Watching sageuk will make you realize that some people in the Palace court are much more powerful than the King himself. From influential kingmakers to powerful military families, these controlling figures usually ump the drama in historical series.
One recent example is the manipulative Andong Kim Clan in the Shin Hae-sun-starrer Queen Cheorin (also known as Mr. Queen). The characters’ names and the era they live in were inspired by historical figures from the reign of King Cheoljong, the 25th king of the Joseon Dynasty. However, it should be emphasized that the drama took creative license and is far from the real historical events in the later period of Joseon Dynasty.
And so, the curious cat in me wanted to know what the real drama surrounding King Cheoljong and how influential the Andong Kim Clan was. My curiosity led me back to the Joseon Caste System. Before zeroing into the clan itself, let’s have a briefer of the ruling social strata at that time:
The Andong Kim Clan is part of the highest social class in the Joseon Dynasty – the Yangban. The term literally means two branches/groups. This is because Yangban is consists of two groups the munban or the civil officials (Confucian scholars) and muban or the military officials. Members of Yangban clans enjoy many privileges such as landholding, exemption from military duties, and power to tax.
The majority of government officials – including the higher posts in the Palace – are from the long-established Yangban Families with longer histories and prestige than the ruling Yi family. They are in the view that it is their duty to guide and counsel how Joseon Kings rule. They even constrain the king’s authority in order to preserve the Yangban class interest (Ebrey & Walthall, 2013, p. 250-251).
Fun fact: There are celebrities who are rumored that their ancestors are from Yangban Families. Some sources say BTS’ Suga is from Yeoheung Min Clan, the same clan which Queen Inhyeon belonged to, while SNSD’s Sunny is from Jeonju Lee clan, the clan which Grand Prince Hyoryeong – the elder brother of King Se-jong – came from.
The Andong Kim Clan
The Andong Kim Clan originated from the Noron Faction (Andong, North Gyeongsang Province). They rose into power through their renowned member Kim Jo-sun. He started the “sedo politics” which “referred to a situation where the queen’s family members wielded real political power in the stead of the king. The king was a puppet king in such a case.” He held important government posts such as Minister of Justice. His daughter (later known as Queen Sunwon) was selected as the Crown Princess to then Crown Prince Yi Gong, who later ascended into power as King Sunjo. He employed the members of the Andong Kim Clan in key government posts and appointed some of his associates in supporting positions in order to build the political power of the clan (Kang, 2003, p. 420).
The Andong Kim Clan vs Pungyang Jo Clan
Pungyang Jo Clan is the known rival of the Andong Kim Clan. Queen Shinjeong is the daughter of Jo Man-yeong of the Pungyang Jo Clan. She was the wife of Crown Prince Hyomyeong, who passed away before ascending to the throne. Their son Yi Hwan then became King Heonjong at the age of seven-years-old and his grandmother, Grand Queen Dowager Sunwon, served as Queen Regent. Queen Jo’s son, King Heonjong, died at age twenty-one-years old. Grand Queen Dowager Sunwon was able to use her influence in the selection of the new king since King Heong-jong doesn’t have any heirs. The throne was passed to a distant descendant of King Yeongjo – Yi Won-beom, later known as King Cheol-jong. Cheoljong was nineteen-years-old when he ascended the throne and Dowager Kim was declared regent. (Palais, 2020, p. 393).
As Seen In K-Drama
As said earlier, Queen Cheorin’s characters were loosely based on the events surrounding the reign of King Cheol-jong. The relationships of the characters are almost the same. However, the rest of the story – including Cheol-jong’s plan against the Yangban rule – is created for the show alone. It was nice though that the fictional story tickled my mind as an audience and led me to read more about this part of Korea’s history – which is something most sageuk do.