What is it about queens and princesses that still somehow capture even grown-up women’s hearts in this day and age? It’s no surprise that we see pictures of a blissfully pregnant Kate Middleton currently gracing the cover of every celebrity-focused publication. Gossip magazines have been speculating on the name and the possibility of twins from day 1 of her pregnancy announcement. Even the BBC devoted quite a bit of time discussing the royal succession bill that allows the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to become a monarch, regardless of the gender.
With all this interest and admiration smothering this future queen of England, I couldn’t help thinking dolefully about another princess from a different era with a very different life – one whose life was marred by the burden of the tragedy of a colonized Korea. Princess Deokhye (덕혜) (1912∼1989) was the last princess of the Joseon Dynasty – Korea’s last dynasty. The tragedy of the forced annexation of Korea to Japan that took place just before her birth became the root of her own tragic personal life.
She was born to King Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty and the first emperor of the Korean Empire, on May 25, 1912. In 1925, She was taken to Japan at a young age against both her and her father’s wishes under the pretense of continuing her studies. Upon the news of her mother’s death in 1929, she isolated herself in her room and was eventually given permission to visit Korea temporarily to attend her mother’s funeral in 1930.
In May 1931, she was forced to marry Count Sō Takeyuki, (1923-1985) a Japanese nobleman, despite her family’s protests. She gave birth to a daughter, Masae, in 1932, the same year she was also afflicted with mental illness. She continued to spend many years in various mental clinics and suffered through an unhappy marriage which finally resulted in divorce in 1953. Added to her suffering was the loss of her daughter who committed suicide by drowning in 1955. She finally returned to Korea at the invitation of the Korean government in 1962. Despite her mental state, she was said to be extremely emotional upon seeing her motherland and accurately remembered the court manners. She lived in isolation in Nakseon Hall, Changdeok Palace until her death in 1989.
More than 20 years after Princess Deok-hye’s death, her life, once forgotten from history books, is making a comeback in the form of a special exhibition that opened December 11 at the National Palace Museum of Korea to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birthday.
A collection of items owned by Princess Deokhye and currently in the possession of the Japanese Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum and the Kyushu National Museum will be on display in Korea for the first time. If traveling to Korea to see the exhibit is not an option, you can treat yourself to selective photos online here.
Note: Wikipedia was the primary resource for the historical information provided above.