Trần Thánh Tông

Trần Thánh Tông (12 October 1240–3 July 1290), given name Trần Hoảng (), was the second emperor of the Trần dynasty, reigning over Đại Việt from 1258 to 1278. After ceding the throne to his son Trần Nhân Tông, Thánh Tông held the title Retired Emperor (Vietnamese: Thái thượng hoàng) from 1279 to his death in 1290. During the second and the third Mongol invasions of Đại Việt, the Retired Emperor Thánh Tông and the Emperor Nhân Tông were credited as the supreme commanders who led the nation to the final victories and as a result established a long period of peace and prosperity over the country. With his successful ruling in both military and civil matters, Trần Thánh Tông was considered as one of the greatest emperors of not only the Trần dynasty but also the whole dynastic era in the History of Vietnam.

Trần Thánh Tông
Emperor of Đại Việt
Trần Thánh Tông.jpg
Emperor of Trần dynasty
PredecessorTrần Thái Tông
SuccessorTrần Nhân Tông
Retired Emperor of Trần dynasty
PredecessorTrần Thái Tông
SuccessorTrần Nhân Tông
Born12 October 1240
Thăng Long, Đại Việt
Died3 July 1290
Thăng Long, Đại Việt
Dụ Lăng
SpouseEmpress Thiên Cảm Trần Thị Thiều
IssueCrown prince Trần Khâm
Prince Tá Thiên Trần Đức Việp
Princess Thiên Thụy
Full name
Trần Hoảng (陳晃)
Era dates
Thiệu Long (紹隆, 1258–1272)
Bảo Phù (寶符, 1273–1278)
Posthumous name
Huyền công thịnh đức nhân minh văn vũ tuyên hiếu hoàng đế
Temple name
Thánh Tông (聖宗)
HouseTrần dynasty
FatherTrần Thái Tông
MotherEmpress Thuận Thiên

Background and during Thái Tông's reignEdit

Thánh Tông was born on September 25 of the lunar calendar 1240 as Trần Hoảng,[1] the second prince but the first natural son of the Emperor Trần Thái Tông and Empress Consort Thuận Thiên. He had a half-brother on the mother's side, Prince Tĩnh Quốc (Vietnamese: Tĩnh Quốc đại vương) Trần Quốc Khang, who was born after the forced marriage by Trần Thủ Độ between the Emperor Nhân Tông and Princess Thuận Thiên. In fact, although being Thái Tông's first prince, Trần Quốc Khang was the son of his elder brother Prince Hoài Trần Liễu, therefore officially he was not chosen by Thái Tông as the heir, a position which ultimately belonged to prince Trần Hoảng.[2] Besides Prince Tĩnh Quốc, Trần Hoảng had some other younger brothers including Prince Chiêu Minh Trần Quang Khải, who was also given birth by Empress Thuận Thiên, Prince Chiêu Quốc Trần Ích Tắc or Prince Chiêu Văn Trần Nhật Duật.[3]

In 1257, Crown Prince Trần Hoảng witnessed the first Mongol invasion in Vietnam.[4] In the beginning, Đại Việt's army suffered several defeats by the Mongols who had already conquered a vast area in Asia. Several high-ranking officials of Trần dynasty were so frightened that Prince Khâm Thiên Trần Nhật Hiệu, younger brother of Thái Tông, even suggested the Emperor that they might escape from Đại Việt to the Song dynasty.[5] But because of the firm faith of the Emperor Thái Tông, grand chancellor Trần Thủ Độ and the talents of generals such as Prince Hưng Đạo Trần Quốc Tuấn and Lê Phụ Trần, the Trần dynasty was able to throw back the invasion and ultimately re-established the peace in Đại Việt in December 1257.[6][7]

Returned to the capital Thăng Long, Trần Thái Tông decided to cede the throne to Crown Prince Trần Hoảng, now Trần Thánh Tông, on the 24th day of the second lunar month (March 30) 1258. After the coronation, Thánh Tông changed the era name to Thiệu Long (, 1258–1272). During his reign, the emperor had one more era name, which was Bảo Phù (, 1273–1278).[8] Although passing the throne to his son, Thái Tông continued to rule the country with Thánh Tông in the position of Retired Emperor (Thái thượng hoàng) from 1259 to his death in 1277.[1]

As emperorEdit

After the enthronement, Thánh Tông and his father began to rehabilitate both the country's economy and administrative system, which had been heavily damaged by the Mongol invasion and the troubled time at the end of the Lý dynasty. In June 1261 the Emperor opened an examination for scholars who wanted to be appointed as mandarins of the administrative system. The examination comprised two abilities of writing and calculating.[9] In the royal court, Thánh Tông proved to be a skilled ruler with his often right appointment of officials such as his brother Prince Chiêu Minh Trần Quang Khải for the position of grand chancellor[10] or Lê Phụ Trần and Prince Hưng Đạo Trần Quốc Tuấn for the position of military commander.[9][11] For members of the royal family, Thánh Tông had them hire the poor to cultivate their land and thus created a social reform.[6][12]

