Dong Yi, Concubine Ranks in the Joseon Period

In the latest episode of Dong Yi, the concubine Jang Hee Bin has finally fulfilled her ambition and become Queen. During King Sukjong’s reign, concubines that made the top rank (Bin) could then move up to become Queen (Bi) if the King so desired. Historically though, due to rumours about Jang Hee Bin’s role in the death of the Queen Mother, King Sukjong later demoted her back to Hee Bin and passed a law that no concubine could become Queen. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the drama, but he is already suspicious of her.

Lady Jang becomes Jang Sook-won, episode 17 Dong Yi, MBC

So I wanted to find out how many ranks there were for concubines during the Joseon period and according to the information I found  here , there were 18 levels altogether for the concubines and special court ladies. But the top 4 ranks were for the concubines and each rank had two levels so there were 8 levels altogether really (정 正 was the higher of the two levels and 종 從 was the lower level of the two but I’m interpreting them as 1A and 1B and so on..)

At the top at number 1 was the title Bin. The second top title was Kui-in.

Rank 1 Bin 정1품 빈 嬪 Royal Noble Consort

In Episode 17 of Dong Yi we find Lady Jang has moved up into the top concubine position after giving birth to the King’s son. She has a new name and title Jang Hee Bin. She is now second only to the Queen.

According to history, Dong Yi also became the royal noble consort with the title Suk Bin after she gave birth to the King’s son and the future King Yeongjo. Throughout his reign King Sukjong had seven concubines and three royal noble consorts: Hee Bin 희빈, Suk Bin 숙빈, Myeong Bin 명빈

rank

romanization

hangul

hanja

Rank 1A 1

Bin

Rank 1B 1

Gui-in

귀인

貴人

Rank 2A 2

So-ui

소의

昭儀

Rank 2B 2

Sook-ui

숙의

淑儀

Rank 3A 3

So-yeong

소용

昭容

Rank 3B 3

Sook-yeong

숙용

淑容

Rank 4A 4

So-won

소원

昭媛

Rank 4B 4

Sook-won

숙원

淑媛

Queen Inhyeon (Park Ha-sun) takes part in the ceremony to accept Lady Jang as a concubine, Dong Yi, MBC

Jang Ok-jong entered the palace when she was young and as a court lady got the King’s attention. At the beginning of the drama she is a court lady, Jang sang gung 상궁. But  when  she becomes pregnant with the King’s child we see her promoted to a rank 4 concubine, Sook-won. (and addressed as Sook-won ma ma). There is a lavish ceremony and everyone involved has very big hair. The Queen participates in the ceremony too, accepting her as the King’s number one concubine although the Queen Mother is against Lady Jang getting this new position saying that she comes from a low background – she is from the commoners’ class chung-in. The other and bigger problem is that she will strengthen the Southern faction if she gives birth to a son – which she does.

Historically Dong Yi was also promoted to Sook-won before moving up to the top rank of Bin.


40 thoughts on “Dong Yi, Concubine Ranks in the Joseon Period

  1. When you get a chance to watch Yi San, you’ll notice that Jeongjo’s consorts had a different ranking system to which I have yet to find an explanation for. For example, the lead female character is granted the title 의빈 even though I have never seen any other king with a concubine with that rank. If you look at the wiki entry for King Jeongjo you’ll notice the rest of his concubines also have different titles. Hopefully you can explain this if you watch Yi San.

      • I checked out the info about King Jeongjo and according to Wiki King Jeongjo had 4 royal noble consorts (top rank, Bin) during his reign – Wonbin, Hwabin, Uibin, Subin. The title of the top ranking concubine was Bin but she was also given a new name by the court. This name was chosen for her depending on her personality. So for example in the case of King Sukjong’s concubines, Jang Ok-jong became Hee Bin. She was given the name Hee ([禧) meaning ‘blessing’ (according to the hanja dictionary). Choi Dong Yi became Suk Bin. She was given the name Suk (淑) meaning ‘pure’ So all the top ranking concubines had the same title Bin but had different given names. (I don’t think I made this clear before)

        Ui Bin, 의빈 King Jeongjo’s concubine was a palace maid at first before being noticed by the King, so was part of the lower kung-gwan court lady ranking system. I didn’t include the court lady ranking system in this post but have now added it here. She was a rank 5A 상의 sang ui and moved up to a rank 3A 소용 So yeong (see above chart) when she gave birth to the King’s son. Then she moved up to the top rank Bin. She was given the name ui 의 (宜) meaning ‘suitable’. So as far as I can tell the ranking system seems to be the same. But I could be wrong. ..

