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Monday, 10 November 2014

Kings of Joseon Dynasty, Part XIII: King Myeongjong (Yi Hwan) - another Youngest King of Joseon Dynasty to rule after King Danjong the Young


King Myeongjong, previously known as Grand Prince Gyeong-won (Hanja: 明宗王 [慶原大君]; Born: 3 July 1534 – Died: 3 August 1567, Reigned 1545–1567), born Yi Hwan (이환/李峘) was the 13th king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. He was the second son of King Jungjong, and his mother was Queen Munjeong of Papyeong Yoon Clan, who was Jungjong's third queen.

He became king in 1545 at the age of 12 following the death of his half-brother, Injong. Since he was too young to rule the kingdom, Queen Munjeong governed the nation in his name.

There were two political factions at the time Myeongjong came to power; Greater Yoon, headed by Yoon Im, Injong's maternal uncle, and Lesser Yoon, headed by Myeongjong's maternal uncles, Yoon Won-hyeong and Yoon Won-ro. (Yoon Im and Yoon Brothers were close relatives by that period's standards - Yoon Im's great-grandfather was older brother of Yoon Brothers' great-great-grandfather.) Greater Yoon took power in 1544, when Injong succeeded Jungjong; but they failed to wipe out their opposition, since Queen Munjeong protected the Lesser Yoon faction and other opposition officials.

After the death of Injong in 1545, Lesser Yoon replaced Greater Yoon as the majority in the royal court and brutally ousted their adversaries in the Eulsa Fourth Literati Purge of 1545. Yoon Im was executed, as were many of his followers.

The Lesser Yun faction continued to attack their opposition. In 1546, Yoon Won-hyeong impeached his older brother, Yoon Won-ro, who was executed a few days later along with his followers. Facing no opposition from the government, Yoon Won-hyeong became Minister of the Interior in 1548, Vice Premier in 1551 and ultimately Prime Minister in 1563.

Despite Yun Won-hyeong's violent rule, Queen Munjeong was an effective administrator, distributing to the common people land formerly owned by the nobility. However, she held on to rule even after the king reached his majority at the age of 20.

After the death of Queen Munjeong in 1565, the king decided to rule the kingdom by himself and had his uncle Yoon Won-hyeong put to death, along with his second wife Jeong Nan-jeong, who also rose to power due to her close friendship and being second sister-in-law to Queen Munjeong. Yun Won-hyeong allowed corruption to flourish in the government; while the kingdom was unstable, Jurchens, Japanese, and rebellious troops rampaged at will and threatened the government itself. Rebel leader Im Kkeok-jeong was arrested and executed in 1552, but outside invasion continued; the Joseon Dynasty had to re-mobilize its army and navy along to protect its borders.

Myeongjong tried to reform the government after taking power into his own hands by recalling and reinstating Sarim scholars who were exiled in the purge, but died only two years later without any male issue. King Seonjo, his half-nephew, succeeded to the throne in 1567.

King Myeongjong was buried at the Royal Tomb of Gangneung, a part of Royal Tomb of Taegangneung in 727 Hwarang Avenue/Hwarangno, Gongneung-dong san 227-beonji, Seoul Nowon-gu. He was posthumously known as King Myeongjong Gongheon Heonui Somun Gwangsuk Gyeonghyo the Great (명종공헌헌의소문광숙경효대왕/明宗恭憲獻毅昭文光肅敬孝大王).

The interesting fact about Royal Tomb of Taegangneung is the Korea National Training Center (태릉선수촌/Taereung Seonsuchon), located between Royal Tombs of Taereung (Tomb of King Myeongjong's Mother, Queen Munjeong of Papyeong Yoon Clan) and Gangneung (Tomb of King Myeongjong). The Royal Tomb of Gangneung is accessible by using SMRT Lines 6 and 7 to Station 645/717: Taereung Station in Seoul Nowon-gu or KORAIL Gyeongchun LIne to Station P123: Galmae Station in Guri City, Gyeonggi Province.