Psycho Prince Yeonsan (Joseon’s Fall, part 2)

Combine the sadism of Game of Throne’s King Joffrey and Ramsay “The Bastard” Bolton with Robert Baratheon’s appetites, and you have Prince Yeonsan.


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Previously on The Joseon Dynasty…

  • The horny and prodigious King Seongjong
  • First wife (Queen Gonghye) dies
  • Concubine Lady Yun is elevated to queen
  • Pisses off Seongjeong’s mom Queen Mother Insu and her allies and the Sarim faction
  • Seongjeong’s mom conspires with concubines Jeong So-yong and Eom So-yong 
  • During dinner, a jealous Queen Yun scratched the king’s face.
  • Queen Yun banished then brought back and forced to drink poison. (1482)
    • Vomited blood on her white garments
    • Asked her mother to give her blood stained cloth to her son
      • “Someday my son will repay me.”

1494-1506 10 Yeonsangun → Psycho slut obsessed with mom’s death

    • Not to be confused with the county in North Korea
    • Possibly believed his stepmother was his birth mother
    • Hated learning while growing up
    • Killed Jo Sa-seo, one of his tutors
    • King Seongjong dies (1494)
    • Annals of Seongjong
      • Recorded poltergeists and a woman ghost who talks and eats right before Yeonsangun’s crowning
    • Early days of reign
      • Helped the poor
      • Strengthened national defense in response to pirates
      • Possibly the first king to use a sort of toothbrush
        • Had toothaches, like his predecessors
      • Possibly the most artistically inclined of Joseon kings
      • No Sasin and Buddhist funeral rites
        • National Confuciam Academy
        • No pleaded leniency on rivals
    • Rivalry between Merit-subjects and Scholar-officials
      • Regional rivalry
      • Yun Tangro
        • Brought in an entertainer and took her as his concubine during king’s mourning period
        • Anti-No-Sasin scholars protested this. 
        • Merit-subjects defended, since Yun had royal blood
        • Hint of the brewing Rivalry to come
        • No no longer plead leniency
        • Also, Yeonsan took every bit of friction as a personal challenge to his absolute power
    • (1498) Literati Purge (Muo-sawha)
      • Rivalry between Kim Ilson (scholar) and Yi Geukdon (merit subject)
        • Kim wrote shit about Yi in history of King Seongjong about playing with prostitutes during Sejo’s mourning period
        • Yi was later assigned historiographer and saw what Kim wrote
          • Saw poem Kim Jongjik (Kim Ilson’s mentor) wrote about assassination of Xiang Yu
            • Kim Ilson noted it in the margins as an allegory of Danjong’s death (considered treason)
            • Because Yeonsan was direct descendant of Sejo
            • Used it to accuse all scholar elites
      • (July) Yu Jagwang, et al, accused (the dead) Kim Jongjik of high treason
        • Prince Yeonsan ordered interrogation of those involved in draft of royal history containing the poem
          • Wanted to get rid of scholars anyway
        • 32 officials punished
          • Kim Ilson and two others executed by dismemberment
          • 2 beheaded
          • 19 banished to remote places and sold into slavery
          • 4 expelled from office (including Yi Geukdon for not reporting it sooner)
          • 4 demoted
          • Body of Kim Jongjik hacked to pieces
      • Scholars still remonstrated about merit-subject corruption
      • Yeonsan was so aggressive that some scholar-officials and merit-subjects formed alliances just for survival
      • Split into loyalist and anti-loyalist factions
    • Yim Sahong & Yu Jagwang → Serious opportunists with grudges
      • Switched sides to get revenge on rivals
      • Serious grudges
  • Yim Sahong
          • Early on, rose high
          • (1477) He and Yu falsely accused Chief Royal Secretary Hyeon Seokgyu of provoking dispute
            • Ousted Hyeon and was promoted
            • Impeached by scholar officials for false accusation
          • Banished to Uiju
          • Son sold into slavery because once studied under Kim Jongjik (Purge of 1498)
          • Back (1503)
        • Yu Jagwang
          • Also banished. To Dongrae.
          • Rehabilitated (1486)
    • (1504) Literati Purge “Gapja-sahwa”
      • Background
        • Yim Sahong brings up the death of Yeonsan’s mother
          • There is one theory that Prince Yeonsan thought that his stepmother was his birth mother
          • Yeonsan orders an investigation on the execution of his mother
        • Prince Yeonsan upset to hear the truth about his mother’s death
          • Tried to elevate his mother’s title and rehabilitate her reputation
          • Reprimanded officials’ indifference
          • No Sasin suggested elevating his mother’s status
          • Sarim officials objected, leading more to Prince Yeonsan’s hatred
            • Seongjong demanded to speaking of Queen Yun for 100 years
            • Hated those involved with his mother’s death
            • Dislike of insolent and defiant scholars
            • Combined into an overall hatred of conservative scholars
              • (Sept 1503) punishment of high official
                • Minister of Rites Yi Sejwa accidentally spilled wine on Yeonsan’s robes at a state banquet
                • Immediately dismissed and banished
                • On surface, Yeonsan saw it as a slight against his authority
