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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Kings of Joseon Dynasty, Part VII: King Sejo (Yi Yoo) - the Notorious Second Son of King Sejong the Great


King Sejo of Joseon, previously known as Grand Prince Suyang (Hanja: 世祖王 [首陽大君]; Born: November 2nd 1417 – Died: September 23rd 1468, Reigned: 1455–1468), born Yi Yoo (이유/李瑈) was the seventh king of the Joseon Dynasty. He was the second son of King Sejong the Great and Queen Soheon of Cheongsong Shim Clan, younger brother of Munjong of Joseon and uncle of Danjong of Joseon. He produced a coup d'état and became king himself in 1455 by dethroning his nephew.

King Sejo showed great ability at archery, horseriding and martial arts. He was also a brilliant military commander, though he never went to the battlefront himself. He became Grand Prince Suyang in 1428, the name by which he was better known.

Following King Sejong's death, Suyang's ill brother, Munjong, took the throne but soon died. The crown passed to his 12-year-old son, Danjong. The new king was too young to rule the nation, and all political processes were controlled by then-premier Hwangbo In and General Kim Jongseo, who was vice-premier. As Kim Jongseo and his faction used the chance to extend the power of court officials against many royal family members, the tension between Kim and Suyang greatly increased; not only Suyang himself, but his younger brother, Grand Prince Anpyeong Yi Yong also sought an opportunity to take control of the kingdom.

Suyang surrounded himself with trusted allies, including his famous adviser, Han Myeong-hoe - Internal Prince Sangdang (Father of Queen Gonghye and Queen Jangsun of Cheongju Han Clan). Han advised Suyang to take over the government in a coup, and on 10 November (10th day of the 10th lunar month) 1453, he killed Kim Jongseo and his faction, thereby taking the reins of power into his own hands, which is known as Gyeyu Rebellion (계유정난/癸酉靖難/Gyeyu Jeongnan). After the coup he arrested his own brother, Anpyeong, first sending him into exile, then putting him to death.

Finally in 1455 he forced his powerless young nephew, Danjong, to abdicate, declaring himself seventh king of the Joseon dynasty. Later he demoted Danjong to prince and ordered him to be poisoned after his younger brother, Grand Prince Geumseong, and later six scholars (the Six Martyred Ministers a.k.a Sayukshin) including Seong Sam-mun, Park Paeng-nyeon and Yi Gae plotted to remove the Suyang from power in an attempt to put Danjong back on the throne.

Despite having snatched the throne from his young nephew, killing many people in the process, he proved himself one of the most able rulers and administrators in Korean history. First, he strengthened the monarchy established by King Taejong, by weakening the power of the prime minister and bringing staff directly under the king's control. He also strengthened the administrative system, which had also been introduced by Taejong, enabling the government to determine exact population numbers and to mobilize troops effectively. 

Just like Taejong, he was a hardliner with regards to foreign policy, attacking Jurchens on the northern front in 1460 (오랑캐/兀良哈) and 1467 (호리개/胡里改). He also revised the land ordinance to improve the national economy. He executed scholars from King Sejong's era for plotting against him (which includes General Nami as well), but encouraged publication of history, economics, agricultural, and religious books.

Most importantly, he compiled the Grand Code for State Administration, which became the cornerstone of dynastic administration and provided the first form of constitutional law in a written form in Korea. He died in 1468, and the throne passed to his weak son, King Yejong. He was buried at the Royal Tomb of Gwangneung (光陵) in 354 Gwangneung Arboretum Road/Gwangneung SumogWon-ro, Bupyeong-ri san 99-2 beonji, JinGeon-eup, Namyangju City, Gyeonggi Province. He was posthumously known as King Sejo Hyejang Seungcheon Chedo Yeolmun Yeongmu Jideok Yunggong Seongshin Myeong-ye Heumsuk Inhyo the Great (세조혜장승천체도열문영무지덕융공성신명예흠숙인효대왕/世祖惠莊承天體道烈文英武至德隆功聖神明睿欽肅仁孝大王).