David Lan Pham



Thanh Hoa is the Northernmost province of Central Vietnam.  The Ma River is the longest one in this province.

Under Chinese rule Thanh Hoa was Cuu Chan district.  It was a wooded and mountainous region which was less populated than the Red River Delta (Giao Chi).

Thanh Hoa got more and more important when Le Qui Ly (future King Ho Qui Ly) ordered the construction of the West Capital (Tay Do) in Yen Ton, Vinh Loc district, Thanh Hoa province.  In 1396 Le Qui Ly forced King Tran Thuan Ton (1378 - 1399,  King: 1388 - 1398) to move the capital to Tay Do.  Listening to a Taoist hermit’s advice, King Tran Thuan Ton resigned to become a Taoist hermit.  The throne was given to his three-year-old son, Prince An in 1398.  It was King Tran Thieu De (1396 - ?, King 1398 - 1400), the last King of the Tran Dynasty.  Le Qui Ly usurped the throne to found the Ho Dynasty in 1400.  It was King Ho Qui Ly (King: 1400 - 1407).  Ho Qui Ly spared life of King Tran Thieu De whose mother was Ho Qui Ly’s daughter.

In 1407 the Ming invaded Dai Viet.  The Ho Dynasty collapsed.  Once again, Dai Viet was under Chinese rule.  In 1418 Le Loi, a rich farmer in Lam Son Cave, Thanh Hoa province, led the anti-Ming Resistance to final victory in 1427.  Le Loi became King Le Thai To, founder of the Later Le Dynasty.  From 1428 to 1945 Thanh Hoa was the cradle of three powerful families in Vietnam:  the Le, Trinh and Nguyen.

THE LATER LE DYNASTY (1428 - 1527)

The founder of the Later Le Dynasty was Le Loi, who proclaimed himself King Le Thai To after defeating the Chinese rulers. 

The Later Le Dynasty lasted 99 years and consisted of 10 Kings:

  1. Le Thai To (1428 - 1433)
  2. Le Thai Ton (1434 - 1442)
  3. Le Nhan Ton (1442 - 1459)
  4. