The Tragic Ending of Crown Prince Sado

Friday, January 14, 2022

Crown Prince Sado
Image resource from Namu Wiki

The K-drama, The Red Sleeve, has won hearts everywhere with the story of Lee San and Seong Deok-im. Starring Lee Se-young and Lee Jun-ho, it is a must-see K-drama.

This post is a continuation of a 5 part series of Let's Dissect The Red Sleeve.

Crown Prince Sado portrait
Image resource from Wikipedia

Who is Crown Prince Sado?

Crown Prince Sado was born with the name Lee Sun on February 13, 1735, as King Yeongjo's second son. Because his half-brother Crown Prince Hyojang passed away in 1728, he was made heir apparent the year after he was born. In 1749, he was made Prince-Regent but in 1762, he was ordered by his father to go into a rice chest where he died. 

When he died, he was posthumously named Crown Prince Sado (which he is commonly known as) but then later given a longer title by his son, King Jeongjo, when he ascended to the throne.

Mental Illness

You are probably wondering if I somehow misinterpreted or found some bogus information in the way Prince Sado died. I know that it's a very unusual way to die or be executed so let me tell you the events that occurred in this horrible but sad story of how he died inside a rice chest. 

To purchase The Memoirs of Lady HyeGyong, click HERE.

As some of you may know, I am currently reading through this book that Lady Hyegyeong wrote which is pictured up above. So the things I'm about to share here are what Lady Hyegyeong eyewitnessed and experienced, as well as some other things that I came across while researching. 

Based on Lady Hyegyeong's memoirs, between the years of 1752-1753, Prince Sado started showing signs of serious mental illness. But truth be told, Lady Hyegyeong actually blames the upbringing of Crown Prince Sado as the major contribution to his illness. After reading the Memoirs of 1805 where she writes the account surrounding the incident of her husband, I, too, would agree that the lack of parental love and supervision allowed fear to take control of Sado's mental state spiraling him down into an unhealthy way of releasing anger.

As I was reading through the memoir, a common theme of parental disapproval of King Yeongjo was literally on every page. Anything bad that had happened under the skies, King Yeongjo blamed them all entirely on Crown Prince Sado. Even the rainy days were somehow Sado's fault. This all started from a very young age. As the father-son relationship worsened over his lifetime, so did Sado's symptoms. 

Lady Hyegyeong found it very peculiar that when Sado was in the presence of the King, his mother-in-law, or father-in-law, his symptoms would somehow escape him, leaving him to his old self. But because of the King's constant disapproval and criticism, his nature became seemingly more violent.

After the death of Queen Jeongseong (King Yeongjo's first wife) in 1757, Crown Prince Sado began having clothing phobia and started becoming extremely violent towards those around him. Even with 20-30 sets of clothing laid out in front of him, it was hard for him to get dressed. On days that he managed to get dressed were days that were considered lucky and on those days that were not so lucky, eunuchs and court maids were harmed and clothes were burnt.

After returning back from Queen Jeongseong's burial procession, King Yeongjo reproved him for reasons that Lady Hyegyeong could not remember. Sado, who had an affectionate relationship with Queen Jeongseong, despite her being a stepmother, was an emotional struggle as would anyone who loses a loved one. With this added stress and criticism from his father, he became more violent in his actions. Lady Hyegyeong recalls the day that Sado brought a severed head of a royal eunuch and forced Lady Hyegyeong and the palace maids to see this horrid sight. Everyone around him was in constant fear for their life.

Hearing about Sado's episodes of rage and murder, King Yeongjo called for Crown Prince Sado. He confessed to his wrongdoings and when asked why he was behaving this way, Sado replied that his anger could only be soothed by killing something or someone. The reason for his anger, he continued, was because he felt unloved by his father and because of his constant fear of the King's criticisms. King Yeongjo apparently replied that he would not do that anymore but unfortunately, the criticisms and rebuking did not stop there, and nor did Sado believe that his father would change. 

In 1760, his illness became even worse. He felt like he was suffocating being in the same palace as his father so he summoned his younger sister, Princess Hwawan, who wielded great power because of her influence over her father (she was King Yeongjo's favorite daughter). He told her to have the King moved to a different palace. Sado pressed her on this matter and wouldn't allow her to return to her own residence in fear that something bad would happen to him. She finally succeeded at persuading King Yeongjo to move.

Without King Yeongjo nearby, Prince Sado felt a little more at ease to do what he pleased like riding horses and playing military games. But after a while, he grew tired of them and started to leave the palace in disguise. 

Prince Sado's drawings
Drawings by Crown Prince Sado.
Image resource from Korea JoongAng Daily

Many people died that year. Too many eunuchs and court maids to count. Prince Sado started to throw parties and brought women back to the palace from his undercover adventures outside the palace. He would call people with professions, such as doctors, astronomers, and servants, and if he didn't like what they said, he would either injure or kill them. 

So, as you can imagine, these were scary times when a royal regent had the power to do such harm. His mother, Royal Noble Consort Yeongbin, also known as Lady Sonhui (King Yeongjo's second concubine), seeing the mental state of her son and also concluding that he was at an irreversible point in his illness, urged the king to have Sado killed to preserve the dynasty and to protect the Grand Heir, Sado's son. 

rice chest
4x4 rice chest experience at Hwaseong Fortress
Image resource from London Korean Links

So in July of 1762, Crown Prince Sado was stripped of all of his titles, made a criminal, and was forced into a 4x4 feet rice chest where he was confined until death. He was pronounced dead on the 8th day. After his death, his title of Crown Prince was given back to him and named posthumously as Crown Prince Sado. 

The really sad part about his life is that Crown Prince Sado was aware of his sickness, depression, and what he called a disease. He would often hurt himself and try to commit suicide several times according to the Records of the Annals of Prince Sado. He often mentioned what the point of living was. Yet, it seemed as though his father really had no tolerance for Prince Sado's mental issues. 

Studies have been done on the historical evidence on Crown Prince Sado's mental issues and continue to be an ongoing study. Bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. have all been mentioned. Historical evidence is also being studied in how political pressure had made the father-son relationship strained. It has been written that King Yeongjo had often embarrassed his son in front of politicians and audiences which contributed to the verbal abuse that King Yeongjo gave Sado. Crown Prince Sado's story is truly such a sad one to read about and I found myself in tears reading about his tragic life. 

Tomb of Prince Sado and Princess Hyegyeong
Yungneung where the tombs of Crown Prince Sado and Princess Hyegyeong are located.
Image resource from London Korean Links

The Memoir of Lady Hyegyeong

To read more in-depth details, I highly recommend the Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong as she recounts so vividly all that transpired leading up to the day when Sado was forced into that rice chest. 

What do you think? Pretty wicked times, right?

Sometimes, when I watch historical K-dramas, I watch just thinking it's just a story. It's quite scary that once upon a time, these killing scenes are actually pretty realistic to history.

I hope you enjoyed learning about today's historical person. Hope to see you here next Monday for my post on Hwaseong Fortress. 

If you have missed the other posts for this 5-part series, here are the links below.



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