The Red Sleeve – Notes and Historical Stuff

Honestly speaking, the only thing that is stopping me from recapping MBC’s latest Friday-Saturday drama The Red Sleeve is that I am afraid I cannot commit myself to finishing the recaps until the final episode. I have so many things to talk about (or ramble?) about the drama, so instead of spamming people with tweets or posts, I think I will just update this post with random tidbits about the drama and the related historical facts every week. Feel free to ask anything and as usual, consider yourself warned since this post will be chock full of spoilers 😉

EP 1 – 2 afterthought:

  • We are not informed about the year in which the characters are currently living in the drama, but if The Red Sleeve is to follow the timeline of the real history, then Royal Noble Consort Yeong or Yeongbin’s death suggests that the year is 1764 in the drama. It has been two years since the tragedy befalling San’s father Crown Prince Sado in 1762, yet it is apparent how the event looms around like a shadow on San’s path towards becoming the Heir. In order to ensure the legitimacy of his grandson towards the succession of the throne and silencing the talks of Yi San being the son of a criminal, King Yeongjo made Yi San, then the Grand Heir, as an adopted son of his eldest son who died before Crown Prince Sado’s birth, Crown Prince Hyojang. This means that Yi San was considered unrelated to Yeongbin (who was his birth grandmother) and even his birth mother, Lady Hong.
  • I realize that there are way too many parallels than what I mentioned in my first impression (which was written in a flurry of excitement), from Yeongbin and Deok-im, to San and Crown Prince Sado, and even San and Yeongjo.
    • Yeongbin used to serve as a palace maid and received the king’s grace quite late at the age of 31, giving birth to princesses before the much waited birth of Crown Prince Sado. She rose through the ranks – from sukui and gwiin before becoming the senior 1st rank bin with the title Yeong. Although she lived a long life until the age of 68, she had to witness most of her children dying before her, except for Princess Hwawan. Uibin, the historical figure who is the basis of Deok-im’s character, had rejected Jeongjo’s intention of making her his concubine twice before she gave in and granted the title soyong, right after she gave birth to Crown Prince Munhyo. Her rose to the rank of bin with the title Ui was faster, probably due to the fact that she bore the royal heir at that time. However, the consecutive deaths of her children, particularly Crown Prince Munhyo, led to her falling sick before her death at the age of 34 while she was heavily pregnant.
    • Both San and his father Crown Prince Sado witness the death of their grandmothers, but it is clear how different they react from the event. At the time of Queen Inwon’s death, Crown Prince Sado was already fragile from the strained relationship between him and King Yeongjo, and the passing of his grandmother drove him into a corner as he lost a person who was like a shield against Yeongjo’s continuous wrath towards him. The death also marked the further decline of Sado’s condition, which led to his eventual demise. As for San, living post Sado’s death makes him studious, aspiring to live up to his grandfather’s expectation. Even at the moment of Yeongbin’s passing, he can only sneak out secretly to see her grandmother for the last time. When San visits her, his formal greeting shows how matured and composed the young heir is. Perhaps, the death of Yeongbin becomes another reason for San to strive to be the perfect heir to the throne, in order for him to correct the wrong things he witnessed all his life.
    • I find it interesting that the drama chooses to highlight Yeongjo’s complex regarding his birth mother’s low status. It might be too early to draw the parallel, but I just can’t help but to be reminded of Lady Hong’s records, Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, which retells the lengths Jeongjo went to honour the late Crown Prince Sado (please read it if you have time!). King Yeongjo also did something similar with regard to his mother, Lady Choi Sukbin. The low status of his birth mother became the point people used against him in his whole life up until he became the Crown Brother and the King, hence it turned into a complex he had to overcome. Yeongjo’s effort to lift Lady Choi’s status continued years after her death, from raising the status of her shrine and her residence, to the status of her tomb.
  • The book Deok-im is holding when she (literally) runs into San is the same novel she transcribes together with Princess Cheongseon and Princess Cheongyeon, San’s sisters. The work was recorded to be completed in 1773, so the current timeline of the drama is probably a year or two earlier than that. The two princesses’ hold the title Gunju 군주(郡主), a senior 2nd rank reserved for the legitimate daughters of a Crown Prince (more on the princess title here). The holder of the title would be upgraded to the title Gongju 공주(公主) once the father becomes the king, but in the princesses’ case, since their father passed away before becoming the king, then their title remains as a Gunju.
  • Deok-im is still a saenggaksi or a trainee court maid at the moment, hence the reason why the court maids of the Eastern Palace keeps giving her wrong direction when she is trying to find San. I believe that she will undergo the coming-of-age ceremony or gyeryesik soon before she can graduate from the braided hair and don the jade topcoat reserved for court maid. I guess that is the explanation for the lack of contact between San and Deok-im all this while despite being so close in the same Eastern Palace complex, since Deok-im is still under training and not officially a gungnyeo or court maid. (An overview of the court ladies’ rank can be found here)

