Naemyeongbu (Hangul: 내명부, Hanja: 內命婦), literally Women of the Internal Court, was a category of rank in the royal court of the Joseon dynasty 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 green wonsam 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 senior 1st rank.[2]

Within the naemyeongbu, the naegwan (Korean내관; Hanja內官) were concubines from the senior 1st rank to junior 4th rank, and they did not play any role in the household chores of the palace.

Ladies from the senior 5th rank to junior 9th rank were called gunggwan (Korean궁관; Hanja宮官), or alternatively yeogwan and nain.[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 Sinjeong 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 dynasty 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 Sinjeong. 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 genealogical 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 the 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, after which she went to greet the Queen Dowager(s). 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 primary wife of the King or Crown Prince, 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 with the junior 2nd rank at the minimum, 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 participating in the wedding of Queen Min and assisting the new Queen (re-enactment in 2006)

Court ladies of the senior 5th to junior 9th 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 4 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 (senior 5th) 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 it 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: senior (jeong, 정) and junior (jong, 종).

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

Senior 5th sanggung (상궁; 尙宮) and sangui (상의; 尙儀) were the court ladies who served directly under the royal family members, or 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 court lady could also become a sanggung if the King showed favor. They would be called "favored sanggung" ("seungeun sanggung") and would be considered the highest rank of the senior 5th. However, since they are still in the 5th rank, a favored sanggung would not be considered a member of the Royal Family or part of the naegwan. On some occasions a favored sanggung was promoted to the rank of Sugwon.

Officially admitted royal consorts would start from the rank of Sugui. Non-officially admitted royal consorts would start from the rank of Sugwon. 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
Queen 왕비 王妃 Primary Consort of the King.
Queen 계비 繼妃 The King’s primary consort from his second, third, etc marriage.
Queen Dowager 대비 大妃 Widow of the King's father.
Grand Queen Dowager 왕대비 王大妃 Widow of the King's grandfather.
Crown Princess 세자빈 世子嬪 Primary Consort of the Heir.
Senior 1st 正一品 Bin Most senior rank for concubines.
Junior 1st 從一品 Gwiin 귀인 貴人 Second most senior rank for concubines.
Senior 2nd 正二品 Soui 소의 昭儀 Supports the ceremonies of the Queen.
Junior 2nd 從二品 Sugui 숙의 淑儀
Senior 3rd 正三品 Soyong 소용 昭容 Prepared ancestral rites and meals for guests.
Junior 3rd 從三品 Sugyong 숙용 淑容
Senior 4th 正四品 Sowon 소원 昭媛 Oversaw the management of royal palaces on a daily basis.
Junior 4th 從四品 Sugwon 숙원 淑媛 Wove silk and ramie cloth for presentation on a yearly basis.
Senior 5th 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.
Junior 5th 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.
Senior 6th 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.
Junior 6th 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.
Senior 7th 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 (Saseon) 전선 (사선) 典膳 (司膳) Prepared boiled and seasoned side dishes.
Junior 7th 從七品 Jeonseol (Saseol) 전설 (사설) 典設 (司設) Responsible for tents and rush mats, cleaning, and care of goods.
Jeonje (Saje) 전제 (사제) 典製 (司製) Produced clothing.
Jeoneon (Saeon) 전언 (사언) 典言 (司言) Responsible for conveying messages between the king and the inner court.
Senior 8th 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.
Junior 8th 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.
Senior 9th 正九品 Jugung 주궁 奏宮 Affairs related to music.
Jusang 주상 奏商
Jugak 주각 奏角
Junior 9th 從九品 Jubyeonchi 주변치 奏變徵
Juchi 주치 奏徵
Juu 주우 奏羽
Jubyeongung 주변궁 奏變宮

Notable NaemyeongbuEdit


The Cheongju Han clan produced 16 Queens, the largest number in Korean history. Queen Sohye, wife of Crown Prince Uigyeong, and a member of the clan, wrote Naehun, a Confucian morality guidebook for women.[12]

Crown PrincessesEdit

Notable 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.