Monday, August 6, 2012
Monarch Profile: Emperor Hiep Hoa of Viet-Nam
This, the effort to fend of France while struggling internally for power, was the cause of the rapid turnover in the imperial succession. After the death of Emperor Tu Duc the throne had gone to Nguyen Duc-Duc but he reigned for only three days, not long enough to even be given reign-name. To replace Duc-Duc (who would soon be murdered) the powerful regents Nguyen Van Tuong and Ton That Thuyet (Tran Tien Thanh being the less ambitious third), after a great deal of fretting and threats and arguments, decided to enthrone the 37-year-old cousin of the “3-Day King” and son of Thieu Tri. Prince Ung Thang was an upright man, not ambitious but very proud. He knew, as most at court did, of the dubious reputation of the regents and he had seen what sad fate had befallen his cousin Nguyen Duc-Duc. The Prince wanted nothing to do with the regents and their plots and schemes and the regents were not extremely enthusiastic about him either. However, the prince was finally persuaded to accept the throne by the very astute and very powerful Grand Empress Dowager Tu Du. She was the second wife of Emperor Thieu-Thri, mother of Emperor Tu Duc and the woman about whom it was said that she only had to lift her little finger and the whole world would tremble. So, with that, no matter how much the regents wanted to get rid of him and no matter how reluctant he was, the Prince took the reign-name of Hiep Hoa and was formally enthrone as the Son of Heaven and Emperor of the Great South on July 30, 1883.
Many of the mandarins at court were outraged by this and, even though they had done nothing to save the situation, blamed the Emperor for giving in to the French, totally ignoring the fact that the Emperor had little choice in the matter. But the blame was placed on him, particularly by the two most ambitious regents who portrayed themselves as the champions of national independence and the Emperor as the man who had given in to the “foreign devils”. They ignored their own inactivity, even ignored the French for the time being, and placed all responsibility on the Emperor. The regent Ton That Thuyet (who had brought down Emperor Duc-Duc) had sufficient power at court and audacity to insult Emperor Hiep Hoa to his face, in front of the entire court. When Hiep Hoa tried to assert his authority, the regent refused to kowtow to him, a shocking breach of protocol and defiance of imperial authority. This was serious and fearing (rightly so) for his life, Hiep Hoa had no one to turn to but the French protectorate for help. He had signed the treaty with the French and so now called on them to save him from the power-hungry regents. Unfortunately for the Emperor, Ton That Thuyet found out about his secret diplomatic dealings and on November 28, 1883 had the Emperor, Son of Heaven himself, arrested and confined.