Yeongjo of Joseon

Yeongjo of Joseon (31 October 1694 – 22 April 1776), personal name Yi Geum (Korean: 이금, Hanja: 李昑), was the 21st monarch of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. He was the second son of King Sukjong, by his concubine Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Haeju Choe clan. Before ascending to power, he was known as Prince Yeoning (Korean: 연잉군, Hanja: 延礽君). His life was characterized by political infighting and resentment due to his biological mother's low-born origins.

Yeongjo of Joseon
조선 영조
Portrait of King Yeongjo - Chae Yong Shin (蔡龍臣 1850-1941) Cho Seok-jin (趙錫晉 1853-1920) et (cropped).jpg
King of Joseon
Reign16 October 1724 – 22 April 1776
CoronationInjeongmun Gate, Changdeok Palace, Hanseong, Kingdom of Joseon
PredecessorGyeongjong of Joseon
SuccessorJeongjo of Joseon
Regent of Joseon
Tenure4 December 1721 – 16 October 1724
MonarchGyeongjong of Joseon
Crown Prince of Joseon
Tenure15 November 1721 – 16 October 1724
Born(1694-10-31)31 October 1694
Bogyeongdang Hall, Changdeok Palace, Hanseong, Kingdom of Joseon
Died22 April 1776(1776-04-22) (aged 81)
Jipgyeongdang Hall, Gyeonghui Palace, Hanseong, Kingdom of Joseon
(m. 1703; died 1757)

(m. 1759)
IssueCrown Prince Sado
Posthumous name
  • Joseon dynasty: King Igmun Seonmu Huigyeong Hyeonhyo the Great → King Jeongmun Seonmu Huigyeong Hyeonhyo the Great
    • 익문선무희경현효대왕 → 정문선무희경현효대왕
    • 翼文宣武熙敬顯孝大王 → 正文宣武熙敬顯孝大王
  • Qing dynasty: Jangsun (장순, 莊順)
Temple name
  • Yeongjong (영종, 英宗) (1776)
  • Yeongjo (영조, 英祖) (1889)
ClanJeonju Yi clan
DynastyHouse of Yi
FatherSukjong of Joseon
ReligionKorean Confucianism (Neo-Confucianism)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationYeongjo
Birth name
Revised RomanizationI Geum
McCune–ReischauerYi Kŭm
Courtesy name
Revised RomanizationGwangsuk
Art name
Revised RomanizationYangseongheon

In 1720, a few months after the accession of his older half-brother, Yi Yun (posthumously called King Gyeongjong), as the 20th King, Yeoning became the Crown Prince. This induced a large controversy between the political factions. Nevertheless, four years later, at the death of Gyeongjong, he ascended to the throne.

Yeongjo's reign lasted nearly 52 years and was marked by his persistent efforts to reform the taxation system and minimize and reconcile the factional fighting under his Tangpyeong policy ("Magnificent Harmony"; 蕩平, 탕평). His reign was also marked by the highly controversial execution of his only son, Crown Prince Sado, in 1762. In spite of this controversy, Yeongjo's reign has earned a positive reputation in Korean history due to his sincere efforts to rule by Confucian ethics.


Succession to the throneEdit

In 1720, King Sukjong died and Crown Prince Yi Yun, Sukjong's eldest son, ascended to the throne as King Gyeongjong, at the age of 33. Before he died in 1720, Sukjong supposedly told Yi I-myeong to name Prince Yeoning as Gyeongjong's heir, but in the absence of a historiographer or scribe, no record exists. At this time, the Noron faction unsuccessfully tried to pressure the new king to step down in favor of his younger half-brother.

A few months after the Gyeongjong's enthronement, Prince Yeoning was installed as Crown Prince Brother (Wangseje; 왕세제, 王世弟). This aggravated the power struggle and led to a great massacre, namely the Shinim literati purge (신임사화, 辛壬士禍). The Noron sent petitions to the king to no effect while the opposing Soron faction used this to their advantage — claiming the Noron were trying to usurp power and subsequently getting their rival faction removed from several offices.

