King Jeongjo (28 October 1752 – 18 August 1800) was the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (r. 1776-1800). He made various attempts to reform and improve the nation of Korea. He was preceded by his grandfather King Yeongjo (r. 1724–1776) and succeeded by his son King Sunjo (r. 1800–1834).
Some say Jeongjo is one of the most successful and visionary rulers of the Joseon Dynasty[who?]. But it is also pointed out that he was overestimated[where?].
Born as Yi San, he was the son of Crown Prince Sado (who was put to death by his own father, King Yeongjo) and Lady Hyegyeong (who wrote an autobiography, The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong detailing her life as the ill-fated Crown Princess of Korea). Lady Hyegyeong's collection of memoirs serves as a significant source of historical information on the political happenings during the reigns of King Yeongjo (her father-in-law), King Jeongjo (her son), and King Sunjo (her grandson).
When he was the Crown Prince, King Jeongjo met Hong Guk-yeong (홍국영, 洪國榮), a controversial politician who first strongly supported Jeongjo's accession and toiled to improve the king's power, but ended up being expelled because of his desire for power.
The era before his rule was in disorder as his father was killed by royal decree of his own father, King Jeongjo's grandfather. King Yeongjo's ultimate decision to execute Crown Prince Sado was greatly influenced by other politicians who were against the Crown Prince. After King Yeongjo's death and on the day that Jeongjo became the King of Joseon, he sat on his throne in the throne room and looked at everyone and said, "I am the son of the late Crown Prince Sado..." This was a bold statement that sent shivers down the spines of all the politicians who were complicit in his father's death.
During his accession, he also issued a royal decree that his mother, Lady Hyegyeong, be a Dowager Queen since his father, her husband, was supposed to be the King before him. Thus, she became the Queen Dowager, the widow of Crown Prince Sado. From then on, King Jeongjo experienced many turbulent periods, but overcame them with the aid of Hong Guk-yeong.
King Jeongjo led the new renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty, but was initially stopped by continuing the policy of Yeongjo's Tangpyeong rule. He tried to control the politics of the whole nation to advance and further national progress.
He made various reforms throughout his reign, notably establishing Kyujanggak (규장각), a royal library. The primary purpose of Kyujanggak was to improve the cultural and political stance of Joseon and to recruit gifted officers to help run the nation. Jeongjo also spearheaded bold new social initiatives, including opening government positions to those who were previously barred because of their social status.
King Jeongjo was known as an innovative person despite his high political status in Joseon. In 1800, he died suddenly under mysterious circumstances at the age of 48, without seeing his lifelong wishes that were later realized by his son, Sunjo. There are many books regarding the mysterious death of Jeongjo, and speculation as to the cause of his death continues even today.
Played by Kim Yong-gun in 500 Years of Joseon Dynasty: Pa Mun – a 1989 TV series.
Played by Jung Jae-gon in Hong Guk-yeong – a 2001 TV series about Hong Guk-yeong, Jeongjo's right hand.
Played by Lee Seo-jin in Yi San – a 2007 TV series concerned primarily with Jeongjo's life story and a fictionalized account of his relationship with the Lady Ui.
Played by Ahn Nae-sang in Conspiracy in the Court (also known as Seoul's Sad Song) – a 2007 TV series that evolves from a mystery thriller into a court intrigue surrounding the king and his conservative ministers.
^Daughter of Kim Si-muk (김시묵) and Lady Hong of the Namyang Hong clan
^Daughter of Hong Nak-chun (홍낙춘) and younger sister of Hong Guk-yeong (홍국영). She became Noble Royal Consort 1778, but she died suddenly a year after receiving the title.
^Son of Jeongjo's half-brother, Prince Euneon. After the banishing and death of Hong Guk-yeong, he was also banished for treason and committed suicide by poison.
^Daughter of Yun Chang-yun (윤창윤). She became Noble Royal Consort in 1781; conceived, but the child was stillborn.
^Daughter of Seong Yun-u (성윤우) and Lady Im. She did not receive the title Noble Royal Consort until her son became Grand Prince in 1782. She died suddenly in 1786 (most likely from liver cancer), just months after the death of her son.