Original source : Epiphany blog
Proofreading : Fenny Setiawan from TEF
Daebak drama will be airing on the 28th March 2016 (tonight). This post is part of TEF Blog activity to promote the drama. We would like eels and viewers to understand each of the drama character. Today is our last instalment of the appendix and we will discuss about King SukJong. Have a good read:).
Previous post :
[Daebak Appendix] 1 - Daegil the dead prince
[Daebak Appendix] 2 - Choi Suk Bin Mother of Princes
[Daebak Appendix] 3 - Yeongjo - As prince and king, the strategist
Much has been written about King Sukjong and his reign, mainly because it was marked by extreme factional strife. However, for the drama series, Daebak The Royal Gambler, let’s focus on his personal life.
Not often noted in the history books is Sukjong’s roving eye when it came to women. During his lifetime, he had four queens, one of whom was his consort whom he raised to queen and then demoted her back to consort. He also had numerous consorts, but only four women played important roles in his life.
Sukjong married his first queen before he was named Crown Prince at the age of 14. Queen Inhyeong, though, died of small pox at the age of 20 in 1680, leaving no children. A year later, he married In Hyeon. She became an important character in his life until her death in 1701.
Aligned with the Noron faction, Sukjong had become tired of Inhyeon’s meddling in court affairs…and his life. So, in 1688, he deposed her and married his consort, Lady Jang, better known in history as Hui-Bin.
Since Inhyeon had not given birth to any children, Sukjong was anxious to have an heir. Thus, when Hui-Bin gave birth to the future King Gyeonjong, he asked Inhyeon to adopt the infant to give the child greater legitimacy as his heir. Inhyeon refused and the Noron faction protested, saying the Queen was only 25 years old and could still give birth. Furthermore, the Norons and Inhyeon were opposed to Hui-Bin and her son gaining any further status as she was aligned with the Soron faction. Doing so would have given that faction more power and influence in court…something the Norons deeply hated.
Sukjong had an eye for beautiful woman…and didn’t let anyone oppose him
Sukjong became livid. He quickly deposed Inhyeon and killed or exiled many of the Noron leaders, including Inhyeon’s father and many in her family. Then, he married Hui-Bin and crowned her queen as well as naming his infant son Crown Prince. Again, the Noron’s protested…and again they lost. Sukjong was used to playing the factional political game in order to increase his power, so he was not above using the factions to get what he wanted. And in this case, what he wanted was this beautiful new bride and their son.
Hui-Bin was widely known as one of, or maybe the most, beautiful women in Joseon. Her charm was mentioned in the Annals, the official record of the Joseon Dynasty. It’s rumored that Hui-Bin, while beautiful, was also greedy for power and possessions and had a mean temperament, often beating her attendants. A book entitled In-Hyeon Wanghu Jeon (Queen In-Hyeon’s Biography), written by one of the queen Inhyeon lady’s maids, as well as folk tales describing Lady Chang’s avarice and her ultimate demise have been the subject of numerous traditional Korean dramas, songs, and poems.
Court drama grew tiring and time for another consort
However, after five years, Sukjong grew tired of her. He began to regret his treatment of Inhyeon and considered bringing back again as his queen. Of course, the fact that his eyes had roved again played a part in Sukjong’s decisions. This time, a court servant caught his attention…and Suk Bin, as she later became known, became another consort in the fourth lunar month of 1693. Suk-Bin had entered the palace as a palace slave when she was seven and grew into adulthood in the palace.
Later, that same year of 1693, her first child was born: a son who was named Yeongsu. However, this child died young. It was rumored that Yeongsu was not Sukjong’s but the child of a former lover. Meanwhile, Sukjong was gradually bringing Inyeon back to the palace.
During the following year, two events occurred which heralded dramatic change. The first event was Suk-Bin’s giving birth to another son, the future King Yeongjo, and the second was Hui-bin being deposed and demoted back to consort while Inhyeon re-entered the palace as Queen. Needless to say, a lot of blood flowed, mainly on the Soron faction side. But the fun and games didn’t end there. Hui-bin and the Sorons were not content with losing their positions. They plotted and schemed their return with Hui-Bin apparently hatching a plot to use black magic (and maybe poison) to eliminate Queen Inhyeon. However, Sukjong discovered the plot and executed Hui-Bin and her co-conspirators. But it was too late for Inhyeon to recover from her mysterious illness. She died.
Enter stage right Sukjong’s third queen
Not content to remain without a queen, Sukjong married again the next year, in 1702, to Inwon. She was also childless but adopted by Gyeongjong and Yeongjo as her sons, thereby raising their legal status and proclaiming their legitimacy to inherit the throne. However, the factional disputes failed to subside with the adoptions. Gyeongjong had been named Crown Prince as an infant but because of his ill health, the Norons requested that he be deposed in favor of Yeongjo. Sukjong resisted their pleas. As for the Sorons, they attempted to have Yeongjo charged with treason several times and when those attempts failed, they hatched an assassination plot during his half-brother’s (Gyoengjong) reign. Fortunately for Yeongjo, his father and stepmother protected him and the plot conspirators lost their lives.
Just one more consort and two more sons
Not content with his latest queen and his consorts, in 1698, Sukjong took another consort, Lady Park. (Yeongjo was 4 years old at this time.) Not only did Sukjong add to his list of consorts, but also Suk-Bin gave birth again in 1698 to another son who died at childbirth. Lady Park, who became known as Myeong-bin, gave birth the next year, in 1699, to a son named Yeun-rueng.
Following the death of Royal Noble Consort Choe Suk-bin, at the age of 49, in Inhyeon Palace in 1718, Sukjong allowed the Crown Prince, soon to be Gyeongjong of Joseon, to rule the country as regent. Sukjong died after reigning for 46 years in 1720 at age 60.
Separating fact from fiction…and literary license
In Daebak, it appears that Suk-Bin already has a husband when she meets Sukjong and that she schemes to become his consort. First of all, since she was of the lowest class in the Joseon society and that she lived in the palace, it might have been a bit difficult for her to have a husband – especially a gambler husband. Second, the records show that she was mild mannered, loving and kind, modest and compassionate, and remained out of the political sphere…so it’s hard to reconcile those qualities with a conniving woman. However, the plot of Daebak might not have worked without some literary license being taken to change Suk-Bin’s history. Only the screenwriter knows!
As for Sukjong’s roving eye, well, he did get around. In all, he had three queens and seven consorts.