Members of the Soron faction then came up with a plan to assassinate Yeoning under the pretence of hunting for a white fox said to be haunting the palace, but he sought shelter with his adoptive mother, Queen Dowager Hyesun. Afterwards, he told the king that he would rather go and live as a commoner.

On 11 October 1724, King Gyeongjong died. The Soron accused Yeoning of being involved in his brother's death due to the earlier attempt of the Noron faction to have him placed on the throne. Many historians, however, now believe that he could have died from food poisoning caused by contaminated seafood, as he displayed symptoms of the illness. Homer Hulbert described this in his book The History of Korea, where he said, "But we may well doubt the truth of the rumor, for nothing that is told of that brother indicates that he would commit such an act, and in the second place a man who will eat shrimps in mid-summer, that have been brought 30 miles from the sea without ice might expect to die".[1] On 16 October 1724, Prince Yeoning ascended the throne as King Yeongjo, the 21st ruler of Joseon.


He was a deeply Confucian monarch, and is said to have had a greater knowledge of the classics than his officials. During the reigns of Yeongjo and his grandson Jeongjo, Confucianization was at its height, as well as the economic recovery from the wars of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His rulership has been called one of the most brilliant reigns in Joseon's history.[2]

Yeongjo worried deeply for his people. The Annals of the Joseon dynasty record that one day in the 4th year of his reign, King Yeongjo woke up to the sound of early morning rain and said to his courtiers:

Oh dear! We have had flood, drought and famines for the past four years because of my lack of virtue, and this year we even went through an unprecedented revolt by a traitor named Yi In-jwa. How can my poor people manage their livelihood under such hardship? There is an old saying, 'War is always followed by a lean year'. Fortunately, however, we haven’t had a big famine for the past two years and we pin our hopes on a good harvest this year. Yet I am still nervous because, while the season for harvesting is around the corner, there is no way of knowing if there will be a flood or drought before then. Nobody knows whether a cold rain will pour suddenly and flood the fields awaiting harvest. My lack of goodness might bring upon us such awful things as I fail to win the sympathy of heaven. How can I earn the sympathy of heavens if I do not self-reflect and make efforts myself? I should start with reflecting on myself.[3]

As he worried that rain would ruin the harvest and force his unfortunate people to starve, the king ordered his courtiers to reduce the taxes and decrease the number of dishes in his own meals.

One early morning 25 years later (1753), the continuous rain reminded Yeongjo of the flood during the 4th year of his reign, when he had eaten less food:

Oh! Floods and droughts really happen because I lack virtue. I am much older than that year, but how can my compassion for the people and will to work hard for them be less than back then?".[4]

Yet again, he ordered a reduction in the number of dishes on his dining table.

People around him described him as an articulate, bright, benevolent and kind monarch. He was penetrating in observation and quick of comprehension.[5]


Realising the detrimental effect on state administration of the factional strife, Yeongjo attempted to end it as soon as he ascended the throne. He reinstated the short-lived universal military service tax, and then went beyond the palace gates to solicit the opinions of officials, literati (scholars), soldiers and peasants. Yeongjo reduced the military service tax by half and ordered the variance be supplemented by taxes on fisheries, salt, vessels and an additional land tax. He also regularized the financial system of state revenues and expenses by adopting an accounting system. His realistic policies allowed payment of taxes on grain from the remote mountainous areas Gyeongsang Province, to the nearby port, with payment in cotton or cash for grain. The circulation of currency was encouraged by increasing coin casting.

Yeongjo's concern for improvement of the peasant's life was manifest in his eagerness to educate the people by distributing important books in the Korean script (Hangul), including the Book of Agriculture.

The pluviometer was again manufactured in quantity and distributed to local administration offices and extensive public work projects were undertaken. Yeongjo upgraded the status of posterity of the commoners, opening another possibility for upward social mobility and inevitable change. His policies were intended to reassert the Confucian monarchy and a humanistic rule, but they were unable to stem the tide of social change that resulted.

Mercantile activities rapidly increased in volume. The accumulation of capital through monopoly and wholesales expanded through guild organisations and many merchants were centred in Hanseong. The traditional division of government chartered shop, the license tribute goods suppliers and the small shopkeepers in the alley and streets were integrated and woven into a monopoly and wholesale system.

