The Trịnh lords (Vietnamese: Chúa Trịnh; Chữ Nôm: 主鄭; 1545–1787), formal title Trịnh Viceroy (Vietnamese: Trịnh vương; Hán tự: 鄭王), also known as Trịnh clan or the House of Trịnh, were a noble feudal clan who de facto ruled northern Vietnam during the Later Lê dynasty, Đại Việt. The Trịnh clan and their rivals, the Nguyễn clan, were both referred by their subjects as Chúa (lord) and controlled Đại Việt while the Later Lê emperors were reduced to only a titular position. The Trịnh lords traced their descent from Trịnh Khả, a friend and advisor to the 15th-century Vietnamese Emperor Lê Lợi. The Trịnh clan produced 12 lords who dominated the royal court of Later Lê dynasty and ruled northern Vietnam for more than 2 centuries.
The seal "Tĩnh Đô vương tỷ" (靖都王璽) of lord Trịnh Sâm.
|Status||Duchy within Lê dynasty of Đại Việt|
|Religion||Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism|
|Government||Feudal dynastic hereditary military dictatorship|
|Trịnh Kiểm (first)|
|Trịnh Bồng (last)|
|Currency||Copper-alloy and zinc cash coins|
Origin of Trịnh clanEdit
Rise of Trịnh familyEdit
After the death of emperor Lê Hiến Tông in 1504, the Lê dynasty began to decline. In 1527, the courtier Mạc Đăng Dung gained the opportunity to make a coup against the Lê dynasty, seized the throne from emperor Lê Cung Hoàng, and established the Mạc dynasty ruling the kingdom of Đại Việt. In 1533, the general and Lê royalist Nguyễn Kim revolted against the Mạc dynasty in Thanh Hóa and restore the Lê dynasty. Then, he tried to find the Lê dynasty's successor who was a son of emperor Lê Chiêu Tông. The prince Lê Duy Ninh was enthroned with the title Lê Trang Tông. After 5 years of conflict, most of the southern region of Đại Việt was captured by the restored Lê dynasty, but not the capital city, Thăng Long.
The founder of the clan was Trịnh Kiểm, born in Vĩnh Lộc commune, Thanh Hóa province. Trịnh Kiểm was raised in a poor family. He often stole chickens from his neighbors because chicken was his mother's favorite food. When his neighbors found out, they were extremely angry. One day, when Trịnh Kiểm left home, his neighbors abducted his mother and threw her down an abyss. Trịnh Kiểm returned home and panicked due to the disappearance of his mother. When he finally found his mother's body, it was infested with maggots. After the death of his mother, he joined the army of the revived Lê dynasty led by Nguyễn Kim. Because of Trịnh Kiểm's talent, he was given the hand of Kim's daughter Ngọc Bảo, and became his son-in-law. In 1539, Trịnh Kiểm was promoted to general and received the title of Duke of Dực (Dực quận công). In 1545, after the assassination of Nguyễn Kim, Trịnh Kiểm replaced his father-in-law as the commander of the Lê dynasty's royal court and military.
Lê – Mạc civil warEdit
In 1517, Mạc Đăng Dung usurped the Lê dynasty. The Lê royalists under Lê Ninh, a descendant of the Royal family, escaped to Muang Phuan (today Laos). Marquis of An Thanh Nguyễn Kim summoned the people who were still loyal to the Lê emperor and formed a new army to begin a revolt against Mạc Đăng Dung. His daughter then married Trịnh Kiểm. Within five years, all of the region south of the Red River was under the control of the Nguyễn–Trịnh army but the two families were unable to conquer Ha Noi until 1592 .
Reinstall Lê emperors as figureheadEdit
In 1539, The armies of Nguyễn Kim and Trịnh Kiểm returned to Đại Việt captured Thanh Hoa province and crowned their own puppet Lê emperor, Lê Trang Tông. The war raged back and forth with the Nguyễn–Trịnh army on one side and the Mạc on the other until an official Ming delegation determined that Mạc Đăng Dung's usurpation of power was not justified. In 1537, a very large Ming army was sent to restore the Lê family. Although Mạc Đăng Dung managed to negotiate his way out of defeat by the Ming, he had to officially recognize the Lê emperor and the Nguyễn–Trịnh rule over the southern part of Vietnam. But the Nguyễn–Trịnh alliance did not accept the Mạc rule over the northern half of the country and so the war continued. In 1541, Mạc Đăng Dung died.