In March 1266 Trần Thánh Tông ordered to carry out his first imperial examination in which over 50 scholars was chosen for high-ranking positions in the royal court and administrative system of Đại Việt.[12] For the purpose of educating more scholars for the royal court, Thánh Tông permitted his brother Trần Ích Tắc, to open a private school at the latter's palace due to his intellectual ability.[6] Several prominent mandarins of the royal court in the future such as Mạc Đĩnh Chi or Bùi Phóng were trained in this school.[13] At the same time, the Emperor also reinforced Đại Việt's army by several recruitements and reorganization of the military organization in order to improve its efficiency.[6][13] Besides, Trần Thánh Tông always kept a vigilant eye for the northern border by sending several scout units to learn about military actions of the Yuan dynasty, the potential threat for Đại Việt.[12][14]

After the death of the Retired Emperor Trần Thái Tông on April 1 of Lunar calendar, 1277, the Emperor Trần Thánh Tông officially began to reign as the sole ruler of Đại Việt,[15] but only one year later, he decided to pass the throne to his crown prince Trần Khâm, now Trần Nhân Tông, took up the post of Retired Emperor on the 22nd of the tenth lunar month (November 8) 1278.[16][contradictory]

As retired emperorEdit

Second Mongol invasionEdit

In 1279, the Yuan dynasty had the decisive victory over the Song dynasty in the Battle of Yamen which marked the end of the Song dynasty and the total control of Kublai Khan over China.[17] As a result, Kublai Khan began to expose his attempt to take over the southern countries like Đại Việt or Champa. Aware of the situation, Thánh Tông and Nhân Tông began to prepare the Trần dynasty for the obvious and inevitable war while tried to keep a flexible policy with the Yuan dynasty.[18] Firstly, Prince Chiêu Văn Trần Nhật Duật was appointed for the mission of pacifying the revolt led by Trịnh Giác Mật in Đà Giang by diplomatic means in order to keep the country in stability before the war. With his knowledge of minority people's language and culture, Trần Nhật Duật successfully accomplished his task in 1278, hence, the Trần dynasty had free hand to deal with the threat from the North.[19] In October 1282, the Retired Emperor Trần Thánh Tông and the Emperor Trần Nhân Tông gathered all members of royal family, Trần clan and officials in royal court in Bình Than to discuss about the unadvoidable war.[20] Two prominent generals of the Đại Việt army who were noticed on this occasion were Trần Khánh Dư, former commander of the army but was deprived of all titles after his guilt, and Trần Quốc Toản, a marquis who was only sixteen years old.[20] In 1283, Prince Hưng Đạo Trần Quốc Tuấn was appointed as commander in chief (Quốc công tiết chế) of Đại Việt army, the Retired Emperor and the Emperor began to hold military exercises with their generals and troops.[20]

In December 1284, the second Yuan invasion of Đại Việt was opened under the command of Kublai Khan's prince Toghan.[21] Đại Việt was attacked in two directions, Toghan himself conducted the infantry invaded from the northern border while the Yuan navy under general Sogetu advanced from the southern border through Champa's territory.[22] In the beginning of the war, Thánh Tông and Nhân Tông had to order the army retreat to avoid the pressure from the Yuan force when Prince Chiêu Minh Trần Quang Khải commanded troops try to stop Sogetu's fleet in the Nghệ An Province. During this time, there were several high-ranking officials and members of royal family of the Trần dynasty defected to Yuan's side including Thánh Tông's own brother, Prince Chiêu Quốc Trần Ích Tắc and Trần Kiện who was son of Prince Tĩnh Quốc Trần Quốc Khang. For the safeness of Thánh Tông and Nhân Tông's retreat, Princess An Tư was offered as present and diversion for prince Toghan while Marquis Bảo Nghĩa Trần Bình Trọng was captured and later killed in the Battle of Đà Mạc in defending the two emperors.[23] In the southern border, Trần Quang Khải also had to retreat under the pressure of Sogetu's navy and the defection of the governor of Nghe An.[24] Despite the repeated problems, the royal family and royal court of the Trần dynasty still kept their harmony and determination owing to accurates decisions and actions from the leaders Thánh Tông, Nhân Tông,[25] Trần Quốc Tuấn and Trần Quang Khải.[26]

The critical situation of the Trần dynasty began to change after their victory in Battle of Hàm Tử in April 1285, where the troops commanded by Trần Nhật Duật, Prince Chiêu Thành, Trần Quốc Toản, and Nguyễn Khoái were finally able to defeat the fleet of general Sogetu. On May 10 of Lunar calendar 1285, Trần Quang Khải fought the decisive battle in Chương Dương where Yuan's navy was almost destroyed and therefore the balance in battlefield titled definitely in favour of the Trần dynasty.[24][27] 10 days after Sogetu was killed and the Trần Emperor Nhân Tông and Retired Emperor Thánh Tông returned to the capital, Thăng Long, on June 6 of the Lunar calendar, 1285.[28]

