Crown Prince Sohyeon returned to Korea alone, in order to succeed Injo on the throne and to help Injo to govern the nation. However, he often came into conflict with Injo, who disliked Sohyeon's openness towards European culture and his reconciliatory attitude towards the Qing Dynasty. Soon Sohyeon was found dead in the King's room, and buried quickly after a short funeral. Injo also executed Sohyeon's wife when she tried to discover the real cause of her husband's death. According to legend, Injo killed his own son with an ink slab which he had brought from China. This incident made Hyojong, the next-in-line, the new Crown Prince, and he was called back to Korea. When King Injo died in 1649, Hyojong inherited the throne, becoming the seventeenth monarch of Joseon Dynasty.

Northern Campaigns

After coming to the throne, Hyojong began to reform and expand the Korean military. He removed Kim Ja-jeom, who had become corrupt and wielded more power than the king himself, from office, and called Song Si Yeol (Hangul: 송시열 Hanja :宋時烈) and Kim Sang-heon, who supported war against the Qing Dynasty, to his court. He began a massive military expansion, and built several border fortresses along the Yalu River, where Joseon and Qing shared a border. When a band of Dutch sailors, including Hendrick Hamel, came adrift on Jeju Island, Hyojong ordered them to build muskets for the army, providing muskets to Korean soldiers for the first time since Hideyoshi's Japanese invasions of Korea (Seven Year War).

However, the Qing Dynasty continued to thrive, putting an end to the Ming Dynasty and expanding quickly into west after successfully conquering China in 1644. The Manchu assimilated the massive Chinese army into their own, and the Korean military, although reformed and expanded, was no match for Chinese forces. Hyojong’s intended campaign against the Chinese became impracticable. At this time, the Qing Dynasty began to treat Joseon as a friend and closest ally, and no longer as an enemy.

The expanded military was first called into action in 1654, when 150 Korean musketeers, along with 3,000 Manchus, met the invading Russian army at the Battle of Hutong (Hangul : 호통 Hanja : 好通), at present-day Yilan (Traditional Chinese 依蘭 Simplified Chinese : 依兰 pinyin : Yīlán). The battle was won by Manchu-Korean allied forces. Four years later, in 1658, Hyojong once again sent troops to help Qing Dynasty against Russia. Under the command of an Amur Cossack, Onufrij Stepanov (Russian : Онуфрий Степанов-Кузнец), 260 Korean musketeers and cannoneers joined Manchu-Korean against the Russians at the mouth of the Sungari River (Hangul :의례목성; 어라이무청) Russian : Шарходы) , killing 270 Russians and driving them out of Manchu territory. The battles against Russia proved that Hyojong's reforms had stabilized the Korean army, although it was never sent into action again. Despite the campaigns, Russia and the Joseon Dynasty remained on good terms. The Northern campaign is known as Nasun Jungbeol (Hangul: 나선정벌 Hanja : 羅禪征伐 Russian : Усмирение России).

Other Accomplishments

During Hyojong’s reign, many books about farming were published to promote agriculture, which had been devastated during the Seven Year War. Hyojong also continued the reconstruction begun by Gwanghaegun. He died in 1659 at the age of 41. Although his plan for northern conquest was never put in action, many Koreans regard him as brilliant and brave ruler who dedicated his life for his nation.

Conflict Over Hyojong's Funeral

When King Hyojong died in 1803, Hyeonjong succeeded his father as the ruler of Joseon. The first issue during his reign was his predecessor's funeral. For over 200 years, the Korean government had been disrupted by strong and entrenched political factions which constantly vied for dominance. The conservative “Westerners” faction (西人) and the liberal “Southerners” faction (南人) disagreed over how long Queen Jaeui, King Injo's second wife, was obligated to wear funeral garments according to the Confucian funeral traditions. The Westerners, headed by Song Si Yeol, contended that she needed to wear the funeral garment for only a year, while the Southerners and their leader Heo Jeok wanted a three-year period. The conflict arose because there was no previous record of Confucian funeral requirements for the death of a second stepson who actually succeeded to the family line. The Westerners wanted to follow the custom for an ordinary second stepson, while the Southerners thought Hyojong deserved a three-year mourning period since he had actually succeeded King Injo in the royal line.

The final decision was made by young King Hyeonjong. He chose to enforce a one-year mourning period, to keep the Westerners as the major faction. At the same time, Hyeonjong did not remove Southerner Heo Jeok from office of Prime Minister, in order to prevent the Westerners from threatening royal authority. Earlier, after the fall of the “Greater Northerners” faction (大北) in 1623, the Westerners and the Southerners had formed a political alliance under the leadership of King Hyojong, but the feud between them was rekindled and aggravated by the argument over the mourning period.