Trịnh family as dictator governmentEdit
Elimination of Nguyễn clanEdit
In spite of the threat of Mạc dynasty in the north, Trịnh Kiểm's priority was eliminating the Nguyễn lords's power. After restoring Lê dynasty in 1533, Nguyễn Kim become the head of the government while emperor Lê Trang Tông was used as the figerhead of the state. Dương Chấp Nhất, the former Mạc dynasty's mandarin that was governing Tây Đô fortress in Thanh Hoa province decided to surrender to Lê dynasty when Nguyễn Kim recaptured this province in 1543.
After seizing Tây Đô citadel and onward marching to attack Ninh Bình. in 20/5/1545, Dương Chấp Nhất invited Kim to visit his military camp. In the hot temperature of summer, Dương Chấp Nhất treated Kim with watermelon. After the party, Kim felt ill after return home and died in same day. Dương Chấp Nhất later returned to Mạc dynasty.
After the death of Kim, The government starts to turn into chaos after Kim's death. The successor of the head of government was intentionally inherited by Kim's eldest son, Nguyễn Uông, however , Uông was secretly assassinated by his brother-in -law (Trịnh Kiểm) and Trịnh Kiểm later took control of the government of Đại Việt.
Throne usurping conspiracyEdit
Trịnh lord's villa tea party and troop parade
In 1556, Emperor Lê Trung Tông died without an heir, and Trịnh Kiểm aimed to seize the Lê dynasty's throne but he was still worried about public opinion. Therefore, he sought advice from the former mandarin Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm who was living a secluded life. Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm advised that Trịnh Kiểm should not take the Lê dynasty's throne although the Lê dynasty was just a puppet. Trịnh Kiểm decided to enthrone on the Lê dynasty's throne Lê Duy Bang, who was a 6th generation descendant of Lê Trừ (older brother of emperor Lê Thái Tổ). Lê Duy Bang took the throne with the title Lê Anh Tông and the Trịnh lords continually controlled the government with the emperor as the figurehead.
Trịnh clan domestic struggle of inheritanceEdit
In 1570, Trịnh Kiểm died and there was a power struggle between his sons Trịnh Cối and Trịnh Tùng, who fought each other in the war. Simultaneously, the army of Mạc attacked the Lê dynasty from the north and Trịnh Cối was surrendered to the Mạc dynasty. The Emperor Lê Anh Tông supported Trịnh Cối to become the next Trịnh lord and co-operated with him to defeat Trịnh Tùng. Trịnh Tùng found out about this conspiracy, meaning that Emperor Lê Anh Tông with 4 sons had to flee to other places. Later, Trịnh Tùng enthroned Emperor Lê Anh Tông's youngest son, prince Đàm, as the next emperor with title Lê Thế Tông. After that, Trịnh Tùng searched for, captured, and murdered Emperor Lê Anh Tông.
Trịnh–Nguyễn alliance agaist Mạc dynastyEdit
Both Trịnh and Nguyễn declared that Lê dynasty is the legitimate government of Đại Việt As the years passed, Nguyễn Hoàng became increasingly secure in his rule over the southern province and increasingly independent. While he cooperated with the Trịnh against the Mạc, he ruled the frontier lands as a governor. With the final conquest of the north, the independence of the Nguyễn was less and less tolerable to the Trịnh. In 1600, with the ascension of a new Emperor, Lê Kinh Tông, Hoàng broke relations with the Trịnh-dominated court, although he continued to acknowledge the Lê emperor. Matters continued like this until Hoàng's death in 1613. The historical victory of the Trịnh' over the Mạc was a common theme in public Vietnamese theaters.
