Sukjong of Joseon

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Sukjong of Joseon
Hangul 숙종
Hanja 肅宗
Revised Romanization Sukjong
McCune-Reischauer Sukchong
Birth name
Hangul 이순
Hanja 李焞
Revised Romanization I Sun
McCune-Reischauer I Sun

Sukjong (August 15, 1661 – 1720, reigned 1674 - 1720) was the nineteenth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty in what is now Korea. He was a brilliant politician and presided for 46 years over a period of relative peace and prosperity. His reign, however, was characterized by the rigid factionalism among the court nobility that gradually paralyzed the bureaucracy and alienated many neo-Confucian intellectuals.

King Sukjong’s reign is most remembered in Korean history and folklore for the circumstances surrounding a bloody dispute called Gi-Sa Hwanguk, which arose when he attempted to invest his first son, Kyeongjong, born of his favorite concubine, Lady Chang, as Crown Prince. The investiture was supported by the “Southern” faction and strongly opposed by the “Western” faction, which included the scholar Song Si-yeol and the father of the reigning queen. Angered by the opposition to his wishes, King Sukjong deposed and exiled Queen In-Hyeon, and replaced her with Lady Chang. In 1694, he repented his actions and restored Queen In-Hyeon to her former status, but she died soon afterwards. A book called In-Hyeon Wanghu Jeon (Queen In-Hyeon's Biography), written by one of the queen's lady’s maids, and folk tales about Lady Chang’s avarice and ultimate demise, have been the subject of numerous traditional Korean dramas, songs, and poems.


King Sukjong was born “Yi Soon” on August 15, 1661 to King Hyeonjong (현종 顯宗the eighteenth monarch of Joseon) and Queen Myungsung (明聖王后) Kim in KyungDuk Palace. In 1667, at the age of seven, he became Crown Prince, and in 1674, at the age of 14, he became the nineteenth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty.

King Sukjong was a brilliant politician, but his reign was not all peaceful. The Joseon Dynasty was characterized by factional strife within the government (tangjaeng) which first arose in 1575 as a dispute between two political cliques, the Easterners (Tongin) and Westerners (Soin) over appointments to powerful middle-level positions in the Ministry of Personnel (Ki-baek 1984).The dispute became a hereditary conflict, passed from one generation to another, and from Confucian teachers to their students. The Easterners quickly gained dominance over the Westerners, but developed an internal split between Northerners (Pugin) and Southerners (Namin) over the successor of King Sonjo (1567 – 1608), the fourteenth ruler of Joseon, who had no legitimate heir. The Northerners supported King Kwanghaegun (1608 – 1623), the fifteenth ruler, but when he was deposed for misrule in 1623, the Westerners backed King Injo (1623 – 1649). During the reign of his successor, King Hyojong (1649 – 1659), the Westerners continued to dominate under the leadership of the king’s former tutor, Song Si-yeul. When King Hyojong died, a dispute over the appropriate length of the mourning period to be observed by his mother caused the Westerners to lose their influence and be replaced by the Southerners, led by Kim Suk-joo, who was Queen Myungsung's cousin), in 1674. King Sukjong did not have an heir after many years of marriage, and when he proposed to invest the newborn son of his favorite concubine, Lady Chang, as Crown Prince, the unyielding opposition of the Western faction brought about their definitive ouster and the execution of Song Si-yeul (Ki-baek 1984).

In 1712, Sukjong's government worked with the Qing Dynasty in China to define the national borders between the two countries at the Yalu and Tumen Rivers.

King Sukjong had three Queens and three concubines, three sons and six daughters (see family tree below). He died after in 1720 after reigning for 46 years. He was buried in Myeongnyeung in Gyeonggi province, Goyang City inside Western Five Royal Graves: Seo(west) Oh(five) Reung(royal graves).

King Sukjong's Family

Queen Kim In-Kyeong (仁敬王后; 1661-1680)

Daughter of Kim Man-ki. She was married at age ten and titled Crown Princess Consort to then Crown Prince (King Sukjong). In 1674, she became the Queen. She had three daughters, all of whom died at birth. In October 1680, she showed signs of smallpox and died eight days later, at the age of 20, in Gyeongdeok Palace. She was buried in Ik-rueng in Gyeonggi province.

