Last weekend I went to Seoorung 서오릉 (meaning 5 western tombs) a UNESCO World Heritage site just outside of Seoul in Gyeonggi-do where some of the Joseon Kings and Queens and concubines are buried. Lady Choi’s tomb, (Dong Yi) is not here. But we did see King Sukjong, Queen Inhyeon, and Jang Hee Bin’s tombs.
King Sukjong and Queen Inhyeong’s tombs
The tombs of King Sukjong and his second and third queens are just outside the Seooreung and they are the only ones that are not fenced off to the public so we could go up on the hill and look more closely at the mounds and animals and figures protecting them. All the royal tombs had a similar layout to this one: There’s a gate and then a straight path leading up to the building where rituals were performed on memorial days while the tombs are up on the hills behind this building. The path has different levels presumably so that the highest level rank (King) could walk on the highest level while lower ranks would walk on the lower levels.
Traditionally Kings were buried with the Queen while the concubines had smaller tombs separately. Interestingly, King Sukjong’s tomb is next to Queen Inhyeon, his second wife, the queen portrayed in Dong Yi. (As we’ve just seen in Dong Yi, the King exiled the Queen from the palace, thanks to the scheming Lady Jang who then became the top level concubine with the title Hee Bin when she gave birth to the King’s first son. Historically the King regrets exiling Queen Inhyeon and allows her to come back to the palace but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the drama). His third wife, Queen Inwon (1687-1757) is buried off up on a nearby hill on her own to the left. (see below) Perhaps she is not buried next to him because she outlived him? His first wife, Queen Ingyeong who died at the age of 19 is buried in a completely separate area within the Seooreung.
Queen Inwons’ grave on the left hill. King Sukjong and Queen Inhyeong on the right hill.
view of Queen Inwon’s tomb from King Sukjong and Queen Inhyeong’s tomb site
For the King and Queen’s memorial service food offerings are placed on the stone tables in front of the graves.
stone figures stand guard by the tombs
a ram faces the wall guarding the tombs
The concubine tombs
Jang Hee Bin
The tombs of the concubines are more simple than the Kings and Queens. There is no gate leading up to the burial mounds and no buildings. Jang Hee Bin is infamous in history for her aggressive ambition and the interesting thing about her tomb is that behind the tomb is a large rock and through the rock a pine tree has broken through it to grow. There is speculation that this reveals that her ki (energy) was and still is very strong. (the grave was moved here in 1969) Some Korean websites such as this one report that because Jang Hee Bin was such a strong woman there is a belief that if young single women who want a boyfriend go and pay a tribute to Jang Hee Bin at her tomb then they will soon find love. I don’t know if this really works but I suppose it’s worth a try.
Jang Hee Bin’s tomb and the pine tree at the back growing through the rock
The tombs are spread out around the area and there are walks through forests to get to them. King Yeongjo’s queen, Queen Jeongseong (貞聖王后, 1692-1757) is also buried here and according to the Cultural heritage website “In the records of the Queen’s life, King Yeongjo expressed his gratitude to Queen Jeongseong, saying that she always welcomed him with a smiling face during her entire 43 years of royal residency, and was fully devoted to her superiors. He added that she was not indolent at all and did her utmost to enshrine the ancestral tablet of his birth mother, Sukbin, from the Choi family.” (i.e. Dong Yi)
His concubine’s tomb is also here. Yeongbin (暎嬪, ?-1764) This is the first tomb we saw when we entered the seoorung and I like it for its simplicity. There are no rooms built for rituals and no gate or pathway.