EP 3 – 4 afterthought:

  • The antagonists made their first appearance in episode 3 and they did not wait for long to show their claws, eagerly waiting for their chance at every turn with the change in Yeongjo and San’s relationship.
    • Princess Hwawan (Seo Hyo-rim) – Yeongjo’s daughter and San’s aunt. The only surviving child of Yeongjo and Lady Yi Yeongbin, she has lived receiving all the attention from the king himself. Although her marriage suffers a setback with the early death of her husband, her adopted son continues to serve her and play an important role in her attempts to be at odds with San. At least there’s the Queen to control her a bit for now.
    • Jeong Baek-ik (Kwon Hyun-bin) – real name Jeong Hu-gyeom. Hwawan’s adopted son. Another person who would later be strongly against Yi San and exiled after Jeongjo was enthroned.
    • Hong Jeong-yeo (Jo Hee-bong) – real name Hong In-han. If you are familiar with Sado’s family, then you will find his real name familiar. That is because Hong In-han is the step-brother of Sado’s father-in-law Hong Bong-han, which makes him San’s step maternal uncle. Despite the family ties he has with San, he’s person who would be strongly against Yi San’s regency later.
  • So, so glad we get to see more of Deok-ro’s menacing and ice cold side. There’s also the mention of his younger sister during his conversation with his distant relative Hong Jeong-yeo, which is just a small hint at what will happen in the near future in the drama (probably?). In real history, Hong Guk-young’s sister would be made Jeongjo’s concubine Lady Hong Wonbin. Deok-ro is ambitious and calculating; despite his seemingly strong support towards San in order to see the latter rising to the throne, the two will ultimately have a fallout after Jeongjo becomes the king.
  • I finally get to hear clearly what Deok-im addresses the two Princesses Cheongseon and Cheongyeon with. She used Igung jaga (이궁 자가). Igung (이궁) was generally used to refer to a palace of lower status than the royal palace where the King resides, Beopgung (법궁). It could also refer to secondary palace used instead of the main palace, or the palace of the Crown Prince. I think that since the two princesses are staying outside the palace, there is no way to refer to them using their residence inside the palace (which was a common practice towards late Joseon), hence they are regarded as part of their mother’s residence.
  • Yeongjo’s mood plays an important role in how he deals with people, and I love to see another detail from the memoirs being referenced in the drama. The King was said to be sensitive and moody, and his actions clearly dictated whether he was having a good or bad mood; Yeongjo was known to wash his ears when he hears something unlucky. When Deok-im asks Bok-yeon about the King’s mood, Bok-yeon hears from the court maid who just leaves the King’s quarters that the King washed his ears, which is a sign that his mood is not good.
  • I don’t know why, but the sight of San kneeling in front of the throne hall gives me flashback of the too familiar sight of Crown Prince Sado prostrating so many times on my screen. The scene with Lady Hong is just…heartbreaking. The way she reminisces about her late husband and then holding San preciously as she vows to protect her son is just bittersweet. When San is surrounded by the dragon screens, that reminds me of the claustrophobic view of Sado in the rice chest. Luckily the scene turns out to mark the end of San’s setback for now, but that dragon screen also reminds me of a part in Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, where she told about the drawing of a dragon by Sado when she was pregnant with Jeongjo. The movie The Throne also had a scene of Crown Prince Sado drawing the dragon, and the painting was made into a paper fan.
  • The style manora (마노라) is used when Deok-im’s brother calls Lady Hong. The style used to be on the same level as mama, but became exclusively used to refer to the Crown Prince’s consort and regarded as one step lower in rank as compared to mama. Notice how Lady Hong used to be referred to as manora while she was still the consort to the successor to the throne, but now that her husband has passed away, the style used for her is another step lower than manora, which is jaga.
  • I think it’s kinda funny to have the ‘suspicion’ Lady Hong has about San’s nightly escapades is referencing the memoirs, where she regards the Princesses’ husbands (who are a part of San’s secret meeting) as bad influence in her son’s early years. In history, she also had bad impression on Deok-ro despite being relatives, but we shall see how she treats him in later episodes, right?

