the talking cupboard

Royal Titles and Styles in Joseon Dynasty

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I’m sure most of kdrama lovers are somehow familiar with the period dramas, or sageuk. In the sageuk, there will be characters based on the people who were part of the royal family of Joseon Dynasty. Various terms, such as jusang jeonha (주상 전하), are used to address these characters according to their ranks. Some of them are commonly heard in the dramas while others are just being mentioned once in a while.

Joseon Dynasty was known as a dynasty with a rigid social system, not to mention that the lives of the people greatly depended on their statuses and ranks. The royal family of Joseon Dynasty or Jeonju Yi Family was at the top of the hierarchy, but the ranks also existed among the royal family members as well.

The basic guide to address the royalties, especially in Joseon Dynasty, is quite simple. Take the above example, jusang jeonha (주상 전하). The term is used to address the current king. Jusang (주상) is the title used for the current king or sovereign, with the style ‘His Majesty’ or jeonha (전하). The people above the king, for instance the abdicated kings and the queens dowager, simply address the king using the title (jusang) while the people serving the king address him using the whole term (jusang jeonha), or simply the style (jeonha). It’s like the English term His Majesty The King, with ‘The King’ as the style and ‘His Majesty’ as the title.

Let’s get to know the people of the palace in Joseon Dynasty and their titles 🙂

Great Predecessor King /seondaewang (선대왕, 先大王) or Great King /daewang (대왕, 大王), was used to address of to refer to a deceased king. The former was used independently or with the style ‘His Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽), referring to the king who ruled before the current king. The latter is often heard in dramas, where the characters will refer to the deceased king with the title ‘daewang‘ attached to the late king’s temple or posthumous name, such as ‘Taejo Daewang‘ or ‘Sejo Daewang‘.

The wife or consort of the deceased king would be given the title Queen Dowager /daebi  (대비, 大妃).  Most of the time, the Queen Dowager would also be the mother of the current king. The style ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽) was used along with the title.  In several cases throughout the Joseon Dynasty, the Queen Dowager took the role of the acting monarch in the name of the king when the king was too young to rule. One example was the Queen Dowager Insoo, who ruled together with Grand Royal Queen Dowager Jeonghee in the name of King Seonjong.

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Queen Dowager Insoo in the drama Queen Dowager Insoo

Royal Queen Dowager /wangdaebi (왕대비, 王大妃) was the title for a former consort that is more senior than the queen dowager, for instance the current king’s aunt, or grandmother. The style used was ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽). Grand Royal Queen Dowager /daewangdaebi (대왕대비, 大王大妃) was the title for a former consort that was senior to two other queen dowagers, or the current king’s great-aunt or great-grandmother. The style was ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽).

King Former /sangwang (상왕, 上王) was a living king who voluntarily abdicated for the current king to reign. The style ‘His Majesty’ or jeonha (전하, 殿下) was commonly used. He usually remained powerful through the remaining years of his life even with the presence of the current king, for instance King Taejong who abdicated for his son, King Sejong. Grand King Former /taesangwang (태상왕, 太上王) was the abdicated king who was more senior than another former king. The style used is ‘His Majesty’ or jeonha (전하, 殿下).

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For the King’s father who never reigned as a king himself, he was addressed with the title Grand Internal Prince /daewongun (대원군, 大院君) or Prince Regent.  This happened when he’s a distant relative of the royal family and his son, carrying the Yi family name, had been adopted as heir of a relative who did reign. He used the style of ‘His Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽). In the case of Heungseon Daewongun or Yi Ha-eung, father of Emperor Gojong, the Grand Internal Prince acted as the regent in the place of his son who was too young to rule. Grand Internal Princess Consort /budaebuin (부대부인, 府大夫人) was the title for the consort of the Grand Internal Prince with the style of ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽).

drjin

Yi Ha-eung in the drama Dr Jin

Internal Prince /buwongun (부원군, 府院君) was the title for the queen consort’s father, using the style ‘His Excellency’ or daegam (대감, 大監) while Internal Princess Consort /bubuin (부부인, 府夫人) was the title for the queen consort’s mother.

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The current regent at that time was the King /wang (왕, 王) with the style of ‘His Majesty’ or jeonha (전하, 殿下). His subjects and the people around him would commonly address him with the title of  jusang (주상, 主上) or another one that is not quite common but still used, geumsang (금상, 今上). The king would refer to himself in front of his subjects as kwa-in (과인, 寡人) which was derived from the term used by the Emperor of China, which was guaren that meant “the person without enough morality”. Other terms used to refer to the king were imgeum (임금), naratnim (나랏님), and sanggam (상감). Queen Consort /wangbi (왕비, 王妃) was the consort of the king that used the style ‘Her Majesty’ or mama (마마, 媽媽). People around her would address her with the title jungjeon (중전, 中殿), which literally means ‘Center Palace‘. When a queen consort passed away, she would be given a posthumous name with the suffix wanghu (왕후, 王后) which gives the meaning of ‘Queen’.

As for the eldest son of the king, he would be addressed with the title Prince Royal/wonja (원자, 元子) before his inauguration as the Crown Prince, with the style of ‘His Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽). Once he’s declared the official heir of the throne, the title Royal Prince Successor /wangseja (왕세자, 王世子 ) would be used. The title was often simplified to Prince Successor/seja (세자, 世子), with the style of ‘His Royal Highness’ or jeoha 저하, 邸下) being used together with the title, except when the more senior relatives (kings, queens consort, queens dowager) addressing the crown prince as the style was often dropped. Another common and more affectionate title used to address the crown prince by the senior relatives was ‘East Palace‘ or donggung (동궁, 東宮) with the style ‘His Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽).