      • I knew that all the prefixes to the 빈 title usually had a meaning to it, but in all the charts I’ve seen, they always (including yours) they always were associated with a rank. What I don’t understand is, if they gave out titles based on a suitable meaning to the concubine, why bother with the rankings? Every chart I’ve seen always says 희빈 is ranked higher than 숙빈. So technically, if they wanted Dong-yi to be ranked higher, they would have given her a different title even though they are all still part of the 빈 tier. Ugh, I have a headache >_<

  2. Additional info:

    There had been 3 cases of concubines becoming Queens Consort:
    1) Yeonsan-gun’s mother: She was first “sook-ui” (2B; Junior 2nd Rank) before she gave birth to Yeonsan-gun (her firstborn, termed as “wonja”). She was promoted as Queen Consort when Seongjong (the good king in “King and I”)’s 1st Queen Consort (Queen Gonghye) died and “wonja” became the Crown Prince (“seja”). Hers were the first and violent case. She was deposed later on, and was known as “Pyebi Yoon-ssi” (Lady Yoon, the Deposed Queen), was executed by poisoning (for those who remember the initial scenes in DJG…). She was reinstated posthumously as Queen Jeheon. The most recent actress portraying her was Goo Hye-seon of BOF fame.
    2) Jungjong’s mother: she was also “sook-ui”. When Queen Jeheon was deposed, she was the next one to be elevated as Queen Consort, since she also bore Seongjong a son, Grand Prince Jinseong, later Jungjong.
    3) Jang Hui-bin was the last one.

    • well…the three ones are true….and present in history. But I know another one…and that’s even before Queen Yoon. It’s on the Period of Sejong The Great…it’s about his Wife Queen Soheon.If you take a look on youtube and write “Queen Soheon Coronation” you will find a clip that shows the coronation of a prince’s mother. She was a concubine and then enthroned as queen. That makes 4 kases. I am not shure of my discovery but I hope I am right tell me if I am wrong. Thanx :)

      • Hi Mihai

        I think thats not the case with her, what had happen there was that Sejong was not the original crown prince, that was his brother, but he did not like politics and was deposed. His father abdicated and Sejong was named King at the same time his wave was named queen, and their son crown prince.

        Hope this help!

  3. We were commenting on what these titles meant on s2. No one ever came up with such insightful information. This lays “time and grade” classes of the concubine ranks out, in easy and understandable way. From this you can see where the word “consortium” came from. he-he!
    Thank you DramaRoc and Mae-jang

      • Basically, concubines should wear green wonsam, but PD-nim & Wardrobe-nim can get creative & ignore history…

        Basically, it’s just a wig; hair extensions around the head…it’s kinda long story…

  4. and i thought i was the only one! haha ive been searching a lot but i only found one site but the format and numbering was in bullets and i doubt if they were in order but somehow it gave me an idea… but im still curios, there’s like 9 Bin ranks so how come dong yi became suk-bin while ok-jang who’s more senior a hui-bin? does that mean than all Bin have same standing regardless of what title is given to them? they only have to respect each other according to who came first? and how can you decide which title to give? like at the comments you said Ui-bin was sang-ui then moved to so-young when she had a son, but why only so-young? isn’t dong yi the same? the difference was she was made suk-won first with the pregnancy, but she was made suk-ui coz of her son, but why did she skipped the 3rd rank? it’s so confusing but i really can’t find an article about this, like nobody cares about the concubines at all! O.o and in yi san, the frist concubine was it won -bin? so girls chosen from noble families immediately becomes Bin whether they give birth or not….?

    • Dong-yi & Jang Ok-jeong (future Hui-bin) were both on the bin rank (Senior 1st Rank; in Korean jeong il pum nae myeong bu), meaning they rank just under the Queen Consort…
      …the difference comes from their titles (basically adjectives pertaining to their Concubine) before the bin; it varies from King to King on how they would like to call their Concubine (BTW, that’s what bin translates to…)

      Actually all of the lesser wives can give respect or not depending on what their ranking is…

      The King decides which title to give based on (my conjecture & guesses):
      1) social class (but I think they disregard this thing, depending on the King)
      2) their conduct as lesser wife, and
      3) their offsprings gender; now, if you became a concubine of teukbyeol sanggoong rank (where lesser wives basically start), & your 1st child with the King was female, your child gets ongju (“Princess”; basically way different from gongju, which has same translation but basically higher rank, since gongju is King’s daughter by Queen Consort), and have a rank but lower…now, if your child is male, child gets gun (basic “Prince”), and a rank basically somewhat high but still lower; but if male child is firstborn son, much higher rank (like Jang Ok-jeong)…and if King decides to still shower you with honor, that’s just about it…

      Ranking there is not on a step-by-step basis…

  5. One thing is still unclear for me:
    You are speaking about bin = Royal Noble Consort (RNC) as rank No. 1. But is this below the Queen? Or you use RNC instead of Queen here?