Regardless of status, many yangban aristocrats and commoners engaged in some kind of merchant activities. Thus Hanseong made great strides as a commercial and industrial city in the 18th century. The popular demand for handicrafts and goods such as knives, horse hair hats, dining tables and brassware was ever-increasing. Restrictions on wearing the horse hair hat originally denoting yangban status, virtually disappeared.

Even bootlegging of books became commercialised as competition developed among the well-to-do yangban who engaged in the publication of collected literary works by their renowned ancestors. This also led to printing popular fiction and poetry. The people especially appreciated satire and social criticism. One example is the Chunhyangjeon (Tales of Chunghyang) about the fidelity of the gisaeng's daughter, which was widely read as a satire aimed to expose the greed and snobbery of government officials.[6]


The King is also renowned for having treasured Park Mun-su, whom he appointed as secret royal inspector (Amhaengeosa; 암행어사). Park, who had earned great merit in putting down Yi In-jwa's rebellion in 1728, went around the nation arresting corrupt local officers in the name of the King.


The only significantly dismal incident during Yeongjo's reign was the death of his son, Crown Prince Sado. History indicates Sado suffered from mental illness; randomly killing people in the palace and raping palace maids.[7] Because Yeongjo could not execute his son without also implicating his daughter-in-law and beloved grandson, he ordered the Sado to climb into a wooden rice chest on a hot July day in 1762. After eight days, Sado died.[8] During the 19th century, there were rumors that Crown Prince Sado had not been mentally ill, but had been victimised by a court plot; however, this is contradicted by both the memoirs written by Sado's widow and the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.

As a means to preserve the legitimacy of Sado's son as his own heir, Yeongjo decreed that the boy be registered as the son of the deceased Crown Prince Hyojang and Crown Princess Consort Hyosun.[9]


Yeongjo was the first to take action against Roman Catholic activities in the country. By the 18th century, Catholicism was beginning to acquire a following especially in the Gangwon and Hwanghae provinces. In 1758, Yeongjo officially outlawed Catholicism as an evil practice.


Fourteen years after Crown Prince Sado's death, his son and Yeongjo's grandson, Yi San (posthumously King Jeongjo), became King. The early part of the new King's years were marked by political intrigues and fear of court officials who were afraid that he would seek revenge on them for petitioning the punishment that caused the death of his father, Crown Prince Sado.

Yeongjo is buried with his second wife, Queen Jeongsun, in the royal tomb of Wonneung (원릉, 元陵) in Guri, Gyeonggi Province.


Consorts and their respective issue(s):

  1. Queen Jeongseong of the Daegu Seo clan (정성왕후 서씨) (12 January 1693 – 3 April 1757)[10] — No issue.
  2. Queen Jeongsun of the Gyeongju Kim clan (정순왕후 김씨) (2 December 1745 – 11 February 1805)[11] — No issue.
  3. Royal Noble Consort Jeong of the Hamyang Yi clan (정빈 이씨) (1694 – 16 November 1721)[12][13]
    1. Princess Hwaeok (화억옹주) (22 April 1717 – 8 April 1718), first daughter
    2. Yi Haeng, Crown Prince Hyojang (효장세자 이행) (4 April 1719 – 16 December 1728), first son
    3. Princess Hwasun (화순옹주) (8 March 1720 – 17 January 1758), second daughter
  4. Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Jeonui Yi clan (영빈 이씨) (15 August 1696 – 23 August 1764)[14][15]
    1. Princess Hwapyong (화평옹주) (27 April 1727 – 24 June 1748), third daughter
    2. Fourth daughter (3 August 1728 – 18 February 1731)
    3. Fifth daughter (12 December 1729 – 21 March 1731)
    4. Six daughter (1 January 1732 – 12 April 1736)
    5. Princess Hwahyeop (화협옹주) (7 March 1733 – 27 November 1752), seventh daughter
    6. Yi Seon, Crown Prince Sado (사도세자 이선) (13 February 1735 – 12 July 1762), second son
    7. Princess Hwawan (화완옹주) (9 March 1738 – 17 May 1808), ninth daughter
  5. Royal Consort Gwi-in of the Pungyang Jo clan (귀인 조씨) (16 October 1707 – 1780)[16][17]
    1. Eighth daughter (19 September 1735 – 3 September 1736)
    2. Princess Hwayu (화유옹주) (29 September 1740 – 21 May 1777), tenth daughter[18]
  6. Royal Consort Sug-ui of the Nampyeong Moon clan (숙의 문씨) (? – 1776)[19]
    1. Princess Hwaryeong (화령옹주) (1753 – 1821), eleventh daughter[20][21]
    2. Princess Hwagil (화길옹주) (1754 – 1772), twelfth daughter[22][23]
  7. Court Lady Yi (상궁 이씨)