The Trịnh–Nguyễn WarEdit
In 1620, after the enthronement of another figurehead Lê Emperor (Lê Thần Tông), the new Nguyễn leader, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, refused to send tax money to the court in Đông Đô to protest the dictatorship of Trịnh lords. In 1623, Trịnh Tung died, he was succeeded by his oldest son Trịnh Tráng. After five years of increasingly hostile talk, fighting broke out between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn in 1627. While the Trịnh ruled over much more populous territory, the Nguyễn had several advantages. First, they initially were on the defensive and rarely launched operations into the north. Second, the Nguyễn were able to take advantage of their contacts with the Europeans, specifically the Portuguese, to produce advanced cannons with the help of European engineers (for more details, see Artillery of the Nguyễn lords). Third, the geography was favorable to them, as the flat land suitable for large organized armies is very narrow at the border between the Nguyễn lands and the Trinh territories – the mountains nearly reach to the sea. After the first offensive was beaten off after four months of battle, the Nguyễn built two massive fortified lines that stretched a few miles from the sea to the hills. These walls were built north of Huế (between the Nhật Lệ River and the Sông Hương River). The walls were about 20 feet tall and seven miles long. The Nguyễn defended these lines against numerous Trịnh offensives that lasted (off and on) from 1631 till 1673, when Trịnh Tạc concluded a peace treaty with the Nguyễn Lord, Nguyễn Phúc Tần, dividing Vietnam between the two ruling families. This division continued for the next 100 years.
The Long PeaceEdit
The Trịnh lords ruled reasonably well, maintaining the fiction that the Lê monarch was the emperor. However, they selected and replaced the emperor as they saw fit, having the hereditary right to appoint many of the top government officials. Unlike the Nguyễn lords, who engaged in frequent wars with the Khmer Empire and Siam, the Trịnh lords maintained fairly peaceable relations with neighboring states. In 1694, the Trịnh lords got involved in a war in Laos, which turned into a multi-sided war with several different Laotian factions as well as the Siamese army. A decade later, Laos had settled into an uneasy peace with three new Lao kingdoms paying tribute to both Vietnam and Siam. Trịnh Căn and Trịnh Cương made many reforms of the government, trying to make it better, but these reforms made the government more powerful and more of a burden to the people which increased their dislike of the government. During the wasteful and inept rule of Trịnh Giang, peasant revolts became more and more frequent. The key problem was a lack of land to farm, though Giang made the situation worse by his actions. The reign of his successor Trịnh Doanh was preoccupied with putting down peasant revolts and wiping out armed gangs which terrorized the countryside.
Pacification of the SouthEdit
The long peace came to an end with the Tây Sơn revolt in the south against Trương Phúc Loan, the regent of the Nguyễn Lord, Nguyễn Phúc Thuần (1765–1777). The Tây Sơn rebellion was looked upon by the Trịnh lord, Trịnh Sâm, as a chance to finally put an end to the Nguyễn rule over the south of Vietnam. Inner struggle among the Nguyễn had put a 12-year-old boy in power. The real ruler was the corrupt regent named Trương Phúc Loan. Using the popular rule of the regent as an excuse for intervention, in 1774, the hundred-year truce was ended and the Trịnh army led by Hoàng Ngũ Phúc attacked.
Trịnh Sâm's army did what no previous Trịnh army had done and conquered the Nguyễn capital, Phú Xuân (modern-day Huế), in early 1775. The Trịnh army advanced south, defeated the Tây Sơn and forced them to surrender. In the middle of 1775, the Trịnh army, include Hoàng Ngũ Phúc, were hit by a plague. The plagued forced them to withdraw and left the rest of the south to the Tây Sơn.
The Tây Sơn army continued to conquer the rest of the Nguyễn lands. The Nguyễn lords retreated to Saigon but even this city was captured in 1776 and the Nguyễn lords were nearly wiped out. Tây Sơn's leader Nguyễn Nhạc declared himself king in 1778.
End of the TrịnhEdit
Trịnh Tông, the eldest son of Trịnh Sâm, feared that the power would fall to his younger brother Trịnh Cán, who was favored by his father. In 1780, Trịnh Sâm became seriously ill, Trịnh Tông used this as a chance to stage a coup d'état. The plan was discovered, many high-ranking mandarins on Trịnh Tông's side were purged, Tông himself were imprisoned.
In 1782, Trịnh Sâm died and passed the power to Trịnh Cán. However, Cán was only five years old at the time, the real ruler was Hoàng Ngũ Phúc's adopted son Hoàng Đình Bảo, who was appointed by Sâm as Cán's assistant. A few weeks after Cán was crowned, Trịnh Tông conspired with the Three Prefectures Army (Vietnamese: Tam phủ quân, Hán tự: 三府軍) to kill Hoàng Đình Bảo and overthrow Trịnh Cán. However, because Tông was indebted to the army, he couldn't control them. The army then released Lê Duy Kì, son of prince Lê Duy Vĩ who was killed by Trịnh Sâm in 1771, and forced Lê Hiển Tông to appoint Kì as the successor.
