Princess Deokhye

Princess Deokhye (Korean: 덕혜옹주, Deokhye-Ongju; Japanese: 徳恵姫, Tokue-hime; 25 May 1912 – 21 April 1989) was the last princess of the Korean Empire.

Princess Deokhye
Princess dukhye around 1923.JPG
Princess Deokhye, ca. 1923
BornYi Deok-hye (이덕혜, 李德惠)
(1912-05-25)25 May 1912
Deoksu Palace, Keijo, Japanese Korea
Died21 April 1989(1989-04-21) (aged 76)
Sugang Hall, Changdeok Palace, Seoul, South Korea
Hongryureung, Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
(m. 1931; div. 1953)
IssueCountess Sō Masae
FatherGojong of Korea
MotherLady Boknyeong
Princess Deokhye
Revised RomanizationDeokhye Ongju
McCune–ReischauerTŏkhye Ongju

She was born on May 25, 1912 at Changdeok Palace, in Seoul, as the youngest daughter of Emperor Gojong from his concubine, then known as Yang Gwi-in. After her birth, Gojong bestowed the royal title Boknyeong on Lady Yang.[2]

Deokhye was not formally recognized as a princess by Japan until 1917, because she was not the daughter of a Queen. In 1917, her name was formally entered into the Imperial Family's registry. Her father loved her greatly and established the Deoksugung Kindergarten for her in Junmyungdang (준명당),[3] Hamnyeong Hall. Girls her age from noble families attended the kindergarten.

In Korea, she is called Deokhye Ongju, not Gongju. Gongju refers to the daughters of the Queen, and Ongju refers to the daughters of concubines.

Birth and early lifeEdit

Yi Deok-hye was born as the daughter of Gwiin Yang (later Lady Boknyeong) and the then-60-year-old Emperor Emeritus Gojong on May 25, 1912, during the reign of her half-brother, Sunjong of Korea. Immediately after birth, she was called Agi (아기, 阿只, meaning "baby") and then named Deok-hye. Her mother was a low-ranking court lady working in the kitchen of Deoksugung.[4] Gojong had 16 children with his 10 wives, but Deok-hye was his first daughter; his four other daughters were not counted as they all died under the age of one. Gojong was delighted with the birth of his first daughter and raised her with meticulous love. In 1916, he established the Deoksugung Kindergarten dedicated to her, where Deok-hye would attend.[3][5] However, apart from his father, because she didn't have an official title, she was ignored and treated like she did not exist. Later, she was nicknamed "Boknyeong-dang".

In 1917, her father persuaded Terauchi Masatake, the then-ruling Governor-General of Korea, to enter her name into the registry of the Imperial Family, offering her legitimacy and granting her the title of princess.

In 1919, Emperor Gojong planned a secret engagement between Princess Deokhye and Kim Jang-han, the nephew of Kim Hwang-jin, a court chamberlain. He had sought to protect his daughter through it, but the engagement failed due to Japan's intervention and Kim Hwang-jin was not permitted to enter Deoksu Palace again. Emperor Gojong died suddenly on January 21, 1919.

In 1921, Princess Deokhye started going to Hinodae Elementary School, in Seoul.

Life in Japan and arranged marriageEdit

Sō Takeyuki and Deokhye (1931)

In 1925, the Princess was taken to Japan under the pretense of continuing her studies. Like her brothers, she attended the Gakushuin, where Yukika Sohma was among her schoolmates. In Japan she was known as Princess Tokue (徳恵姫, Tokue-hime). According to Yukika, she was untalkative and struggled with exercising.[4]

Upon the news of her mother's death in 1929, Deokhye was finally given permission to visit Korea temporarily, in order to attend the funeral. However, she was not allowed to wear the proper clothing.

In the Spring of 1930, upon the onset of apsychological condition (manifested by sleepwalking), she moved to King Yi's Palace, the Tokyo house of her brother, Crown Prince Eun. During this period, she often forgot to eat and drink. Her physician diagnosed her illness as precocious dementia (today called schizophrenia),[6] but by the following year, her condition seemed to have improved. This may be attributed to her upbringing.

