Examined in this article are the political activities and roles played by Dowager Queen In’weon Kim[仁元王后, b.1687~d.1757], Queen Seon’eui Eo[宣懿王后, b.1705~d.1730], and Royal concubine Yeongbin Kim[寧嬪, b.1669~d.1735], during the reign of King Gyeongjong(景宗, r.1720~1724), which witnessed its share of political incidents.
During the lifetimes of these females there were several political purges, which broke out in 1721(the Shinchuk/辛丑 year) and 1722(the Im’in/壬寅 year). These two incidents are oftentimes referred to collectively as the Purges of the Shin & Im Years(“Shin’im Oksa, 辛壬獄事”). It was as a whole a political incident of an unforeseen magnitude that involved a controversy regarding the succession line of the Joseon royal family, fueled by a long overdue conflict from the Noron and Soron party members’ years of clashing with each other over potential successors for the Joseon throne.
Female members of the Joseon royal family during King Gyeongjong’s reign acted differently from each other, and displayed political choices of their own according to their respective interests and situations. For example, in a rather murky political environment, Queens In’weon and Seon’eui, who both had no sons to claim themselves as heirs(後嗣) to Gyeongjong, chose to side with political factions other than their own, and tried to establish a leading position for themselves in the issue of deciding the next one in line for the Joseon throne. Dowager Queen In’weon was from the Soron faction, but she actively supported the Noron faction’s plan to establish the King’s younger brother as successor to the throne and have the Dowager Queen supervise the government’s operations. Her pro-Noron actions at the time seems to have been due to her intentions to uphold her late husband King Sukjong(肅宗, r.1674-1720)’s notion of ‘Samjong Hyeolmaek(三宗血脈).’ Reversely, Queen Seon’eui from the Noron faction did not share the faction’s political stance, and intended to preserve her husband King Gyeongjong’s line, by adopting a male child from within the royal family.
In the meantime, Royal concubine Yeongbin Kim decided to go with her family’s Noron position, and befriended Dowager Queen In’weon, while volunteering herself as an emissary between Dowager Queen In’weon, Prince Yeon’ing(延礽君, later King Yeongjo, r.1724-1776), and the Noron faction. Her alliance with Queen In’weon and her actions behind the curtain was intended to help ensure the safety of her adopted son Prince Yeon’ing and herself, and ultimately support Yeon’ing on his way to the throne.
The efforts of these three females all turned out to be relatively successful, at least at some point. Dowager Queen In’weon managed to name Prince Yeon’ing as the Royal brother of the King[王世弟] and Successor of the throne, shielding herself and others from any political retribution of the Soron faction which had been arguing to guard King Gyeongjong. On the other hand, Queen Seon’eui was able to thwart the planned supervision of the government by Prince Yeon’ing, and inflicted a striking blow to the Noron faction, temporarily dismantling its regime. But before long, King Gyeongjong unexpectedly died at a very young age, and as Queen In’weon and Concubine Kim wanted, Prince Yeon’ing was enthroned while the Noron regime was restored.