The first “illegitimate” heir to the Joseon throne, Prince Gwanghae spent the kingdom’s shattered post-war coffers on building projects. Obsessed with the occult, he ended up being overthrown by a revolt. 

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Gwanghae-gun was born Yi Hon in 1575. He rose to power during turbulent times and faced opposition from most of Joseon, being deposed in 1623.

First illegitimate son to be appointed Crown Prince. One of four Joseon monarchs whose tombs were not honored due to abdication or dethronement.


  • Father was King Seonjo (Yi Yeon)
    • Seonjo’s father wasn’t king; Deokheung Daewongun
      • Seonjo attempted to elevate father to king; failed 
    • Strong proponent of neo-Confucianism
    • Eventual mess of heirs was because Queen Ui-in couldn’t have children (not her fault, of course)
  • Mother was Kim Gong-bin; concubine (후궁)
    • Loved Seonjo; resented other concubines
    • Believed she was being cursed and would die
    • Gave birth to Imhae-gun (1572)
    • Gave birth to Gwanghae-gun (1575)
    • Granted higher noble rank
    • Died, aged 23, from postpartum disease (1577)
    • Elevated to queen by Gwanghae; demoted after Gwanghae’s dethronement  
  • Imhae-gun (Yi Jin)
    • During Imjin War, was sent to capture soon-wae (Koreans who fought alongside Japan)
      • Was captured 
      • Released followed negotiations 
    • After war, became violent and murderous; distrusted, denied position of crown prince
      • Murdered woman named So Choong-han; beat to death near palace in daylight
    • Executed in 1609
  •  Yeongchang Daegun (Yi Ui)
    • Gwanghae’s half-brother
    • Born to Queen Imok
    • Became divisive; more on that later

Outbreak of Imjin War

  • Gwanghae made crown prince
    • Shinseong-gun (Yi Hu) was Seonjo’s favoured son (born of Kim Inbin; 1578)
    • Died in war
    • Gwanghae was the best choice
      • Story: One day, King Seonjo gathered the princes and asked them what was the best side dish in the world?
        • Gwanghae-gun answered, “Salt.” Because without salt, no flavor could be achieved
      • Next question: “What do you regret the most?”
        • “It is most regrettable that my birth mother died early.”
      • Seonjo prepared gifts for the princes, and they could take whichever gift they wanted
        • The other brothers rushed to get the most expensive ones. Gwanghae took the brush and ink.
    • Gwanghae traveled the countryside as a division commander and solidified his position as Crown Prince in the eyes of the public as a war hero
    • After war, Seonjo produced Ho-seong Gongshin, record of merit and reward for servants who fled with king to Uiju in war
    • No reward or statement of merit for Gwanghae was recorded

After the war

  • All palaces had been burned
    • Seonjo was paranoid of uprisings, particularly by Gwanghae
      • Abdicated several times to check the Gwanghae army
  • Queen Ui-in died (1600)
    • Ui-in essentially adopted Gwanghae (and Imhae) after mother’s death
  • Seonjo took Inmok as new queen
    • Inmok gave birth to Yeongchang Daegun (1606)
    • At the time, Seonjo was 51, Inmok was 19, Gwanghae was 28
    • Concerned about changing crown princes
    • Court divided
      • Neo-Confucianism demanded that once an adopted child was named the inheritor, it couldn’t be broken
  • Seonjo died on first day of second lunar month, 1608
    • “Put the Crown Prince on the throne and take good care of the Queen and Grand Prince Yeongchang .” 
  • Gwanghae-gun took throne next day
  • Jongmyo Shrine completed (1608)
  • Changdeokgung almost completed by end of 1608
  • (1610) Tried to build more palaces but met opposition
  • Lots of exaggerated rumors of uprisings and plots to depose him
    • And other conspiracy theories that Gwanghae poisoned his father
  • (1609) Appeals to punish Imhae grew
    • Believed Imhae secretly trained soldiers, perhaps for coup (?); viewed as treason
    • Imhae exiled; sentenced to drink poison; refused, so was strangled
    • Joseon may have dodged a bullet; Imhae as king may have been horrific 
  • After Imjin War, Gwanghae-gun took over Jeongwon-gun’s (King Injo’s father) house under Inwangsan
  • Feeling overcrowded and paranoid
    • Fear of being dethroned like Danjong and Yeonsangun
    • Wanted to construct a new palace
  • (March 1616) Promoted construction of new palace in front of Inwangsan
    • Influenced by magician(?) Kim Il-ryong
    • Monk Seongji said area under Inwangsan would be ideal
  • Stone named 서암 (originally 왕암)
    • Believed to contain the spirits of kings
    • Taeryeongjeon is built in front of the stone
  • Built to be in harmony with nature
  • Yes, there was an Ingeyonggung
    • It was part of Gwangae-gun’s building projects
  • (1612) Idea floated to move capital to Paju for feng shui reasons by Lee Eui-shin
    • The Imjin War and Gwanghae-gun’s accession shook a lot of people. Seoul’s virtues waned.
  • Got super paranoid about being dethroned
    • Expanded the prison
    • (1613) Exiled and imprisoned Yeongchang Daegun on Ganghwa-do
      • Following year, Yeongchang died apparently of illness
      • Suggested Yeongchan was withheld food; ondol in prison room was purposely heated so much, Yeongchang couldn’t stand; clung to bars to avoid floor
      • He was seven years old
    • Felt guilty because violating Confucianism
      • Wants to atone, but can’t do it the Buddhist way
      • Relied on other spiritual outlets, like magicians and feng shui
  • (1623) Deposed
    • Injo Rebellion
      • Some (i.e. Inmok) called for Gwanghae’s execution; Injo rejected
      • Gwanghae and queen (Queen Consort Yoo) exiled to Ganghwa-do, later to Jeju-do

Death & Legacy

  • Gwanghae-gun died in Jeju-do, 1st day of 7th lunar month, 1641
  • Gwanghae-gun was denied temple name and royal tomb
    • Still has no temple name, kinda not recognized as king
    • Initially buried in Jeju, tomb moved to Namyangju
  • (2002) Netizens ‘recognized’ Gwanghae-gun as ‘Great King Hyejong’ (obviously not official, but points to some contemporary support)
  • Pirate story


  • Gwanghae’s ghost
    • Legends say Gwanghae haunts Gyeonghuigung
    • home of King Injo ‘s father, Wonjong (Jeongwongun).
    • Could be modern legend, though tales of hauntings of palace are old (see: previous episode)
  • Gwanghae-woo
    • Rains come to Jeju-do on anniversary of Gwanghae’s death