Prince Gwanghae

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  • Born: 1575
  • Died: 1641
  • Korean: 光海君 (Gwanghae gun)

Prince Gwanghae ruled as king of Joseon Korea from 1608 until 1623, when he was overthrown in a coup led by his political opponents.

Gwanghae succeeded his father King Seonjo in 1608, but his investiture by the Ming court was delayed on account of his not being the eldest son; this meant it was unusual, or perhaps even improper, for him to be claiming (in his communications with Beijing) that he was the Crown Prince. He was never, in fact, formally recognized by the Ming as "crown prince," but was ultimately able to be invested as "king" after paying bribes to the Ming envoys.

Gwanghae pursued a middle line, or neutral position, between the declining Ming Dynasty of China, and the rising Manchu Qing Dynasty, seeking to avoid the trouble which might befall Korea should he choose to openly oppose either side. However, this ultimately led to his overthrow, as the pro-Ming Sŏin faction at court accused him of being ungrateful for Ming aid in repelling Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea decades earlier, being disrespectful towards the Son of Heaven (i.e. the Emperor of China), and aiding the barbarians (by not strongly opposing them). Gwanghae was deposed, and was not given a posthumous kingly reign name (and thus continues to be known as "prince" or gun, rather than as "king," even though he reigned rightfully for some fifteen years). His supporters, the Puk'in faction at court, fell out of favor, and he was succeeded by his nephew Prince Nŭngyang (or Nŭngyanggun), who took the throne as King Injo.

Preceded by:
King Seonjo
King of Joseon
Succeeded by:
King Injo


  • Seo-Hyun Park, "Small States and the Search for Sovereignty in Sinocentric Asia: Japan and Korea in the Late Nineteenth Century," in Anthony Reid & Zheng Yangwen (eds.), Negotiating Asymmetry: China's Place in Asia (NUS Press, 2009), 36-37.
  • Evelyn Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2015), 167.
  • Ji-Young Lee, “Diplomatic Ritual as a Power Resource: The Politics of Asymmetry in Early Modern Chinese-Korean Relations,” Journal of East Asian Studies 13 (2013), 324-325, 329.