Naemyeongbu (Korean내명부; Hanja內命婦), literally Women of the Internal Court, was a category of rank in the Joseon dynasty royal court that referred to concubines and female officials living within the palaces. It was separate from the oemyeongbu (Korean외명부; Hanja外命婦) category, which consisted of royal women living outside the palace.[1]

Naemyeongbu consorts in yellow dangui and red chima during a historical reenactment
Korean name
Revised Romanizationnaemyeongbu


Although regulations concerning court ladies were introduced under King Taejo, detailed definitions of ranks, titles, and duties were outlined in the State Code of Joseon, promulgated under King Seongjong, where the term naemyeongbu appears.[2] Naemyeongbu comprised women serving at court and living in the palaces but excluded the queen, who was beyond rank and oversaw the court ladies.[1] By contrast, gungnyeo refers to all women at court below the major 1st rank (1A).[2]

Within the naemyeongbu, the naegwan (Korean내관; Hanja內官) were concubines from the major 1st rank (1A) to minor 4th rank (4B), and they did not play any role in the household chores of the palace. Ladies from the major 5th rank (5A) to minor 9th rank (9B) were called gunggwan (Korean궁관; Hanja宮官), or alternatively yeogwan and na-in.[2] They were responsible for various palace chores depending on their position and might work in the royal chambers, kitchen, or laundry.[1]



Queens and crown princessesEdit

Queen Shinjeong was selected as the wife of Crown Prince Hyomyeong in 1819 and entered the palace at age 10

The legal spouse of a king or crown prince during the Joseon was selected through a specific procedure that differed from matchmaking practices common outside the royal family. The government issued a ban on marriages in noble households throughout the country, indicating that unmarried daughters of the aristocracy between the ages of 13 and 17 were potential candidates.[3] Depending on the age of the crown prince, girls as young as 9 were sometimes considered, which occurred in the selections of Lady Hyegyeong and Queen Shinjeong. A temporary department called the Office of the Royal Wedding (Korean가례도감; Hanja嘉禮都監) was installed to manage all relevant tasks.[4]

On announcement of the marriage ban, aristocratic families were required to submit details of their unmarried daughters' birth dates and times, as well as the family's geneological records up to three generations.[5] Candidates were required to be beautiful in appearance and virtuous in character. Those who were not considered physically attractive were disqualified, regardless of their family lineage or virtue.[4] Five to six candidates were selected based on this, which was whittled down to two or three candidates in the second stage, with the bride-to-be selected in the third round.[5] This third presentation was conducted in the presence of the king and queen dowager, who consulted three state councillors before making the final decision.[4]

After selection, gifts of silk and jewellery were sent to the bride's family, and the bride moved to a detached palace where she was instructed in palace etiquette.[4][6] The wife of a king was then formally invested as queen, after which she moved into the palace to undergo a consummation ceremony. The next day, she was greeted by all palace staff and herself went to greet the queen dowager and queen mother. An invested queen of Joseon would then receive formal recognition from the Emperor of China acknowledging her legitimacy.[5]

Despite the benefits of one's daughter being selected as the king or crown prince's primary wife, aristocratic families were often reticent to marry their daughters into the royal family and quickly arranged marriages for their young daughters when a selection was anticipated.[7] One lady of the Gwon clan even feigned insanity during the presentation to avoid being chosen as crown princess.[8]

Royal concubinesEdit

If the queen consort did not produce a male heir, similar formal procedures as those used to select the queen were followed to recruit royal concubines. Women thus selected entered the palace at the minor 2nd rank (2B) or higher, and they would be granted a special title if they had a son who became crown prince.[3] Royal concubines were sometimes selected from women up to the age of 20.[4]


Court ladies participate in the wedding of Queen Min and assist the new queen (re-enactment 2006)

Court ladies of the major 5th (5A) to minor 9th (9B) ranks were recruited through various processes depending on the role. They were originally selected from among female servants who worked for public offices or the daughters of gisaeng, but gradually daughters of respectable families came to be recruited. To avoid their daughters being taken into the palace, many such families married off their daughters very young, leading to a revision to the State Code that girls born to good families would not be recruited.[9] However, Lee Bae-yong suggests that this rule probably only applied to court ladies of the lower ranks, whereas those working closely with the king or queen potentially continued to be recruited from good families.[10]

Girls were recruited between ages four to 10, and successful candidates were bound to live their entire lives in the palace. The young girls were trained in their duties and taught to write in Korean vernacular script, as well as some Chinese characters. They began formally working around ages 11 to 12, with a coming-of-age ceremony held when they turned 18.[10] A woman only became eligible to hold the rank of sanggung (5A) after 35 years of service.[1] Both the head sanggung as well as the sanggung who personally attended the king or queen could hold tremendous influence and power, but they typically lost this if a new monarch or consort was installed.[10]


The Queen Consort (jungjeon 중전) was followed by 4 categories of high-ranked royal consorts, with 2 levels each. Level a (jeong, 정) ranked above level b (jong, 종):

For the rank of Bin, the King or Queen consort would attach a prefix in association with the character/personality of the Royal Consort, such as Huibin (Hui = Radiant), Sukbin (Suk = Clarity/Purity), Euibin (Eui = Appropriate/Fitting), and so forth. However, they are all of the same rank "Bin" so they are all of equal rank.