In popular cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hulbert, Homer B. (1905). The History of Korea. Vol. 2. Seoul: The Methodist Publishing House. p. 164. ISBN 9780700707003. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  2. ^ "The history of Korea". Retrieved 4 June 2014.
  3. ^ Yeongjo Sillok, 27 July 1728 (4th year of his reign)
  4. ^ Yeongjo Sillok, 23 July 1753 (29th year of his reign)
  5. ^ The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong Pag. p.250
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 December 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Kim Haboush, JaHyun (2013). The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea (2 ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 281–282. ISBN 978-0-520-20055-5.
  8. ^ The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong (한중록, 閑中錄)
  9. ^ Kim Haboush, JaHyun (2013). The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea (2 ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-520-20055-5.
  10. ^ Daughter of Seo Jong-je (서종제) and Lady Yi.
  11. ^ Daughter of Kim Han-gu (김한구) and Lady Won.
  12. ^ Known before as Consort So-hun (소훈 이씨, 昭訓 李氏) and Royal Consort So-won (소원 이씨, 昭媛 李氏). Was posthumously honored as Lady Eunhui (온희, 溫僖) and Lady Yeonho (연호궁, 延祜宮).
  13. ^ Daughter of Yi Hu-cheol (이후철, 李後後) and Lady Kim of the Gimhae Kim clan (김해 김씨, 金海 金氏).
  14. ^ Daughter of Yi Yu-beon (이유번) and Lady Kim of the Hanyang Kim clan (한양 김씨, 漢陽 金氏).
  15. ^ Also known as Lady Seonhui.
  16. ^ Daughter of Jo Tae-jing (조태징, 趙台徵) and Lady Park of the Miryang Park clan (밀양 박씨, 密陽 朴氏).
  17. ^ Known before as Royal Consort Sug-won (숙원 조씨) and Royal Consort Sug-ui (숙의 조씨).
  18. ^ Married Hwang In-jeom (황인점, 黃仁點) (1732 - 4 October 1802) and had issue (a son and a daughter).
  19. ^ Afterwards was known as "Deposed Moon Suk-ui" (폐숙의 문씨).
  20. ^ Married Sim Neung-geon (심능건, 沈能建) (1752 - 7 July 1817), and four children (2 sons, 2 daughters)
  21. ^ Her husband was the 9th great-grandson of Sim Ui-gyeom; the younger brother of Queen Insun, descendant of Queen Soheon, and ascendant of Queen Danui
  22. ^ Married Gu Min-hwa (구민화, 具敏和) (? - 1800), and three children (a son, 2 daughters)
  23. ^ Died at the age of 18
  24. ^ "'해치' 이순재→송강호→정일우, 영조 캐릭터 변천사". Ilgan Sports (in Korean). 2 March 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  25. ^ Baek, Byung-yeul (18 August 2014). "Same role, different actors". The Korea Times. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  26. ^ "SBS announces the cast of 'Haechi'". Korea JoongAng Daily. 9 November 2018.
  27. ^ "After serving his country, Jung Il-woo is back: The actor once again dons hanbok for an upcoming SBS drama". Korea JoongAng Daily. 29 January 2019.
Yeongjo of Joseon
Born: 13 September 1694 Died: 5 March 1776
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Joseon
Succeeded by