|Korean scholars -at a much later date of course|
Unfortunately, divisions began to arise in the kingdom in the persons of two high officials; Sim Ui-gyeom and Kim Hyowon. Sim was the conservative of the two and Kim the liberal and each gathered their own factions of supporters. Since those supporting Sim lived on the west side of Seoul and those of Kim on the east side, they became known as the eastern and western factions. King Seonjo himself struggled over favoring one side or the other. It was the beginning of a long-running feud that would eventually prove disastrous for the country. Early on, King Seonjo supported the conservative, western faction of Sim who was related to the Queen and had many supporters amongst the aristocracy. However, their slowness to embrace or even opposition to some of the reforms favored by the King gave Kim and the eastern faction a chance to rise to the top and the King moved to their side. This made enacting the reforms easier but, after a period in power, they began to have second thoughts and soon split into two sub-factions. Matters were further complicated when one of those sub-factions split into two even more radical factions of their own. Obviously, this was devastating for the smooth operation of government and became a major source of weakness for Korea.
King Seonjo had to take a chance and he happened to choose incorrectly. The southern threat was the more serious with a major offensive by Japanese forces led by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, known to later westerners as the “Napoleon of Japan”. King Seonjo was also crippled by the factionalism at court. Those who supported concentrating on the northern front downplayed the Japanese threat while their political enemies did the same regarding the Manchurians. Fortunately for the King, whether he knew it or not, he had a winning commander in the naval genius Admiral Yi Sun-sin; known by later generations as the “Nelson of Korea” to confront the “Japanese Napoleon”. However, it was a long and painful process. Following the Japanese invasion of the south there were a string of victories for Japan. King Seonjo tried several commanders who were each defeated as the Japanese pushed north, taking Seoul and Pyongyang where the King and court had relocated to when Seoul became imperiled. Between the Korean withdrawal and the arrival of the Japanese much of Seoul, including the palace, was looted and a great deal was lost. However, the tide began to turn as Admiral Yi Sun-sin devastated the Japanese supply lines, making use of his brilliantly innovative “Turtle Ships” which were forerunners of the armored warships with diverse weaponry of later centuries. Finally, after a stunning victory for Korea at the battle of Hangju the Japanese agreed to talk peace.
|One of the famous, formidable "Turtle Ships"|