In May 1931, after "matchmaking" by Empress Teimei, the consort of Emperor Taishō of Japan, Princess Deokhye married Count Sō Takeyuki (武志; 1908–1985), a Japanese aristocrat.[7] The marriage had in fact been decided in 1930. Her brother had protested against it, and it had been postponed because of her condition, but when she recovered, she was immediately given instructions that the wedding was to take place.

She gave birth to a daughter, Masae (正惠), or Jeonghye (정혜)[8] in Korea, on August 14, 1932. In 1933, Deokhye was again afflicted with mental illness, and after this, she spent many years in various mental health clinics.

With the defeat of Japan in World War II, Korea once again became independent and her husband lost his noble title, as the Japanese peerage was abolished. The arranged marriage no longer made sense, and they became increasingly detached from one another, until 1953, when they finally divorced. Sō Takeyuki is known to have remarried to Japanese Yoshie Katsumura, in 1955.

Having suffered an unhappy marriage, Deokhye's grief was compounded by the loss of her only daughter, who disappeared in 1956, reportedly committing suicide due to the stress of her parents' divorce. As a result, Deokhye's condition deteriorated at a slow yet considerable pace.

Return to KoreaEdit

She returned to Korea at the invitation of the South Korean government on January 26, 1962, after 37 years.[9] At first, the Korean government refused to allow the return of the last royal bloodline, because President Rhee Syng-man wanted to avoid political chaos.[10] However, reporter Kim Eul-han found the princess and persuaded the government to allow her return.[11] She cried while approaching her motherland, and despite her mental state, accurately remembered the complex royal court etiquette and protocol. She lived in Nakseon Hall, Changdeok Palace,[12] with Crown Prince and Princess Eun, their son Prince Gu, his wife Julia Mullock, and Mrs. Byeon Bok-dong, her lady-in-waiting. She died on April 21, 1989 at Sugang Hall, Changdeok Palace, and was buried at Hongryureung, in Namyangju, near Seoul.


In popular cultureEdit

Film and televisionEdit


  • A biography of Princess Deokhye was published by Japanese author Yasuko Honma (本馬恭子) and was subsequently translated into Korean by Hoon Lee and published in 1996.
  • The best-selling novel Princess Deokhye by Kwon Bi-young was published in 2009.


  • Singer Ho Shim-nam created a 1963 song based upon the life of Princess Deokhye.
  • Korean singer Heo Jinsul's 2010 song "The Rose of Tears" (Korean눈물꽃; RRNun Mul Kkot) is based upon the life of Princess Deokhye, and was recorded in both English and Korean.


  • In 1995, a play based upon Princess Deokhye was held at the Seoul Art Center.
  • The 2013 Korean musical Deokhye, the Last Princess (Korean덕혜옹주; RRDeokhye Ongju) is based upon her life.[15][16]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  2. ^ "덕혜옹주(Deokhye Ongju)". Doosan Corporation. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b Shinjō, Michihiko; 新城道彦 (2015). Chōsen Ō-Kōzoku : Teikoku Nihon no junkōzoku (Saihan ed.). Tōkyō. p. 107. ISBN 978-4-12-102309-4. OCLC 905837081.
  5. ^ "徳恵翁主を紹介する林間博物館". KBS WORLD. 30 May 2020. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  6. ^ "Princess Deokhye - the tragic tale of Korea's last Princess". 5 December 2019.
  7. ^ Chung, Ah-young (19 February 2010). "Life of Joseons Last Princess Revisited". Korean Times. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  8. ^ "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  9. ^ "Late Joseon Princess Deokhye's life revealed". Archived from the original on 29 October 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  10. ^ "덕혜옹주". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  11. ^ "The Last Princess of the Joseon Dynasty, Deokhye". The Korea Blog. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  12. ^ "Princess' belongings to return to Korea :: : The official website of the Republic of Korea". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  13. ^ His last name was Suzuki (鈴木) before becoming Sō (宗)
  14. ^ Ahn Sung-mi (28 March 2016). "'The Last Princess' wraps up filming". K-Pop Herald. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  15. ^ "Musical "Deokhye, The Last Princess"". 27 May 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  16. ^ Lim Jeong-yeo (2 March 2015). "Crayon Pop's Choa takes lead role in musical". K-Pop Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2016.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Princess Deokhye at Wikimedia Commons