Third Mongol invasionEdit

In March 1287, the Yuan dynasty launched their third invasion of Đại Việt.[29] Unlike the second attack, this time commander in chief Prince Hưng Đạo Trần Quốc Tuấn affirmed with the Emperor that Đại Việt's army could easily break the Yuan's military campaign. Indeed, this invasion was ended one year later by a disastrous defeat of the Yuan navy in Battle of Bạch Đằng on March 8 of the lunar calendar, 1288.[30] Besides Trần Quốc Tuấn, other notable generals of the Trần dynasty during this time were Prince Nhân Huệ Trần Khánh Dư who destroyed the logistics convoy of Yuan navy[31][32][33][34] in the Battle of Vân Đồn or general Phạm Ngũ Lão who took charge of ambushing prince Toghan's retreating troops.[35]

In rewarding Trần dynasty generals and mandarins after the victory, Thánh Tông and Nhân Tông also reminded them of the caution to the northern border.[36] About the defectors to Yuan side, the Emperor issued an order in which the family name of every defected member of Trần clan was changed to Mai, for example Trần Kiện was renamed as Mai Kiện, being the only defected prince of Trần clan, Trần Ích Tắc was exempted from this order but he was called in historical accounts of the Trần dynasty by the name "Ả Trần" ("the woman named Trần") meaning that Trần Ích Tắc was "coward as a woman".[33][36][37]

The Retired Emperor Trần Thánh Tông died on May 25 of the Lunar calendar, 1290 at the age of 50.[38] He was buried in Dụ Lăng with the posthumous name Huyền công thịnh đức nhân minh văn vũ tuyên hiếu hoàng đế (玄功盛德仁明文武宣孝皇帝).[39]


Trần Thánh Tông had one empress, the Empress Thiên Cảm Trần Thiều, fifth daughter of his uncle Trần Liễu.[1] The first son of Thánh Tông, Trần Khâm, was born on November 11 of lunar calendar, 1258, only 8 months after the enthronement of the Emperor,[1] he was entitled as Crown Prince in December 1274.[14] His second son, Prince Tá Thiên Trần Đức Việp was born in 1265[12] The only daughter of Trần Thánh Tông was Princess Thiên Thụy[40] who married to Prince Hưng Vũ Trần Quốc Nghiễn, son of Trần Quốc Tuấn. She had with general Trần Khánh Dư an adulterous affair which almost led to Trần Khánh Dư's death by order of the Emperor.[20] Princess Thiên Thụy and her younger brother Trần Nhân Tông died on the same day, November 3 of lunar calendar, 1308.[40]


The historian Ngô Sĩ Liên praised Trần Thánh Tông as one of the finest emperors of the Trần dynasty. He was not only a righteous ruler but also a dutiful son, kind-hearted brother and father with sense of responsibility who was credited for the stability of both the royal family and the whole country. Thánh Tông's successful reign was the solid foundation for the long period of prosperity and peace in Đại Việt afterwards.[1][18][39] Moreover, like his brother Trần Quang Khải, Trần Ích Tắc and Trần Nhật Duật, Trần Thánh Tông was a renowned scholar, Thánh Tông taught his princes by his own poems, and he also had a literary work named Di hậu lục.[14] The Emperor was only criticized sometimes by Ngô Sĩ Liên, a Confucian historian, for his devotion for Buddhism, which was not suitable for a person in such a high position like him.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e f Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 175
  2. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 165
  3. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 166
  4. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 173
  5. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, pp. 172–173
  6. ^ a b c d Chapuis 1995, p. 81
  7. ^ Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 51
  8. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 174
  9. ^ a b Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 176
  10. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 181
  11. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 189
  12. ^ a b c d Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 179
  13. ^ a b Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 180
  14. ^ a b c Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 182
  15. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 183
  16. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 185
  17. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 186
  18. ^ a b Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 52
  19. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, pp. 186–187
  20. ^ a b c d Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 188
  21. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, pp. 189–190
  22. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 193
  23. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 192
  24. ^ a b Chapuis 1995, p. 83
  25. ^ Chapuis 1995, pp. 84–85
  26. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, pp. 192–193
  27. ^ Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 58
  28. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, pp. 192–195
  29. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 195
  30. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, pp. 196–198
  31. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 197
  32. ^ Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 61
  33. ^ a b Chapuis 1995, p. 84
  34. ^ Delgado, James P. (2009). Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada. University of California Press. pp. 161–162. ISBN 0-520-25976-9.
  35. ^ Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 62
  36. ^ a b Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 200
  37. ^ Trần Trọng Kim 1971, p. 63
  38. ^ Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 201
  39. ^ a b Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 202
  40. ^ a b Ngô Sĩ Liên 1993, p. 220


Trần Thánh Tông
Born: 1240 Died: 1290
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Trần Thái Tông
Emperor of Trần dynasty
Succeeded by
Trần Nhân Tông
Preceded by
Trần Thái Tông
Retired Emperor of Trần dynasty
Succeeded by
Trần Nhân Tông