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
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
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
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
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.