At first, Hyeonjong’s compromise of promoting the Westerner’s one-year mourning period while keeping Southerner Heo Jeok as Prime Minister, maintained a balance etween the two factions, and they temporarily resumed a peaceful relationship. However, in 1674, when Queen Inseon, Hyojong's wife and Hyeonjong's mother, died, the funeral issue came up again. The Southerners wanted Queen Jaeui to wear the funeral garment for one year while the Westerners preferred a nine-month period. This time Hyeonjong listened to the Southerners and selected their method, making the Southerners faction dominant over the Westerners. The funeral controversy continued even after Hyeonjong died in 1674, and it was settled by Hyeonjong's successor King Sukjong, who banned all debate about the issue. The controversy even affected the publication of the official history of Hyeonjong's era; at first it was written chiefly by Southerners, but was later revised by Westerner historians.


In 1666, during Hyeonjong's reign, Dutchman Hendrick Hamel left Korea and returned to the Netherlands, and wrote a book about the Joseon Dynasty and his experience of living in Korea for fourteen years, which introduced the small kingdom to many Europeans.

Hyeonjong ended Hyojong's plans for a northern conquest, because the Joseon and Qing Dynasties had established a friendly relationship and the Qing Dynasty had become too large to conquer with the tiny military of the Joseon Dynasty. However, Hyeonjong continued Hyojong's military expansion and reconstruction of the nation which had been devastated by the Seven-Year War and two Manchu invasions. He also encouraged the development of astronomy and printing. He officially banned marriage between relatives and also between those who shared the same surname. Hyeonjong died in 1674, and was succeeded by his son, Sukjong.

Heo Mok (1595∼1682)

Heo Mok (pen name Misu), a writer and a civil servant during the late Joseon dynasty, earned a reputation as an exemplary official while he served as Busa (governor) of Samcheok uner King Hyeonjong. Originally from Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province, he first established his reputation by accomplishing a unique calligraphic style in writing Chinese characters. He never took the civil service examination (Gwageo), but instead led a humble life.

At 56, he was recommended to serve as a Chambong (low-ranking official) for the first time, and gradually rose to a higher position in the court. In 1660, during the first year of King Hyeonjong’s reign, he argued with Song Siyeol over King Hyojong's mourning formalities. King Hyeonjong relegated him to Busa (governor) of Samcheok. While he served as Busa (governor) of Samcheok for two years from October of 1660, he enacted hyangyak (rules and regulations) for villagers and strove to enlighten and educate them. Based on an old episode from the Chinese Tang dynasty, he erected a stone called "Cheokjudonghaebi," with an inscription in a unique writing style, Jeonseochae, to repel the tidewaters of the East Sea which had caused the population of Samcheok great suffering. One of his books, Misugieon, is extant. [1]

Relics of Princess Myeongan

King Hyeonjong and Queen Myeongseong had one son (King Sukjong) and three daughters. The two elder daughters, Myeongsun and Myeonghye died when they were young. The third daughter, Princess Myeongan, married Oh Taeju, the son of Minister Oh Duin in 1679. Forty-five items belonging to Princess Myeongan, preserved today in Gangneung, provide a valuable insight into palace life of the times. Documents include letters from King Hyeonjong and Queen Myeongseong, plus a collection of letters from King Sukjong, Suyangjeonse Indian Inks collected by Oh Taeju and his descendents, a Gyesajinyeongyeongunrok prayer for the longevity of the 60-year-old King Yeongjo, a handwritten Thousand-Characters text of Myeongan Palace, a petition in the name of the old servants of Myeongan Palace brought to the Prime Minister and the Governor, a list of articles granted to Princess Myeongan by King Sukjong and a notice ordering Gwangpo Island villagers to pay land rent issued by Myeongan Palace. Other relics include a cloud-patterned double wrapper granted to Princess Myeongan by King Sukjong, and sedge-flowered mat. [2]

Full Posthumous Name

  • King Hyeonjong Sohyu Yeongyung Dondeok Suseong Sunmun Sukmu Gyungin Changhyo the Great of Korea
  • 현종소휴연경돈덕수성순문숙무경인창효대왕
  • 顯宗昭休衍慶敦德綏成純文肅武敬仁彰孝大王

See also


  1. Heo Mok, The Province of Gangwon. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  2. Relics of Princess Myeongan, Gangwondo Grngneung-city. Retrieved November 1, 2007.

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Preceded by:
Emperor of Korea
(Joseon Dynasty)
Succeeded by:
Monarchs of Joseon and The Korean Empire
Joseon: Emperor Taejo | King Jeongjong | King Taejong | King Sejong the Great | King Munjong | King Danjong
King Sejo | King Yejong | King Seongjong | Yeonsangun | King Jungjong | King Injong | King Myeongjong
King Seonjo | Gwanghaegun | King Injo | King Hyojong | King Hyeonjong | King Sukjong
King Gyeongjong | King Yeongjo | King Jeongjo | King Sunjo | King Heonjong | King Cheoljong

Korean Empire: Emperor Gojong | Emperor Sunjong


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