EP 5 – 6 afterthought:

  • The coming-of-age ceremony or Gyeryesik (계례식) is an important milestone in a court maid’s life, where she dons the green ceremonial jacket wonsam and puts her hair up in a bun while wearing a coronet called jokduri. While in normal setting, the ceremony would be symbolizing her new beginning as an adult, it’s like a wedding ceremony for the court maid; she officially becomes one of the king’s women, since all court maids and court ladies belong to the king. I find it quite funny and sad at the same time to have San mistaking Deok-im for being made a concubine; the hairdo is quite a stretch for a court maid, but on the other hand, if it really happens, he has no power to stop it from happening. I’m also reminded of what Yeongjo said about Yeongbin in the first episode…
  • Yeongjo’s suggestion about regency makes it clear that the drama is around the year of 1775. While it is normal for a grandpa to dotes on his grandson with endless praises, it is scary to have a king talking about handing over his throne to his successor while he is still alive. Yeongjo was known to be temperamental and used to threaten to abdicate his throne so many times over the years. In this situation, the court and the Crown Prince would have to plead for him to retract his decision. Although Yeongjo is merely talking about making San a Prince Regent through the Prince Regency (대리청정), that is enough to make the court tense as the last time someone became the Prince Regent, it didn’t end well. In history, Jeongjo did carry out the regency in the year before Yeongjo’s passing…so that probably leaves us a step closer to see San in his red dragon robe.
  • I am excited to find out that they are going to show another important ceremony in the Inner Palace, which is Chinjamrye (친잠례) or Sericulture Ceremony since there’s a chance to see another interpretation of the robe worn by the Queen in the ceremony. But then, the drama probably decides to follow the practice of the late Joseon, where the women participating in the ceremony would be wearing their wonsam and the Queen her jeokui, instead of the yellow and blue gukui.
  • Court Lady Jo’s intention is revealed in this week’s episode and it is now clear that she is not on San’s side; the reason being San having the possibility of going crazy like how his father did and harming the lives of the court maids and eunuchs. Is that why she is planning to push Deok-im into San’s embrace so that the anti-San movement can get a new justification? That the heir to the throne is idling around with a concubine instead of putting his mind and soul into grooming himself to become a good ruler in the future? Well, that kid has gritted his teeth for so long without stirring much trouble that I bet he won’t be shaken…or maybe, it’s Deok-im who will keep her promise of protecting San.
  • The questions asked by the Queen (Jang Hee-jin) to Deok-im are among the actual questions said to be used during the queen’s selection, and Queen Jeongsun was chosen because Yeongjo liked her answers. However, it is clear that she also finds Deok-im’s answers intriguing, from how she reacts afterwards.
  • The dog painting San looks at as he muses over the memorial during the anniversary of his father’s death belongs to Crown Prince Sado.
  • In my opinion, Deok-ro and Princess Hwawan might be best friends if not for their conflicting interests; one wants to see San sitting on the throne, while the other isn’t going to let that happen. Both of them are so insecure and afraid of having another person stealing their limelight in front of the person they serve. Still, I am happy to see Deok-ro being so good at what he is doing in order to achieve his goal, but one question remains: what happens once San becomes the king? Is Deok-ro going to support his king with all his heart, or will his ambition pushes him to dream of becoming someone above the king?
  • I didn’t expect to see Deok-ro’s sister quite early, but it is just a proof that the inevitable is coming soon. The girl Deok-im helps to enter the palace will later be selected as San’s concubine per Deok-ro’s plan, and for him to warn Deok-im against being close to his sister is quite sly and crafty of him. Is he a fortune teller, or is it simply because he is quick-witted?

24 thoughts on “The Red Sleeve – Notes and Historical Stuff

  1. This has piqued my interest too as I really liked Yi San: Wind in The Palace! And seems like it has good reviews so far. I must make time for it.
    Thanks for the review and trivia Mimi!
    I saw your tweet about the Bookcase art back-panel being replaced with an actual book case which was a really neat detail.

    1. The drama has its light moments but it also delivers the heavier plot with a punch, so that’s a good thing in my book 😁 I probably will be more biased as the episodes go on, but I totally recommend checking out the first two episodes!
      Right? I remember the bookcase folding screen as a thing from Jeongjo’s era, so to have that reference in the drama was a nice touch indeed.