After Hoàng Đình Bảo's death, his subordinate in Nghệ An province Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh defected to Tây Sơn. He was welcomed by the king of Tây Sơn and became a commander in their army. In summer 1786, Nguyễn Nhạc, who wanted to reclaim the land of the Nguyễn lords taken by the Trịnh in 1775, ordered his brother Nguyễn Huệ and Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh to attack Trịnh lords, but warned them not to advance further north. After taking Phú Xuân, Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh convinced Nguyễn Huệ to overthrow Trịnh lords under the banner "Destroy the Trịnh and Aid the Lê (Vietnamese: Diệt Trịnh phù Lê, Hán tự: 滅鄭扶黎) that would help them gain support from northern people. Trịnh army and the Three Prefectures Army were quickly defeated. Trịnh Tông committed suicide. Emperor Cảnh Hưng died of old age shortly after and passed the throne to Lê Duy Kì (emperor Chiêu Thống).
Nguyễn Nhạc, after having heard of Nguyễn Huệ's insubordination, hastily marched to Thăng Long and ordered all Tây Sơn troops to withdraw. They intentionally left Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh behind. Chỉnh chased after them and then stayed in his hometown in Nghệ An.
The Tây Sơn's invasion and sudden withdrawal caused a large power vacuum in the North. Trịnh Sâm's younger brother Trịnh Lệ with the support of Dương Trọng Tế marched into Thăng Long and forced Chiêu Thống to grant him the title Viceroy, which would make him a Trịnh lord. Emperor Chiêu Thống did not want to reinstall Trịnh lords, thus he rejected Lệ's request. At the same time, Trịnh Bồng, son of Trịnh Giang, also marched into Thăng Long. Dương Trọng Tế thought Trịnh Lệ was unpopular and defected to Bồng's side, helped him defeated Trịnh Lệ. Famous generals Hoàng Phùng Cơ and Đinh Tích Nhưỡng also joined Trịnh Bồng's faction and pressured Chiêu Thống to grant him the title prince, the emperor reluctantly agreed. He then sent a request to Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh, who had raised a considerable army in his hometown, to come and aid the emperor once again. Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh obeyed and marched north, he defeated Trịnh army in Thanh Hoa Province. Trịnh Bồng heard of the news and withdrew to Gia Lâm District with Dương Trọng Tế, Đinh Tích Nhưỡng and Hoàng Phùng Cơ withdrew to Hải Dương and Sơn Tây respectively. Chiêu Thống set Trịnh's palace on fire.
In the next months, Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh carried out several campaigns against Trịnh Bồng and his followers. He captured and executed Dương Trọng Tế and Hoàng Phùng Cơ, Trịnh Bồng then took refuge at Đinh Tích Nhưỡng's camp. Nguyễn Hữu Chỉnh organized a large assault and completely defeated Trịnh Bồng in fall 1787. Đinh Tích Nhưỡng and Trịnh Bồng ran away, officially ended over 200 of Trịnh lords rule.
Later, when the Qing army was occupying Thăng Long, Trịnh Bồng turned himself in to emperor Chiêu Thống. He was pardoned but was demoted to Duke of Huệ Địch (Huệ Địch công). After the Qing's defeat in early 1789, Bồng fled to the western region of the country, self-proclaimed to be a lord and built a resistance army against the Tây Sơn. He died in early 1791.
Relations with the outside worldEdit
In 1620, the French Jesuit scholar Alexandre de Rhodes arrived in Trịnh-controlled Vietnam. He arrived at a mission which had been established at the court in Hanoi around 1615 (Tigers in the Rice by W. Sheldon (1969), p. 26). The priest was a significant person regarding relations between Europe and Vietnam. He gained thousands of converts, created a script for writing Vietnamese using a modified version of the European alphabet, and built several churches. However, by 1630 the new Trịnh lord, Trịnh Trang, decided that Father de Rhodes represented a threat to Vietnamese society and forced him to leave the country. From this point on, the Trịnh Lords periodically tried to suppress Christianity in Vietnam, with moderate success. When the Nguyễn successfully used Portuguese cannon to defend their walls, the Trịnh made contact with the Dutch. The Dutch were willing to sell advanced cannons to the Trịnh. The Dutch, and later the Germans, set up trading posts in Hanoi. For a time, Dutch trade was profitable but after the war with the Nguyễn ended in 1673, the demand for European weapons rapidly declined. By 1700, the Dutch and English trading posts closed forever. The Trịnh were careful in their dealings with the Ming dynasty and Manchu-led Qing dynasty of China. Unlike the Nguyễn Lords who were happy to accept large numbers of Ming refugees into their lands, the Trịnh did not. When the Qing conquered the Ming and therefore extended the Qing Empire's borders to Northern Vietnam, the Trịnh treated them just like they had treated the Ming Emperors, sending tribute and formal acknowledgements of Qing authority. The Qing intervened twice during the rule of the Trịnh Lords, once in 1537, and again in 1788. Both times, the Qing sent an army south because of a formal request for help from the Lê emperors – and both times the intervention was unsuccessful.