                • In reality, Yi Sejwa was the guy who delivered the poison to his mother
                • Yeonsan rebuked scholars for not rebuking Yi Sejwa
                  • Demoted them
      • Killed or dismissed all those associated with Yi Sejwa
        • Forced Yi Sejwa to commit suicide by hanging
      • Took serious revenge
        • 2 of his father’s concubines Jeong So-yong and Eom So-yong → beat to death (March 20)
          • Bodies soaked in jeotgal and left out to rot
        • Rebuked his grandmother (Great Queen Mother Insu) and pushed her to the ground → shocked to death
        • Many officials on both sides executed
        • Those who were already dead were exhumed and mutilated
        • Hundreds executed, banished, enslaved, dismissed
          • Relatives
      • Next took aim at scholar elite → purge, purge, purge
      • Yim Sa-hong promoted
    • Tyrannical Rule of Prince Yeonsan
      • Lived a life of abuse and depravity
        • Scholar elite
          • Abolished Gyeongyeon (royal study session)
          • Suspended advisor and supervisory role of the Samsa (three royal agencies)
          • Confucian students couldn’t discuss politics
          • Closed National Confucian Academy
            • Forced everyone out
            • Use the Ming guesthouse as school building
        • Closed down the Royal Academy (Seonggyeonggwan) and Wongak-sa Temple and other temples and turned them into stables and his personal pleasure house 
          • Forced 1,000 women (and horses) all around the peninsula to be his private “entertainers”
          • Despite this, it’s said that he didn’t have many children with his concubines. Not as fertile as his father.
        • Demolished a large area of the city to turn into his personal hunting ground
          • 20,000 homeless
        • Forced labor to build these projects
      • The Office of Censors protested (it was their job) → abolished
      • Abolished Hongmungwan (advised king of Confucian teachings)
      • Ordered ministers to wear a sign that read
        “A mouth is a door that brings in disaster; a tongue is a sword that cuts off a head. A body will be in peace as long as its mouth is closed and its tongue is deep within.”
      • Chief Eunuch Kim Cheo-sun 
        • Served three kings
        • Begged Prince Yeonsan to stop
        • Yeonshot shot him with arrows and cut off his limbs
        • Punished his relatives up to seven times removed
      • Disgusted officials stepped down, claiming illness
        • Yeonsan orders punishment to any official who steps down because of illness
      • Jang Nok-su
        • Servant of Prince Je-an
        • After giving birth, learned to sing and dance and became a gisaeng
          • Could sing without moving her lips (ventriloquist?)
          • Although in her 30s, looked like she was 16
        • Yeonsan heard her singing and took her has his concubine
        • Jang treated Yeonsan like a baby 
          • Oedipus complex?
          • Soothing him like a child
          • Yeonsan begging her for affection like a mother
          • No matter how angry he was, he’d laugh with joy when seeing Jang Nok-su
        • When Yeonsan found a woman he wanted, he’d get Jang Nok-su and an official to find out who her husband was and have him stay while he had his way with her for days
        • Yeonsan did what she willed
          • Her brother-in-law Kim Hyo-son given an official post
        • Destroyed her palace house to build a bigger one
      • Grabbed back land and slaves from Taejo’s merit subjects
        • To refill the treasure depleted by his lifestyle
        • Much resistance
      • Banned Hangeul
        • Posters mocking him were written in Hangeul
      • Aided by brothers-in-law and opportunistic Yim and Yu
      • Opposition grew more and more
      • (Sept 1506) Coup
        • Alliance but mostly led by merit-subjects
        • Because scholars were depleted from two purges
        • Prince Yeonsan rode out at dawn, dressed as a civilian
          • Tried to hide in a house
          • Arrested by a soldier who followed him
        • Banished Yeonsan to Ganghwa Island
          • Killed all concubines
            • Jang Nok-su beheaded. Crowds threw rocks at her corpse’s genitalia. 
              • Where Seoul City Hall Plaza is now
          • Killed all four young sons
          • Was mocked 
          • Caught a fever and died a miserable death in exile one week later (Nov 1506, 31 years old)
        • Got rid of all loyalists and anyone related to Yeonsan’s brothers-in-law
        • Replaced Yeonsan with his half brother Jinseong (18 years old)
          • Became King Jungjong
    • Aftermath
      • Mausoleum on Ganghwa Island
        • (Dec 1512) Flood damaged it
        • (1513) Moved to what is now Banghak-dong, Dobong-gu, Seoul
        • No decorations except a stone that says Yeonsangun Jimyo
      • So despised, he has no temple name
      • Name was used to chastise future kings. “You don’t want to be a Yeonsangun, do you?”
      • Question: Was he really that bad, or did his enemies write the history? Or did they write it to help justify deposing him?
        • COUNTERPOINT Re: Destroying all the houses
          • The houses were illegal
          • He built new shelters for them and made sure it was done in the spring
    • Notable media
  • The King and the Clown 왕의 남자 (2005)
  • The Treacherous 간신 (2015)

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