Here’s my list of the Top 5 Most Badass Women of Korea’s Three Kingdom Period as seen in sageuks. Let me preface this list by saying that this list includes only REAL WOMEN whose lives were recorded in at least one of the generally accepted reference sources. I will gladly add to this list – fell free to add them in the comment section, but please provide sources to back up any claims.
1. Soseono 소서노 召西奴 (67 BC – 6 BC)
Soseono was a key player in the founding of both Goguryeo and Baekje and is the only person in Korean history, male or female, the play such a key role for two different dynasties. It’s unclear exactly when, but according to the Samguk Sagi and Annals of Baekje, Soseono was born as daughter of Yeontabal (연타발), the chief of the Keru tribe, which was one of the five tribes of Jolbon Buyeo(졸본부여). She married Wutae(우태), the grandson of King Haeburu(해부루) of Northern Buyeo, and gave birth to two sons, Biryu(비류) and Onjo(온조). Soseono’s husband died early, but she remained in Jolbon with her sons since that’s where she had financial and political clout. She then married Jumong and as any badass mamma would insist on, she made her sons part of the package. With her power base firmly planted, she helped Jumong capture Goguryeo and became his Queen and her sons became Princes.
Although Soseono was the Queen, Biyru and Onjoe were the Princes, there was always the lingering problem is that Jumong had a son from his own bloodline, Prince Yuri who was from a previous wife. After the death of Jumong in 19 BC, rather than dealing with all the drama and possible bloodshed of succession, Soseono bolted out of Goguryeo with her two sons and headed south. They set up shop near the Han River in Hanam Wiryeseong (하남위례성) which is believed to been located around present day Seoul. By the time of her death at the ripe old age of 61 in 6 BC, Soseono would see the area she had settled in with her ragtag team of followers become the full fledged Kingdom of Baekje with her son Onjo as its first king.
You can find Soseono portrayed in the following dramas: Jumong, where she is one of the main characters. You can also find her character in the early part of King Geunchogo, She’s also mentioned a lot throughout the drama.
2. Queen Seondeok (alt spelling: Seon Duk) 선덕왕 善德王 (? – 647 AD)
Queen Seondeok (Reign: 632–647) was the first female ruler of not only Silla, but any of the Korean dynasties and the second female ruler in the history of East Asia (for you history buffs out there, the first was was Queen Suiko (推古) in 592 in the state of Wa 倭 (Japan) which was a minor player within East Asia at the time). According to the Tang historical records and the Samguk Sagi, it was Queen Seondeok’s accession to the throne that caused a huge sensation and sent shock waves throughout the entire Asian continent.
Her given name was Dukman 덕만 and she was the one of King Jinpyeong’s (진평왕) three daughters, some records say she was the first daughter while others say she was the second. Princess Dukman was highly admired for her sharp intellect and quick wit. The two circumstances that made it possible for her to become queen was because firstly, King Jinpyeong was unable to produce a legitimate heir, despite booting the first queen out and bringing in a second queen. Secondly and most important, was because of Silla’s strict Bone Rank System (골품제도), which required someone to have pure “Sunggol” blood (Sacred Bone rank), in order to inherit the throne. At the time of King Jinpyeong’s death, there were no qualified Sunggol males available to inherit the throne.
When she became Queen in 632, she was bullied and pushed around from all sides, both internally and externally. Goguryeo, Baekje, and Tang in China all thought there was no way a feeble woman could rule. They each tried to attack at various times in hopes of getting a piece of Silla for themselves. Unfortunately, they all severely underestimated her! She used her quick wit to play them against one another and laid the foundation for the collapse of both Goguryeo and Baekje creating a unified Silla.
During Seondeok’s 14 years as queen, literature, culture, art and Buddhism flourished within Silla. She not only paved the way for other queens within Silla, but paved the way for Empress Wu, the first female ever to rule China in its 4,000 year feudal history and a fellow badass mamma.