장옥정, 사랑에 살다.E05.130422.HDTV.XViD-HANrel.avi_000228061

Royal Princess Successor Consort /wangsejabin (왕세자빈, 王世子嬪) or the Crown Princess, was the title for the consort of the royal prince successor. The title was also simplified to Princess Successor Consort /sejabin (세자빈, 世子嬪). The style used was ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽) and the common title used inside the palace for the crown princess was ‘Consort’s Palace‘ or bin-gung (빈궁, 嬪宮) with the same style. Royal Prince Successor Descendant /wangseson (왕세손, 王世孫), was the title for the son of the prince successor and the princess successor consort, which also made him the grandson of the king. The style used was ‘His Highness’ or hap-a (합하, 閤下).

Grand Prince /daegun (대군, 大君) was the title for the other sons of  the  king with the queen consort using the style ‘His Excellency’ or daegam (대감, 大監). Grand Princess Consort /bubuin (부부인, 府夫人), was the title for the wife of a grand prince with the style of  ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽).

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Prince /gun (군, 君) was the title used to address the sons of the king with his concubines and also the sons/grandsons/etc of a grand prince and a prince, with the style of ‘His Excellency’ or daegam (대감, 大監). The princes were actually called wangja (왕자, 王子), literally ‘son of the king’ before they reached the age for the title daegun or gun to be given to them. Princess Consort /gunbuin (군부인, 郡夫人), was used to refer to the consort of a prince using the style ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽).

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Princess /gongju (공주, 公主) was the title for the daughter of a king with his queen consort, with the style of ‘Her Young Highness’ or agissi  (아기씨) when she’s still young and ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽) when she’s at a marriageable age. The princesses were called wangnyeo (왕녀, 王女), literally ‘daughter of the king’ before they reached the age for the title gongju or ongju to be given to them, or before marriage. Prince Consort /gunwi (군의, 君尉) was the title for the consort of a princess. The style used was buma (부마). Princess /ongju (옹주, 翁主), the title of a daughter of the king with his concubines, with the style of ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽).

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As for the concubines or hugung (후궁, 後宮), the titles were according to their ranks, for instance sukwon (숙원, 淑媛). The style used was ‘Her Royal Highness’ or mama (마마, 媽媽). The order of the ranks for the concubines or the Royal Noble Consorts of Joseon Dynasty Kings is:

    • Bin (빈, 嬪) – 1st senior rank
    • Kwi-in (귀인, 貴人) – 1st junior rank
    • So-ui (소의, 昭儀) – 2nd senior rank
    • Suk-ui (숙의, 淑儀) – 2nd junior rank
    • So-yong (소용, 昭容) – 3rd senior rank
    • Suk-yong (숙용, 淑容) – 3rd junior rank
    • So-won (소원, 昭媛) – 4th senior rank
    • Suk-won (숙원, 淑媛) – 4th junior rank

The titles and styles are somehow simple when you get used to it. I simply like it when the characters in a drama go around and calling the queens and princesses “Mama!” because I love to hear how it is pronounced. Well, now you know that when the subs suddenly write “mama” or “jeonha“, you know who they are referring to!

Sources | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

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Author: muchadoboutlove

Drama watcher, movie marathoner, Twitter user, and Korean drama blogger. Call me Mimi.

50 thoughts on “Royal Titles and Styles in Joseon Dynasty

  1. In dong yi, btw Jang Ok-jung and Dong yi, whose title is d highest?

    • Both of them eventually had the highest rank title Bin, but Lady Jang was also the mother of the Crown Prince which made her of higher status compared to Lady Choi. At the time when Lady Jang was alive, Lady Choi had not gotten her Bin title yet so her status was lower compared to Lady Jang.

  2. Annyeong! I have a question about the prince consorts.

    Do they live in the palace along with the princess after their marriage, or do they take the princess along with them in their new home?

    Thank you for checking on this 🙂

    • Annyeong~

      A princess would follow the prince consort to live outside the palace, but unlike the normal brides who lived together with their in-laws, the princess would live separately in a nice new house, since she’s still a princess, after all 😉

  3. I have a question! 😀 If a princess conceived a child without going through legal preparations such as marriage, what will be the social status of the child? Is he/she considered a prince/princess too or whatsoever? Can a boy born out of that situation be eligible for the throne if ever? Thank you! 😀

    • Hi YiSeul 🙂

      I believe that the child would just be another child born out of wedlock and suffer the fate of a illegitimate child, with lower status than normal kid. The child won’t be considered a prince/princess, since the law of Joseon stated that even the legal offspring of a princess was unable to inherit their mother’s royal title. Joseon was a highly patriarchal country and the titles were only passed down through the male line. Hence, this answer the other question: that child won’t be eligible for the throne, not only because he’s born out of wedlock.

      Fun fact: Lady Hyegyeong, Crown Prince Sado’s wife and King Jeongjo’s birth mother, was actually the descendant of Princess Jungmyung, King Seonjo’s daughter. However, her father was not considered a royal because of the family status, which followed that of the Hong family, that was a noble at that time. However, Crown Prince Sado’s grandchild through his illegitimate issue was later brought into the court to become the 25th king of Joseon, Cheoljong, despite his illegitimate status. Although he was a distant relative of the royal family, he was still considered a royal.

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