Story of Lady Hyegyeong and Her Troubled Royal Life

Thursday, January 13, 2022

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.

Who is Lady Hyegyeong?

Lady Hyegyeong (혜경), also known as Queen Heongyeong (헌경왕후) was born on August 6, 1735, in the Pungsan Hong clan. She lived to be 80 years old and died on January 13, 1816 (206 years ago today).

In her autobiography writings, Lady Hyegyeong's father dreamt of a black dragon on the wall of her mother's room and it was thought that she would be born as a boy. Even though this didn't come to fruition, her grandparents believed that she was a special child born to do something great. She described herself as never really being a child, always well-mannered, and with proper etiquette. 

In the year 1743, a royal edict was sent out for the selection of Crown Prince Sado's wife. At first, her mother didn't want to submit Lady Hyegyeong's name for the selection, but her father insisted that they shouldn't dare to deceive the king. In her ninth year, it was announced that she was selected as a bride. 

She went to the preliminary selection with seven other young girls but at the end of all rounds, she was selected to be the Crown Prince's spouse and was married to him when she was just 9 years old.

Lady Hyegyeong became pregnant and had her first son at the age of 16. However, he died 2 years later. That same year, she bore her second son, who would later become King Jeongjo. By age 21, she had two daughters, Princess Chongyon (1754) and Princess Chongson (1756). 

Between the years of 1752-1753, Lady Hyegyeong mentions in her memoirs that Crown Prince Sado showed signs of illness and that people started to show concern for his health. 

She described her life in the royal palace as very lonely and that she made sure to follow all the rules of the palace. In the years leading up to 1762, many deaths and diseases came and went through the royal palace. Unfortunately, Prince Sado's symptoms had also worsened. He ended up being stripped from his titles and executed. Lady Hyegyeong tried to kill herself but those around her took the knife from her hand. After that incident, she didn't dare to commit suicide again for the sake of her son, the Grand Heir. 

The day Crown Prince Sado was stripped of his titles made him a commoner which made Lady Hyegyeong, the Grand Heir, and other members of his family commoners as well. Because of this, they were sent to her father's house since they could no longer stay in the palace.

After Sado's death 8 days later, he was given the title of Crown Prince again and his family was able to return to the palace. 

Memoirs of Lady HyeGyong

To purchase The Memoirs of Lady HyeGyong, click HERE.

In 1795, Lady Hyegyeong started writing in hopes to shed light on all the events that had occurred surrounding her family. It was a memoir of rebuttal for all the criticisms her family had to endure and in hopes to restore her family's honor and integrity. 

The memoir she wrote in 1801 was one that was written in outrage and was meant for the king at that time, her grandson, King Sungjo. It was written in response to her brother's execution and wanting to reclaim his honor.

The memoir of 1802 was more or less the same as the Memoir of 1801 but focused more on King Jeongjo's filial piety and how he planned to restore the honor of his father and the rest of the Hong family. Unfortunately, he died before he was able to see it to completion.

The memoir Lady HyeGyeong wrote in 1805 recounts the events surrounding the death of Crown Prince Sado. Because King Jeongjo ordered that parts of the Records of the Royal Secretariat pertaining to that event to be washed away (during those days, writing was washed to destroy ink evidence and the paper was used again) and because it was not permitted to talk about the incident freely, she wrote the account to correct speculation and false information being circulated about the incident. 

Original memoirs of Lady Hygyeong
Image courtesy of  Korea JoongAng Daily.

I cannot recommend enough The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong. If you are interested in Korean history and the inner makings of the royal courts, this book is a great read. 

This blog post will continue to be updated as I continue to find more information from the memoirs. 

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Tomorrow, we'll be looking into the incident of Crown Prince Sado! See you tomorrow! 



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