5a. sanggung (상궁 or 尙宮) and sangeui (상의 or 尙儀) Court Ladies who served directly under the royal family members, and the head manager of their assigned department. Depending on their role and department, there would be internal ranking within the sanggung. For example, a sanggung who served the Queen has higher authority and ranking than a sanggung who serves a prince, princess, and/or concubine. A sanggung could also become a "Royal Concubine" if the King showed favor. They would be called "favored sanggung" and would be considered the highest rank of the 5a. However, since they are still in the rank of 5, the "favored sanggung" would not be considered a member of the royal family, part of the naegung, and considered a Royal Noble Consort. Instead, they would just be known as a concubine of the rank of sanggung. However, the favored sanggung would have a sanggung of her own to serve her. On some occasions the favored sanggung was promoted to the rank of Sukwon. The most notable case is Royal Noble Consort Hui of the Indong Jang clan. Officially admitted Royal Noble Consorts would start from the rank of Sukeui. Non-officially admitted Royal Noble Consorts would start from the rank of Sukwon. The most notable case is Royal Noble Consort Hui of the Indong Jang clan.

(Korean품계; Hanja品階)
Title Duties
Classification Hanja Revised Romanization Hangul Hanja
N/A 無品 Wangbi 왕비 王妃 Queen
Gyebi 계비 繼妃 Second queen
Daebi 대비 大妃 Dowager queen
Wangdaebi 왕대비 王大妃 Queen mother
Sejabin 세자빈 世子嬪 Crown princess
1A 正一品 Bin Supported the queen and discussed the etiquette of wives
1B 從一品 Gwi-in 귀인 貴人
2A 正二品 Soui 소의 昭儀 Supported the ceremonies of the queen
2B 從二品 Sukui 숙의 淑儀
3A 正三品 Soyong 소용 昭容 Prepared ancestral rites and meals for guests
3B 從三品 Sukyong 숙용 淑容
4A 正四品 Sowon 소원 昭媛 Oversaw the management of royal palaces on a daily basis
4B 從四品 Sukwon 숙원 淑媛 Wove silk and ramie cloth for presentation on a yearly basis
5A 正五品 Sanggung 상궁 尚宫 Escorted the queen; oversaw the sagi and jeoneon
Sangui 상의 尙儀 Responsible for all daily etiquette and procedures; oversawl saseol and jeondeung
5B 從五品 Sangbok 상복 尙服 Supplied clothing and embroidered badges and wrappings; oversaw saui and jeonsik
Sangsik 상식 尙食 Prepared meals and side dishes; oversaw saseon and jeonyak
6A 正六品 Sangchim 상침 尙寢 Responsible for the procedure of escorting the king to his chambers; oversaw saseol and jeondeung
Sanggong 상공 尙功 Managed the weaving and embroidery processes; oversaw saje and jeonchae
6B 從六品 Sangjeong (Gungjeong) 상정 (궁정) 尙正 (宮正) Oversaw the conduct, work, and punishment of the court ladies
Sanggi 사기 司記 Responsible for documents inside palaces and had access to account books
7A 正七品 Jeonbin (Sabin) 전빈 (사빈) 典賓 (司賓) Prepared meals for guests, looked after guests at banquets
Jeonui (Saui) 전의 (사의) 典衣 (司衣) Responsible for the clothing and hair accessories of ladies in the gunggwan
Jeonseon (Saseol) 전선 (사선) 典膳 (司膳) Prepared boiled and seasoned side dishes
7B 從七品 Jeonseol (Saseol) 전설 (사설) 典設 (司設) Responsible for tents and rush mats, cleaning, and care of goods
Jeonje 전제 (사제) 典製 (司製) Produced clothing
Jeoneon 전언 (사언) 典言 (司言) Responsible for conveying messages between the king and the inner court
8A 正八品 Jeonchan 전찬 典贊 Helped with meals and guidance during guest receptions and events
Jeonsik 전식 典飾 Responsible for washing, combing, and clothing
Jeonyak 전약 典藥 Responsible for prescribed medicine
8B 從七品 Jeondeung 전등 典燈 Responsible for lights and candles
Jeonchae 전채 典彩 Wove silk and ramie cloth
Jeonjeong 전정 典正 Supported the gungjeong
9A 正九品 Jugung 주궁 奏宮 Affairs related to music
Jusang 주상 奏商
Jugak 주각 奏角
9B 從九品 Jubyeonji 주변치 奏變徵
Juji 주치 奏徵
Ju-u 주우 奏羽
Jubyeongung 주변궁 奏變宮

Notable naemyeongbuEdit


In Korean history, Han clan of Cheongju produced 16 queens, the largest number of queens including 6 most queens in the Joseon dynasty. Queen Sohye wrote a book 'Naehun' introduction guide book for royal women.[12]

Crown princessesEdit

Notables ConsortsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d National Palace Museum of Korea (2016), p. 107.
  2. ^ a b c Yi 2008, p. 63.
  3. ^ a b Yi 2008, p. 83.
  4. ^ a b c d e Yi 2008, p. 84.
  5. ^ a b c National Palace Museum of Korea (2016), p. 110.
  6. ^ Kim Haboush 2013, p. 63–68.
  7. ^ Yi 2008, p. 85.
  8. ^ Yi 2008, p. 86–87.
  9. ^ Yi 2008, p. 63–65.
  10. ^ a b c Yi 2008, p. 65.
  11. ^ National Palace Museum of Korea (2016), p. 108.
  12. ^ a b "MusicalAmerica - Terra Han introduces East Asian Royal women's identity through her own family traditions of Han clan of Cheongju". Retrieved 12 May 2020.