David Lan Pham

Queen Ỷ Lan (1044 - 1117)

Village temple Yen Thai where Queen Y Lan is worshiped (photo: internet)

Village temple Yên Thái where Queen Ỷ Lan is worshiped (photo: internet)

Ỷ Lan wasn’t the Queen’s name. Her true name was vaguely known: Lê Khiết Nương? Or Lê Thị Yến Loan?

Her father was Lê Công Thiết.

Her mother was Vũ Thị Tĩnh.

Ỷ Lan was born in 1044 in Thổ Lỗi village (later renamed Siêu Loại), Bắc Ninh province, into an ordinary family.

King Lý Thánh Tôn (1023 - 1072, King: 1054 - 1072) was childless when he was 40 years old. In 1063 he went to a pagoda in Bắc Ninh to pray for a son to succeed to the throne. Arriving in Thổ Lỗi village the King was welcome by the villagers except for a beautiful lady leaning against a magnolia tree.

She didn’t pay attention to the King’s presence in Thổ Lỗi. Attracted by her beauty and her extraordinary behavior King Lý Thánh Tôn decided to recruit her as a Royal Concubine. He called her Ỷ Lan meaning the lady leaning against the magnolia tree (Ỷ: to lean, to stand; Lan: magnolia tree).

In 1066 Ỷ Lan gave birth to Prince Lý Càn Đức, who was considered the crown prince. King Lý Thánh Tôn announced the general amnesty to celebrate Prince Càn Đức’s birth.

In 1068 Ỷ Lan gave birth to a second prince, Minh Nhân. Ỷ Lan ranked 2nd after Queen Dương, who was sterile. King Lý Thánh Tôn loved her very much. She was young, beautiful, intelligent and dynamic. She put an end to the King’s worries about his childlessness. She helped the King solve national affairs smoothly.

In 1069 King Lý Thánh Tôn commanded the Việt troops to launch attacks on Champa in the South. Ỷ Lan replaced King Lý Thánh Tôn to take care of national affairs with Chancellor Lý Đạo Thành’s assistance. The military campaign commanded by King Lý Thánh Tôn wasn’t successful in Champa. The Việt troops were ordered to leave Champa. Arriving in Cư Liên (Tiên Lữ, Hưng Yên province) the King heard the folks praising Queen Ỷ Lan’s good management of the national affairs. King Lý Thánh Tôn felt ashamed. He ordered the Việt troops to head to the South to resume attacks on Champa. This time Champa failed to resist the Việt troops. Cham King Jaya Rudravarman III (Chế Củ; King: 1061 - 1074) and 50,000 Cham soldiers were captured by the Việt troops. Champa ceded Địa Lý, Ma Linh and Bố Chính districts to Đại Việt in exchange for King Jaya Rudravarman III’s freedom. Those districts are in present Quảng Bình and Quảng Trị provinces.

In 1072 King Lý Thánh Tôn died. Prince Lý Càn Đức was enthroned when he was six years old. It was King Lý Nhân Tôn (1066 - 1128, King: 1072 - 1128). Lý Đạo Thành ( ? - 1081) was Regent. Queen Dương was Queen Mother. She had the right to discuss national affairs behind the curtain but Ỷ Lan didn’t. Jealous of Queen Dương’s power and prestige Ỷ Lan pressured the infant King to imprison Queen Dương and her 72 servants. It seems General Lý Thường Kiệt (1019 - 1105) supported her while Lý Đạo Thành disagreed with her. It was said Queen Dương and 72 servants were buried alive on the burial day of King Lý Thánh Tôn. Protesting this cruel punishment Chancellor Lý Đạo Thành was demoted to Chief of Nghệ An province. Shortly after this demotion his power was restored by Ỷ Lan. This proved Ỷ Lan’s flexibility, intelligence and lucidity.

With the active assistance of Chancellor Lý Đạo Thành and General Lý Thường Kiệt, Ỷ Lan had brilliant accomplishments during her regency and involvement in the national affairs:

Queen Ỷ Lan was a devoted Buddhist follower. She built many Buddhist temples throughout Đại Việt. She was called ‘Bodhisattva Guan Yin’ (Quan Âm Bồ Tát).


There are some similarities between Queen Ỷ Lan (1044 - 1117) of the Lý dynasty and Empress Dowager Ci Xi (Từ Hi: 1835 - 1908) of the Qing dynasty:

Queen Ỷ Lan died in 1117 in Thăng Long. She was buried in Thọ Lăng, Thiên Đức prefecture (present Tiên Sơn district), Bắc Ninh province.


David Lan Pham, F.A.B.I.



(1) Chancellor Lý Đạo Thành disagreed with Queen Ỷ Lan about imprisoning and harming Queen Dương and 72 servants. He was demoted to become Chief of Nghệ An province. Shortly after this demotion his power was restored. Queen Ỷ Lan did know she couldn’t succeed without the assistance of Chancellor Lý Đạo Thành and General Lý Thường Kiệt, who were two great pillars of the kingdom.


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Cái Đình - 2023