Weddings: Korean Ways to Tie the Knot SPECIAL FEATURE 2

Royal Weddings of the Joseon Dynasty Seen through Uigwe Documents

This uiqwe has been returned to Korea in accordance with an agreement signed by the governments of Korea and France on February 7, 2011, and a subsequent agreement between the National Museum of Korea and the National Library of France.

A vast collection of the official records of major ceremonies and rites held by the royal family of Joseon (1392–1910), the last Korean monarchy, the uigwe are highly valued for the exquisite quality of their textual and graphic descriptions. The impressive palace documents offer up-close glimpses of royal weddings, which influenced the wedding customs of people across all classes.

Twenty official records of royal weddings of the Joseon Dynasty are handed down to provide amazingly detailed information about their elaborate procedures. Dated to the early 17th to the early 20th centuries, these books, called uigwe, document in text and illustrations the wedding rites of members of the Joseon royal family that took place between 1627 and 1906.
A state founded under the principles of Neo-Confucianism, Joseon conducted all its important rites according to the rules stipulated in the “Five Rites of the State” (Gukjo orye ui) compiled in 1474. The “five rites” refer to ancestral worship rites (gillye), royal weddings and other celebratory rites (garye), military rites (gunrye), the reception of foreign envoys (binrye), and funeral rites (hyungrye). According to the chapter on royal weddings, when the court decides on such an event, the first step is to choose the bride-to-be through a meticulous three-stage selection process called gantaek. The names of eligible girls from reputable scholar-official families are submitted along with the names and official titles of their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers. The names and official titles of their maternal lineage up to their grandfather are also submitted.

Three-stage Selection of the Bride
The girl who is finally selected is considered a royal from that moment onward and does not return to her parents’ home. Instead, she is taken to a residence called byeolgung, or a detached palace, where she is to stay until the wedding day, receiving instructions on the etiquette, manners, and lifestyle of the palace. For practical reasons, a private home was considered inadequate for the series of ceremonial events leading to the royal wedding.
The six ceremonial events known as the “six rites” (yungnye) include the royal proposal (napchae), the acceptance of the proposal (napjing), the announcement of the wedding date (gogi), the investiture of the queen or the crown princess (chaekbi or chaekbin), the royal groom’s visit to the detached palace to meet the bride and bring her to the palace (chinyeong), and the formal wedding ceremony (dongroe-yeon). While the final ceremony took place at the royal palace, the first five rites were usually performed at the detached palace.
Two different royal weddings can be compared through their uigwe documents: the wedding of Crown Prince Sohyeon and Crown Princess Kang in 1627 and the wedding of King Yeongjo and Queen Jeongsun in 1759.
The “Uigwe of the Wedding of Crown Prince Sohyeon” consists of one volume ending with a painting of the wedding procession spread over eight pages. Sin Heum (1566–1658), the Minister of the Left, or the second state councilor, was appointed the superintendent of Garye Dogam, the temporary office established to supervise all royal wedding procedures. On this occasion, the birthplace of Prince Sohyeon’s younger brother served as the bride’s residence. The first four of the six rites were performed there and the groom’s visit to the bride and the final wedding ceremony took place at Taepyeonggwan (Hall of Great Peace), normally a guesthouse for Chinese envoys.
According to the uigwe document, the first round of the royal bride selection process took place on the 25th day of the 6th month. The proposal was made on the 28th day of the 10th month, the acceptance about one month later on the 20th day of the 11th month, and the wedding date was announced the following day, on the 21st day of the 11th month. The appointment of the crown princess took place on the 4th day of the 12th month and the groom’s visit to the detached palace on the 27th day of the same month. However, instead of going to his bride’s residence, Crown Prince Sohyeon went directly to Taepyeonggwan and waited for her there. The bride arrived in her palanquin accompanied by her honor guards.
Being the wedding of a crown prince, there was one more rite to be performed on the day of the fifth rite, before setting out to meet the bride. The crown prince appeared before the king and his courtiers in front of the throne hall at the palace. The king ordered his son, “Go and meet the bride and command that she duly succeed the affairs of the Royal Ancestral Shrine and manage the subordinates with authority.” The crown prince replied, saying, “Your subject will follow the command with utmost respect.” He then bowed four times to the king.

The crown prince appeared before the king and his courtiers in front of the throne hall in the main palace. The king ordered his son, “Go and meet the bride and command that she duly succeed the affairs of the Royal Ancestral Shrine and manage the subordinates with authority.”

The Six Rites
In the process of the six rites, the royal family sends a wedding goose as a gift to the bride’s detached palace twice: first, at the time of the proposal and once again when the groom visits the detached palace. Both times it is a single live goose (saeng-an), not a couple of wooden geese, as commonly known today. Koreans adopted the goose as a symbol of marital fidelity because they believed that the bird remains faithful to its mate until death. Since the goose was live, it had to be tied around the neck and was enfolded in a wrapping cloth specially made for the occasion. The second time, the bearer of the goose proceeds on horseback ahead of the prince’s palanquin and hands the bird to the prince upon his arrival. The prince then places the bird on the ceremonial table for the rite of presenting the goose to the bride (jeonanrye). The royal couple then heads to the wedding venue after exchanging a cup of wine.

In this painting of the royal bride's wedding procession from the “Uigwe of the Wedding of Crown Prince Sohyeon,” the bride's palanquin is escorted by two men in front carrying blue lanterns and another carrying a blue umbrella, and palace attendants on each side as well as senior court ladies, wearing veils, on horseback and other palace staff. Jangseogak Archives, Academy of Korean Studies.