  2. Hi!
    I’m new to your blog but I found it really interesting & helpful as I love watching sageuk. I hope you’ll continue reviewing Red Sleeve Cuff but if you cannot, I’ll just take what I got 🙂

    I have a question regarding this drama. As far as I know, the Crown Prince is called Seja Jeonha. But I think I heard they call him something sounds like Sejong Jeonha instead? Am I hearing wrong or is there another title for the Crown Prince?

    1. Hi Mimi! (We share the same name btw hehehe)

      I hope I will get to update this post every week, but there will be times when I will be a bit late 😅

      The title and style used for a Crown Prince who is the son of the reigning King is Seja Jeoha (세자 저하), but in San’s case in this drama, he is the grandson of the reigning King. He’s technically a Young Crown Prince/Grand Heir, who is the son of a Crown Prince/Heir Successor. People are referring to him as Seson Jeoha (세손 저하), which can be translated to Your Highness the Grand Heir. Although the correct style for Seson should be Gakha (각하), the drama probably make use of Jeoha since San is technically the first in line of the succession, with the death of his birth father Crown Prince Sado and his adoptive father Crown Prince Hyojang.

      1. Hi Mimi!

        It’s nice to hear another Mimi share the same love for sageuk 🙂 I’m not as knowledge as you though. That’s why I’m so happy when I stumbled upon your blog.

        Just realized that I wrote Jeonha while what I meant is Jeoha.
        At first I thought they addressed him as Seja Jeoha but kept hearing Sejong Jeoha instead and it keeps bugging me as I know it wasn’t either Seja or Sejong. I blamed my hearing then hehehe. I feel relieved now I know that it’s Seson Jeoha, it’s a new word for me. Thank you!

        Maybe you can add it on Royal Titles and Styles in Joseon entry? I don’t think there’s about Seson Jeoha there.
        I don’t mind if you’re late updating this post. For me as long as you update it, that’s okay. Even if you don’t, that’s okay too, as long as you don’t mind me asking question from time to time hehehe.

        1. Oh, now that you mention it, I did not include the title and style for the Grand Heir in that post..I will remember to edit that post soon. Thanks for the suggestion!

          Don’t worry about asking questions because I love questions! It is another way of learning something new 😉 Plus, sharing about what I love is also a way of finding people of the same interest. Looking forward to discuss more about sageuk with a fellow sageuk lover 😀

  3. Thank you, @Mimi!

    Funny you mentioned “Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong” right when I started to reread it. My first time was before “Secret Door.
    Deok Im reminds me of Lady Hyegyong. From Hyegyong’s memoir, “She expresses a conscious desire to be different from the norm, declaring that she prefers writing to needlework and that this sets her apart from other women.”
    In this drama, Deok Im told San that she is not good at sewing and we know that she is a talented calligrapher.

    What is the book’s name that Deok Im is reading during the celebration prep, and is it about Emperor Gaozu of Han and his sons? That scene was the most gut-wrenching for me because it’s even more tragic for San.

    1. Hi again kiara!

      I’m reading the memoirs again while watching The Red Sleeve so that I can refresh on the views of Lady Hyegyeong regarding people around Jeongjo.

      From what I have seen, the title of the book seems to be written as 양서자전, but I haven’t had any luck in finding anything directly related to the phrase. Maybe I’ll chance upon something by luck later 😁

  4. Mimi, may we know about your opinion of no caption of who is who in drama? Or did I miss it? I just knew their names after going through other accounts reviews..
    And I think i read knetz comment related how queen and princess hwawan call to each other on YouTube, how you explain it? Pardon me if i missed it too here
    Welcome back anyway ^^ nice to learn new things again, there’s a lot of customs they show here, also the way they punished crown prince San, they don’t allow him to eat? Without court ladies beside him also? And what’s book which made Yeongjo punished him? Hehe

    1. Ah, I’m restraining myself from voicing out my opinion because I’ll just turn into a blubbering mess 🤭 Like it? No, I LOVE it with all my heart. One thing that I like the most is the smooth transition between light and heavy scenes. I can laugh at one moment and then cry without feeling detached.

      The Queen and Princess Hwawan’s relationship is that of a legal mother and her daughter. Even if Hwawan is the King’s daughter, the Queen is the highest ranked woman in the inner court and basically above a princess. Hence, it is a given for a princess (one born from a concubine too at at) to respect the Queen. However, Hwawan treats the Queen rudely and the Queen cannot do anything since Yeongjo adores his daughter. The Queen is seven years younger than Hwawan so that might be a factor as well, but that does not mean that Hwawan can behave rudely to someone who is ranked above her, no matter how young that person is.

