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Korea's Own Famous Royalty: Queen Seondeok

Korea was once ruled by a monarchy.

A few days ago, the entire world focused on one spot: the royal wedding in the United Kingdom.  Why did people get so excited about that event?  I think most people have sweet dreams about kings, queens, princes and princesses. Until the Chosun Dynasty of the early 1900s, Korea was a country with a royal family. Korea even had queens as rulers.

Many Koreans would not hesitate to pick the Silla Dynasty’s Queen Seondeok (?–647) as the most famous queen in Korea’s history. The Silla Dynasty was ruled by a royal family that passed its crown through a lineage of pure royal blood. It was before Confucianism had been adopted, so women were not considered to be weak at that time. That is why the Silla Dynasty could have a queen.

Before Queen Seondeok, the royal family’s throne succession in the Silla Dynasty was from son to son. King Jinpyeong, who was the 26th Silla ruler, had no son but had three daughters. Because the successor had to have pure royal family blood, King Jinpyeong handed the crown to Seondeok, his second daughter. Queen Seondeok became the first ruling queen of Korea as the 27th ruler of the Silla Dynasty. 

Queen Seondeok’s childhood name was Dukman.  The name’s literal meaning is virtue and lovely. The literal meaning of Seondeok is nice and virtue.  As the names suggest, she was very bright and nice in reality. 

Many fairytales are told which demonstrate her brightness and her character.  One of the fairytales is of a Tang Dynasty’s king sending her a folding screen with a flower painted on it. He asked her, as a test, to describe the scent of the flower on the folding screen.  Queen Seondeok answered that the flower had no scent because no butterflies were in the folding screen.

Queen Seondeok had many great achievements. She focused on the stabilization of the people’s livelihood.  The Cheomseongdae is one example.  This is the oldest observatory in East Asia and it was used for observing the stars in order to forecast the weather to help the farmers and agriculture.  She also encouraged Buddhism, and had many temples and towers built, such as the nine-story tower at Temple Hwangryongsa.

Some people criticized Queen Seondeok for her goal-oriented leadership. However, many Koreans pay tribute to Queen Seondeok, who was destined to lead her country and did it with honor and courage.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the end of Korea's monarchy. The country was ruled by a royal family until the early 1900s. Rosemont Patch regrets the error.

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