You can find her as the main character in the drama Queen Seondeok, which I would describe as more of a “fictional” account of her life. She is one of the leading characters in The Great King’s Dream which is a more historically accurate account of Queen Seondeok, than the drama named after her.
3. Queen Heo Hwang-ok 허황옥 許黃玉 (33 AD – 189 AD)
Heo Hwang Ok was the wife of Kim Soo Ro 김수로, the first king of Gaya 가야. We know her birth year because according to historical chronicles, she married Kim Soo Ro in 48 AD when she arrived from her native India at 16 years old. According to the Samguk Yusa, she arrived on a boat and married Kim Soo Ro from from the ancient Indian city/state of Ayuta (야유타국), present day city of Ayodhya (아요디아 / अयोध्या) where she was a princess. More about where she was from in just a bit.
King Soo Ro and Queen Hwang Ok had a total of 10 children are the founding parents of both the Gim hae branch of the surname Kim (김해 김 씨) and the Heo (허 씨) family lines. For more explanation about this, click on to the Kim Soo Ro drama page.
Although it is generally accepted she was from the Indian city/state of Ayuta, there is now some debate amongst scholars as to whether she was in fact from Ayutthaya of Thailand 아유타국 instead. On one hand this would seem to make a bit more sense from a general location standpoint, but the major flaw is that the time period of Thailand completely doesn’t add up. The Ayutthaya Kingdom of Thailand did not exist until 1351 AD, which is even after the Samguk Yusa was written in 1281. However, It’s not impossible to imagine later versions of the Samguk Yusa to reference current names of places rather than the former names. Until further evidence is shown on the contrary, both the North and South Korean governments as well as the India all seem to accept that Queen Hwang Oak was from India and have sent diplomats to India for commemoration ceremonies.
Regardless of whether she came from Thailand or India, she came a heck of long way! For a young teenage girl to make the long and rough voyage over, to settle in a far and strange land and to marry someone she had never met HAD TO have been not only daunting, but downright scary! She had to have been pretty amazing to capture the love of a foreign king who was a stranger to her. Today, 2000 years later, nearly 4 Million Koreans can trace their ancestry back this young princess. That’s pretty badass in my book!
You can find Queen Hwang Ok in the following drama: Kim Soo Ro
4. Princess SunHwa 선화공주 善化公主 (Between Late 500’s – Early 600’s AD)
Princess Sunhwa was princess of Silla and Queen of Baekje. According to the Samguk Yusa, her beauty was known throughout the land. Prince Seodong of Baekje had his eyes set on her and he was intent on getting her! In order to do so, he spread a song in order to perpetuate a rumor about their nightly secret rendezvous. The nasty rumors made it’s way to her father, King Jinpyeong of Silla. It caused such a scandal that not only did he throw her out of the royal house, he threw her out Silla altogether! Prince Seodong’s plan worked and he was able to be together with her. They married and he eventually became King Mu. She became Queen of Beakje sometime around 600 AD.
Talk about a “who’s who” of her day, Princess Sunhwa was:
- Wife of King Mu of Baekje무왕의 부인
- Mother of King Uija of Beakje 의자왕의 어머니
- Daughter of King Jinpyeong of Silla 신라 진평왕의
- Sister (동생) of Queen Seon Duk
- Aunt (이모) of King Taejong Muyeol the Great/ Kim Chun Chu
- Aunt-in-Law of Queen Moon Myung 문명왕후, younger sister of Kim Yushin 김요신
In the year 602, King Mu built a buddhist temple named Mireuksa 미륵사 for her. The Mireuka was the largest temple ever built in Baekje and a living testament to his love for her. Today the stone pagoda stands as the largest and oldest stone pagoda that still survives today.
5. VIEWER’S CHOICE!!
Post your comments here to cast your vote on which other badass mamma should be included in this list.
Must be a person who actually existed during any point of the Three Kingdom (will also accept Balhae or Unified Silla) Please provide source material(s) to determine historical accuracy.
Can’t wait to see who we add!