Queen Min In-Hyeon (仁顕王后; 1667-1701)

Daughter of Min Yoo-jung, she became King Sukjong's second queen by marriage in 1681. She is perhaps one of the best known queens of the Joseon dynasty, and her life has been the subject of many Korean historical dramas. When So-ei (third highest title for king's concubines) Lady Chang (given name Ok-Jung) produced a son (later Kyungjong) in 1688, it created a bloody dispute called Gi-Sa Hwanguk. During this time, the king wanted to give his eldest son the title of Crown Prince and wanted to promote Lady Chang from So-ei) to Hee-bin (the highest title for the king's concubines). This action was opposed by the No-ron party (the Westerners, headed by Song Si-yeol, of which the queen's father was a member); and was supported by the So-ron party (the Southerners, of which Chang Hee-Jae, Lady Chang's older brother, was a member). King Sukjong became angry at the opposition, and many Westerners were killed, including Song Si-yeol. Many including Queen In-hyeon and her family were forced into exile. Lady Chang became the queen. Later, in 1694, the King, feeling remorseful, gave in to a movement led by So-ron party (Gapseol Sahwa) to re-instate Queen In-hyeon. She was brought back to the palace and re-named queen. (Lady Chang was demoted to hee-bin). In 1701, at age 35 she became ill and died of an unknown disease. It was said that Lady Chang brought a Shamanist priestess into the palace and prayed for the Queen's death. When this was discovered by the king, she was executed for her actions. One of the queen's lady’s maids wrote a book called In-Hyeon Wanghu Jeon (Queen In-Hyeon's Biography) which still exists today. She is buried in Myeong-reung in Kyeonggi Province, and the King was later buried near her in the same area.

Queen Kim In-won (仁元王后1687-1757)

Daughter of Kim Joo-shin, she married and became the third queen of King Sukjong in 1702, at the age of 15, after Queen In-hyeon's death. She survived smallpox in 1711. She became Dowager Queen (Wangdaebi) after her husband's death in 1720, and Daewangdaebi in 1724 after Kyungjong (her stepson by Lady Chang (Hee-bin) died and Yeongjo (her other stepson by Lady Choi (Sook-bin)), whom she favored, became King. She had no children and died in 1757 at age of 70. She was buried near King Sukjong and Queen In-hyeon in Kyeonggi Province.

Lady Chang Ok-jeong (hee-bin status) (1659-1701)

Her given name was Ok-jeong. She is only known as the niece of a tradesman Chang Hyeon, and there are no records of who her father was. However, there are rumors that her father was Cho Sa-seok, Queen Jang-ryeol's brother, because Ok-jeong's mother was his well-known mistress.

Ok-jeong became lady’s maid to Queen Jang-ryeol (King Injo's second queen) at the recommendation of Dongpyunggun (King Sukjong's cousin). In 1686, King Sukjong discovered her during a visit to his step-grandmother (Dowager Queen Jang-ryeol) and made her his concubine, giving her the title of Sook-won (fourth class). In 1688, she was promoted to So-ui (third class) and in 1689 she gave birth to a son (later Kyeongjong) and was made Hee-bin (first class). Queen In-hyeon was forced into exile in May 1688, and Chang Ok-jeong was made queen and her son was titled the Crown Prince after a bloody dispute called Gi-Sa Hwanguk.

In 1694, Lady Chang was demoted to Hee-bin, when Queen In-Hyun was reinstated. In 1701, Queen In-Hyun died of an unknown disease and Lady Chang was discovered by King Sukjong in her chambers, with her brother Chang Hui-jae and a shaman priestess, praying for Queen In-hyeon's death and her reinstatement. Lady Chang, her brother, and everyone involved was arrested and sentenced to death by poisoning—she was 43. She had two children, Kyeongjong and a princess.

After this incident King Sukjong made a law prohibiting concubines from being allowed to become Queens. Lady Chang is the subject of many folk stories about her greed for power, including a famous story involving involving her son, then the Crown Prince (future Kyeongjong), which took place just before her death.