    • The Royal Noble Consort is rank no. 1 of the concubines. The king only has one wife – the queen – and she is above all the other females in the palace. The queen is not a concubine and so is not part of the ranking system. Below the queen are the king’s concubines in order of rank starting with bin at the top. And below the concubines are other female members of court.

  6. Can Someone list me meaning of king’s wives in korea past ago…completely
    Bin= (and why should her name at the back and front change?)
    Won=
    Sang-gung=
    Ui=
    Suk=
    (and If it is Queen? example if her real name is Dong-yi (hehe only e.g) what should her name be when she was a Queen?)

    Why if e.g real name Dong-yi and then became king’s wife (at first) her name is “Seung Sang-gung”(4 women that have been touch by the king,so at the back her name is Sang-gung) and then Up became “Suk-Won” and when she pregnant(first born) became Suk-Ui and when she pregnant again (second born) became Suk-bin same Level with Jang Hee-bin

    • found this link (not sure if it has been shared. This link explains about Royal Noble Consort Suk.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consort_Suk_of_the_Choe_clan

      In the series “Dong Yi”, when she was brought back into the palace by King Sukjong after she was missing for a period of time, King Sukjong announced that Dong Yi is now in the status of Special Lady who has the favor of the King. As such Dong Yi is address as Lady Choe or Choe Sang-gung.

      Queen Consort Jang in her attempt to ruin DY aka Lady Choe then recommended DY to Rank 4B Sook-won 숙원. However DY did not received this rank until Queen Consort Jang was deposed and Queen Inhyeon was reinstated as Queen. On the day of the ceremony to receive her rank 숙원, it was discovered DY is pregnant. As such double joy for everyone esp King Sukjong and Queen Inhyeon. Once DY received her rank, she is addressed as Choe Sook-won or simply sook-won mama or mama by others lower rank/status than her.
      Much later in the series, staying outside the palace, DY was pregnant and gave birth to Yi Geum. When Geum reached the age to receive royal education and DY and Geum was called back to the palace by King Sukjong, it was King Sukjong who elevated DY to Rank 2B Sook-ui
      숙의 and Geum to be installed as Yeon-ing gun. As such DY is known as Choe Sook-ui or Sook-ui ma ma.

      After the death of Queen Inhyeon, in the turmoil of the royal court as to who should be the Queen consort, it was then King Sukjong elevated DY to Rank 1 – BIN 빈 and gave her the name “Suk 숙” meaning pure. And it was here then DY was known as Suk-bin / Suk-bin ma ma.

      Interestingly DY was elevated twice by King Sukjong himself.

      In history, Lady Choe was elevated from sang-gung (5th) to suk-won (royal concubine rank 4) to suk-ui (royal noble consort rank 2) to gwi-in (royal noble consort rank 1) to finally bin (this level is directly below the Queen). All these was between 1693 to 1699.

  7. elow…am from the philippines and also a big fan of dong yi. coming from a totally different social structure, can you provide us a more simple way to understand the ranking as well the term used?

  8. If DY became Queen, her name will change too and it is according to the palace rule.
    from Dy her name would change to Queen Myeonghye

  9. may i ask if is there’s any ranking for the sons of the king to his queen and to their concubine for the crowning of the crown prince?

    • I’m not exactly sure what you mean. But regarding the ranking of the sons of the king, I believe the first son of the queen is the crown prince 세자 世子 and so the first in line to the throne.
      And any son of the queen would be higher in rank than the son of a concubine. So even if a concubine has a son before the queen, the queen’s son will still become crown prince.

      • what about if there is no son’s or heir from the queen. is there any chances that if the son’s of the concubine will be a king the mother of said concubine son’s turn king would be queen dowager?

  10. ” i mean before the crowning of the crown prince… an i’ve been watching princess’s man a day ago i noticed that the daughter and the son of grand prince suyang is actually named as princes and princesses please explain to me further… i am a bit curious about that.

Leave a Reply