The Trịnh Lords were, for the most part, intelligent, able, industrious, and long-lived rulers. The unusual dual form of government they developed over two centuries was a creative response to the internal and external obstacles to their rule. They lacked, however, both the power and the moral authority to resolve the contradictions inherent in their system of ruling without reigning. (Encyclopedia of Asian History, "The Trịnh Lords").
It does seem the case that the Trịnh had lost nearly all popularity in the last half of the 18th century. While the Nguyễn lords, or at least Nguyễn Ánh, enjoyed a great deal of support – as his repeated attempts to regain power in the south show – there was no equivalent support for the Trịnh in the north after the Tây Sơn took power (Vietnam, Trials and Tribulations of a Nation D. R. SarDesai, pg. 39, 1988).
Chronological list of Trịnh lordsEdit
|Given Name||Lifespan||Ruling year(s)||Emperor(s)||Highest attained title||Temple name||Posthumous name|
|1503-1570||1545-1570||Trang Tông||Thái quốc công
|Minh Khang Nhân Trí Vũ Trinh Hùng Lược Thái vương
|?-1584||1570||Anh Tông||Tuấn Đức hầu
|1550-1623||1570-1623||Anh Tông||Bình An vương
|Cung Hoà Khoan Chính Triết vương
|1606-1682||1657-1682||Thần Tông||Tây vương
|1633-1709||1682-1709||Hy Tông||Định vương
|1686-1729||1709-1729||Dụ Tông||An vương
|1711-1762||1729-1740||Duệ Tông||Uy vương
|1720-1767||1740-1767||Ý Tông||Minh vương
|1739-1782||1767-1782||Hiển Tông||Tĩnh vương
|1777-1782||1782||Hiển Tông||Điện Đô vương
|1763-1786||1782-1786||Hiển Tông||Đoan Nam vương
|1749-1791||1786-1787||Chiêu Thống||Yến Đô vương
Traditionally, Trịnh Tùng is considered to be the first "lord", but the Trịnh family had held a great amount of power since Trịnh Kiểm.
- Chapuis, Oscar. A History of Vietnam: From Hong Bang to Tự Đức. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. p119ff. 
- Knosp, Gaston (1902). "Das annamitische Theater". Globus. 82 (1): 11–15. ISSN 0935-0535.
- Anh Tuan, Hoang. "Letter from the King of Tonkin concerning the termination of the trading relation with the VOC, 10 February 1700". Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia.
- Hoang Anh Tuan, “Letter from the King of Tonkin concerning the termination of the trading relation with the VOC, 10 February 1700”. In: Harta Karun: Hidden Treasures on Indonesian and Asian-European History from the VOC Archives in Jakarta, document 3. Jakarta: Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, 2013.
- Hoàng Xuân Hãn, Phe chống đảng Tây Sơn ở Bắc với tập "Lữ Trung Ngâm" (The anti-Tây Sơn factions in the north and the "Lữ Trung Ngâm" collection), Tập san Sử Địa, 1971-1972.
- List of the Trịnh lords and the nominal Lê emperors
- Encyclopedia of Asian History, Volumes 1–4. 1988. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. – "Trịnh Lords" Article by James M. Coyle, based on the work of Thomas Hodgkin.
- The Encyclopedia of Military History by R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy. Harper & Row (New York).
- Coins of Vietnam – with short historical notes
- Southeast Asia to 1875 – by Sanderson Beck
- World Statesmen.org – Vietnam
- Tay Sơn Web Site by George Dutton (has a great bibliography)
- A glimpse of Vietnamese history – contains some errors