Lady Choi (Sook-bin)

There are no records of her life before she became King Sukjong's concubine. She was a water maid in the palace. One night, she was praying in her chamber for Queen In-hyeon's health when King Sukjong, who was passing by after a trip outside of the palace, heard her and, moved by her kindness towards the queen towards whom he regretted being so harsh, made her his concubine. She became Sook-bin after the birth of a son (the future King Yeongjo) in 1694 and had two princesses.

Lady Park (Myeong-bin)

There are no known records about her except that she was a daughter of nobility (yangban). She had one son, Prince Yeun-rueng.

King Sukjong’s Posthumous Name

  • King Sukjong Hyeoneui Gwangyun Yeseong Yeongryeol Yumo Yeongun Hongin Jundeok Baecheon Habdo Gyehyu Dokgyung Jeongjung Hyeopgeuk Sineui Daehun Jangmun heonmu Gyungmyung Wonhyo the Great of Korea
  • 숙종현의광윤예성영렬유모영운홍인준덕배천합도계휴독경정중협극신의대훈장문헌무경명원효대왕
  • 肅宗顯義光倫睿聖英烈裕謨永運洪仁峻德配天合道啓休篤慶正中協極神毅大勳章文憲武敬明原孝大王

Changjeolsa Shrine

Changjeolsa Shrine contains the memorial tablets of some of the loyal followers of King Danjong (1452-1455) of Joseon (1392-1910), the child king who was dethroned by his uncle, King Sejo (1455-68). The first tablets to be enshrined there were those of the Six Loyal Martyrs, who were killed because of their involvement in a plot to restore King Danjong to the throne. In 1685 (the eleventh year in the reign of King Sukjong), Hong, Manjong(1643~1725), the governor of Gangwon-do, asked the Court to enlarge the shrine of Danjong because it was too small. Sukjong ordered Jo Ihan, the governor of Yeongwol at the time, to build "Sayuksinsa," a monument to the "Six Loyal Martyrs," next to the shrine. The scholar Song Siyeol (1607~1689) wrote the hanging board for Sayuksinsa. The mortuary tablets of Eom, Heu Eom Heungdo and Park Simmun, two officials who risked King Sejo's displeasure to take care of Danjong, were enshrined together with those of the Sayuksin. When Danjong was posthumously restored to his throne in May, 1699 (the twenty-fifth year in the reign of King Sukjong), it was no longer appropriate for the Sayuksinsa to be located in the precincts of the shrine in Jangneung. In 1705 (the thirty-first year in the reign of King Sukjong), it was moved to its present location. In 1709 (the thirty-fifth year in the reign of King Sukjong), at the request of Eom Yangyeong, a Confucian from Yeongwol, the monument was given the name, Changjeolsa. A new hanging board was written by Gwon, Sangha (1641~1721). In 1791, two of the so-called “Six Loyal Survivors” who were involved in the plot to restore the throne to Danjong, were added. Changjeolsa is a designated cultural asset of Korea, and memorial services are held there every spring and autumn. [1]

Painting of Dongnaebu Operations

A painting called “Dongnaebu Operations” designated as Korean National Treasure No.392 on September 2, 1963, was first painted in 1709 (the thirty-fifth year of King Sukjong). The painting depicts a battle that took place at Dongnaeseong fortress on April 15, the twenty-fifth year of King Seonjo (1592), in which the general Sangheon Song was killed. The scene is a bird’s-eye view of the fortress, with the soldiers and the Korean people fighting Japanese soldiers at the risk of their lives. The composition and the quality of the painting are unexceptional, but it is valued as a symbol of the Korean peoples’ fight against oppression. The scene, created on silk 96cm wide and 145 cm, was repainted in 1760 (the thirty-sixth year of King Yeongjo) by Byeon Bak, from Dongnae. [2]

See also


  1. Changjeolsa, Yeongwol County. Retrieved November 7, 2007.
  2. Korea Military Museum, Cultural Properties Administration. Retrieved November 7, 2007.

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Preceded by:
Rulers 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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