All stages of the wedding preparations were recorded from the sixth month of 1627 to the first month of 1628. The records detail the acquisition of the goods and materials for all stages, specifying regulations pertaining to the costumes of all participants, and a list of gifts to be sent to the bride’s house. The royal wedding office had three divisions for the execution of these matters. The first division was responsible for the document for the investiture of the crown princess and her special costumes; the second division for providing the flags and ceremonial weapons for the procession of the honor guards, the interior and exterior decoration of the event halls, boxes for ritual items, and all the folding-screen paintings including those for the detached palace; and the third division for production of the bamboo book containing the king’s instructions for the crown princess and supply of all utensils.
The eight-page painting of the procession by rank (banchado) is the briefest of all extant paintings of the kind contained in records of royal weddings. As the groom went to meet his bride at Taepyeonggwan instead of the detached palace, the painting depicts only the bride’s palanquin. Escorted by female palace attendants, her palanquin is preceded by four smaller palanquins carrying various ritual objects, including the royal letter of appointment, the seal of the crown princess, her investiture book made of bamboo, and formal costumes. The painting of King Yeongjo’s second wedding procession in 1759 was the first to depict both the king’s and the queen’s palanquins.
King Yeongjo’s first queen, Queen Jeongseong (1692–1757), passed away without producing a male heir to the throne. For his second queen, the court selected the daughter of Kim Han-gu, a young scholar without any official position. At that time, Yeongjo was 66 years old while the bride was 15.

The Sexagenarian King’s Second Marriage
Their wedding was the first since the publication of the “Sequel to the Five Rites of the State” in 1744, and the “Exemplar Regulations of Royal Weddings” (Gukhon jeongrye) in 1749, in which the quantity of wedding costumes and gifts was curtailed in keeping with Yeongjo’s policies emphasizing frugality. Another important difference is that the king went to meet his bride at the detached palace and they went to the palace together in the same procession. Therefore, the painting of their wedding procession depicts both of their palanquins escorted by their respective honor guards. All later paintings of royal wedding processions followed this composition.
Sin Man (1703–1765), first state councilor, was appointed to supervise the royal wedding office. The selection of the bride was conducted from the 2nd day to the 9th day of the 6th month and all the six rites were performed from the 13th day to the 22nd day of the same month.
The uigwe of this royal wedding, the first of its kind produced in two volumes, has no mention of folding-screen paintings newly made for the occasion. Presumably, the king ordered the existing screens to be repaired and reused. Likewise, he ordered the reuse of existing jade figurines and that all the gold accessories on ceremonial costumes be made of gilded metal. But the pair of ritual wine cups for the bride and groom was made of gold.
Yet, the painting of King Yeongjo’s wedding procession is among the most sumptuous of its kind known today.

The Crossed Dragons Banner, called gyoryonggi, was among the most important ceremonial implements in the royal procession. Silk, 396.2 x 341.6 cm. National Palace Museum of Korea.

It spreads over 50 pages with the first half devoted to the king's section of the procession and the second half to the queen's. Carried by 18 men, the king’s palanquin is wide open on all four sides, though the king himself is not depicted. Out of reverence to the throne, the king’s image was never represented in any form except in official portraits throughout the Joseon period.
The queen’s section begins with guards and objects for the wedding ceremony, followed by four small palanquins carrying the royal letter of appointment, the jade book, gold seal, and official costumes, all to be given to the new queen, guided by mounted sanggung, or senior court ladies. They are followed by more female palace staff, some on foot and others on horseback, all with their faces properly veiled. Additional female staff, including female physicians, follow the queen’s palanquin which, unlike the king’s, is closed and veiled with red drapes adorned with hexagonal patterns in green lines.

The king’s procession as depicted in the “Uigwe of the Wedding of King Yeongjo and Queen Jeongsun.” Though the king’s palanquin is open on all four sides, the king himself is not depicted. Ahead of the event, the office in charge of the royal wedding produced a painting of the procession and presented it to the king for inspection.

Spectacular Wedding Procession
This grand wedding procession went along the broad street starting from the bride’s detached palace, located in today’s Sajikdong on the northwestern side of Gyeongbok Palace, toward Changgyeong Palace, over approximately 3.6 kilometers. The king was sufficiently exposed to the people along the way.
Held about 150 years apart, the two royal weddings of the Joseon Dynasty recorded in the uigwe show some changes in formality whereas in other ways the practices remained almost the same. In both weddings, the order of six rites remains mostly unchanged, except that the king went to meet his bride in person at her detached palace and take her to his palace for the wedding ceremony. In earlier days, the royal groom did not make the trip himself but waited for the bride at the palace. Maybe King Yeongjo’s personal proclivities as well as his imposing personality led him to decide on how the rites were to be conducted.

Details of the painting of the royal procession from the “Uigwe of the Wedding of King Yeongjo and Queen Jeongsun.” The procession includes foot soldiers carrying a variety of flags and ceremonial weapons (top), the cavalry carrying bow and arrow cases (bottom left), and mounted female palace staff wearing veils and female physicians (bottom right). For copies other than that for the king’s perusal, woodblocks were carved for the parts of the painting that are repeated, stamped as many times as needed, and colored later.

Yi Song-mi Professor Emerita of Art History, Academy of Korean Studies
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