      Yeongjo forbids San’s retinue to serve him except for washing and dining time (if I remember correctly), so we can assume that he’s taking his meals in between the scenes. He doesn’t look famished so that’s a good thing.

      Do you mean the book in the first episode or the one Yeongjo looked at with Hwawan and her son before storming off to see San in episode 5? The latter seems to be a roster of guards in the palace, and according to Yeongjo, the Crown Prince guards failed to report duty on the nights San went out of the palace since they were following him.

  5. Ep 6: Although this isn’t my first yi san-era rodeo, the hong deok ro/hong guk young character never fails to fascinate me. Even without fictional embellishments he was a TV-worthy figure for sure. As for your last question- I’m pretty sure he believes he can manifest the future he wants. 🙂

    1. He’s such an interesting fellow to watch, from the way he’s so into reading San’s every movement and his two-faced self..he will think that the world revolves around him once things start going according to his wishes. He’s a villain in the making 🤭

  6. Thank you so much for your detailed notes. I was surprised by the portrayal of the Queen in this drama. In other Jeongjo dramas (Conspiracy in the Court and Eight Days) that same Queen is shown as Yi San’s enemy. What does history tell us about their relationship?

    1. You’re welcome!

      Although the turn of events in history made people speculate that Yi San and Queen Jeongsun’s relationship to be strained from the very beginning, there was no concrete evidence in historical records to support that claim. It was said that they had good relationship of a grandson and his grandmother, and a heir with the nation’s queen. The possible sources of their conflict in history (Hong Bong-han, Yi San’s maternal grandfather and Kim Kwi-ju, Queen Jeongsun’s brother) do not appear on the drama, so we can assume that the drama does not intend to paint the Queen as part of the enemy’s camp, at least for now. As for what happened after Yi San sat on the throne as Jeongjo, the incident of Prince Euneon (Yi San’s half-brother) possibly made Jeongjo became wary of Queen Jeongsun, but they were not in a strained relationship.

  7. Just recently stumbled on your blog and I love it. Have read and digested your post on most of saguek reference.
    Thank you so much for a very insightful explaination on cultures and customs.

    I do have a question eith the scene in Chinjamrye ceremony; are all of the participants are princess/royals? Does it include noblemen’s wives?
    Also at this time Lee San is already married, could the girl beside his mother be his consort?

    1. Hello Claude! Hope you enjoy browsing around the blog, although some of them need updates 😅

      The participants of the ceremony include all the women of the Inner Court (Naemyeongbu – from the Queen to the court ladies) and Outer Court (Oemyeongbu – consisting of the Princesses and wives of government officials). So, to answer your question, it included noblemen’s wives but only those whose husbands held office.

      I’m not sure if the drama will ever show us San’s consort despite having Deok-im’s friend Kyung-hee as maid belonging to the consort’s sewing department, although in history, he’s married early on when he was only 11. I actually went back to see the person you referred to in episode 6 and she does wear a ceremonial robe which is well adorned, even more than Lady Hong and her daughters. The possibility is there, but there are also sageuk pushing the royal wedding to a more appropriate adult age as compared to portraying the characters being married so young. So..we probably have to wait and see for now 😉

  8. I just want to say thank you for making this blog. I was never a fan of saeguks before, but Red Sleeve really caught my eye and your blog is really impressive. Your commentaries and historical inserts really made my watching experience even better.

  9. Just stumbled into this blog and I got to say that you are amazing !! Thanks for sharing all the extra information.
    I have a question about the the Crown Prince’s teacher. Is the title Deokim addresses him is his job title? Something like kyeom-sa-soh naeuri? I also watch The King’s Affection and heard Jeong Ji-un being addresses as jeong-sa-soh. I wonder if the two titles are same or different.
    Sorry if the question is weird…hopefully you can answer this ~

    1. Hi mel! Thanks for the comment and the question.

      You heard that right. Hong Deok-ro’s title is gyeomsaseo (겸사서) while Ji-un’s title is just saseo (사서). Both are Senior 6th rank in the Office of the Crown Prince’s Tutor, Seja Sigangwon (세자 시강원), but saseo is listed above gyeomsaseo.

      Hope this helps!

Rant Out, Souls!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s