PRINCESS DEOKHYE (1912-1989)

THE LAST PRINCESS OF JOSEON DYNASTY IN KOREA

By SaraHasliza

Princess Deokhye was taken to Japan at a very young age and, throughout her life, she struggled to maintain her royal identity and loyalty to her beloved nation by enduring all repression and humiliation caused by the Japanese imperialist environment. Her last words perfectly demonstrate her love for her homeland as she said, “I missed my motherland even while I was in my country.” She was able to return to Korea only after 37 years.

Princess Deokhye was born on 25th May 1912, as a youngest daughter of the Emperor Gwangmu and his concubine, Lady Bongnyeong, two years after the Japanese annexation of the Joseon dynasty. Her father loved her so greatly that a kindergarten was established for her in Jeukjodang, Hamnyeong Hal, which was known as Deoksu Palace. The emperor engaged his beloved daughter to Kim Jang Han, the nephew of the court chamberlain, Kim Hwangjin. This engagement was intended to secure Princess Deokhye from the Japanese plot of destroying the royal family.

When the Emperor Gwangmu passed away, the princess in 1925 was taken to Japan at the age of 14 and accordingly lost her family at an early age. She was taken to Japan under the pretense of studies, but, in reality, it was only an excuse made by the Japanese in order to keep her as a hostage.

The condition of Princess Deokhye became even worse after the death of her mother in 1929 and she was diagnosed with precocious dementia. When her condition began to improve, she was forced to marry a Japanese aristocrat, Count So Takeyuki, when she was 18 years old and she gave birth to a daughter named Masae or Jeonghye in Korean. This marriage was considered as a humiliation for the Joseon royal family as they fell to the same level as the local Japanese aristocracy. The Japanese intended to do so as they were afraid that the Joseon royal family could rise again and lead to the independence of Korea.

At the same time, the Japanese also focused on the Japanization of the Joseon royal family. Princess Deokhye was not allowed to wear the Korean traditional dress or hanbok and she was wearing the Japanese traditional clothing or western clothing alone. The last time that the princess wore hanbok was at the age of 14 when she departed from Korea to Japan by wearing kimono.

Princess Deokhye was again afflicted with mental illness due to depression as she longed for her homeland, and also was suffering in unhappy marriage. The princess was unable to return to her Korea even after its independence in 1945.

She was admitted to mental hospital and she finally got divorce from her husband in 1953. Yet, her condition deteriorated after her daughter gone missing and it is believed that she committed suicide. The princess was trapped in the mental hospital for about 15 years and her name became forgotten in the memory of the Koreans.

On 26th January 1962, Princess Deokhye was able to return to Korea on the invitation of the South Korean Government. Her return was facilitated by a Korean journalist, Kim Eul Hwan, who sent a letter to the Korean government asking to approve her return.  This letter was exhibited in a special exhibition at the National Palace Museum of Korea.  The princess cried upon her arrival and managed to remember the Joseon court manners accurately despite her severe mental condition.

The princess lived in the Nakseonjae building in Changdeok Palace and died in 21st April 1989. After nine days, her sister-in-law passed away in the same building, marking the end of the Jeseon Dynasty.

 

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