King Cheoljong, previously known as Prince Deog-wan (Hanja: 哲宗王 [德完君]; Born: 25 July 1831 – Died: 13 December 1863, Reigned: 1849–1863), born Yi Byeon (이변/李昪) was the 25th king of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. He was a distant relative of King Yeongjo, son of Grand Court Prince Jeon-gye (전계대원군/全溪大院君) and Grand Court Lady Yeongseong of Yongdam Yeom Clan (용성부대부인 염씨/龍城府大夫人 廉氏).
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Andong Kim clan, who had provided the Joseon state with several queens, had seized power almost everywhere in Korea. The social stagnation that resulted was a breeding ground for unrest. Corruption and embezzlement from the treasury and its inevitable exploitation were taken to extreme levels, and reached staggering proportions. One rebellion after another was accompanied by natural disasters. Indeed it was one of the most gloomy periods in the country’s history.
The only aim of the Andong Kim clan was the preservation of their influence. Their fierce campaign truly to dominate the royal house had led to a situation in which almost all of the representatives of the royal family fled from Seoul. When the royal family produced intelligent and appropriate candidates for the accession, they were either accused of treason and executed or sent into exile, so when Heonjong died, leaving no son, no acceptable candidate could be found to succeed to the throne.
Cheoljong ascended to the throne in 1849 at the age of 19 after King Heonjong died without an heir. As a distant relative of King Yeongjo, the 21st king of Joseon, Cheoljong was selected for adoption by the Dowager Queen at the time and to allow him to ascend to the throne. The future Cheoljong was found on Ganghwa Island, Incheon Metropole where his family had fled to hide from oppression.
When the envoys (dispatched in order to seek for the future king) arrived on Ganghwa Island, they found the remaining clan of the Yi's barely surviving in wretched poverty. In 1849, at the age of 18, Yi Byeon (the future Cheoljong), the 3rd son of Prince Jeon-gye (great-grandson of King Yeongjo), was proclaimed King, amidst obvious degradation and poverty. Though from the start of the Joseon Dynasty Korean kings had given top priority to the education of their sons, Cheoljong could not even read a single word on the notice delivering congratulations to him on his elevation to the royal throne.
For the Andong Kims, Cheoljong was an excellent choice. His illiteracy made him manipulable and vulnerable to their control. Proof of this was that even though Cheoljong ruled the country for 13 years, until his very last days he had not yet learned how to move with dignity or how to wear royal clothes, so that in even the most luxurious of robes he still looked like a fisherman.
As part of the Andong Kim's manipulation of Cheoljong, in 1851, the clan married Cheoljong to Queen Cheor-in, daughter of Kim Mun-geun, Internal Prince Yeong-eun (영은부원군 김문근/永恩府院君 金汶根). He died without a male heir at the age of 32 in December 1863, by suspected foul play by the Andong Kim clan, the same clan that had made him king. Despite having five sons and six daughters, only one child, a daughter, lived past infancy.
King Cheoljong was buried at the Royal Tomb of Yereung (睿陵), a part of Seosamneung Royal Tomb Cluster in Wondang-dong san 37-1 beonji, Goyang DeogYang-gu, Gyeonggi Province. He was posthumously known as King Cheoljong Huiryun Jeonggeuk Sudeok Sunseong Munhyeon Museong Heon-in Yeonghyo the Great (철종희륜정극수덕순성문현무성헌인영효대왕/哲宗熙倫正極粹德純聖文顯武成獻仁英孝大王). In 1908, Emperor Sunjong-Yunghui promoted King Cheoljong into Posthumous Emperor with his new Posthumous Imperial Name, which is known as Emperor Cheoljong Huiryun Jeonggeuk Sudeok Sunseong Heummyeong Gwangdo Donwon Changhwa Munhyeon Museong Heon-in Yeonghyo, Emperor Jang of Korean Empire (철종희륜정극수덕순성흠명광도돈원창화문현무성헌인영효장황제/哲宗熙倫正極粹德純聖欽明光道敦元彰化文顯武成獻仁英孝章皇帝).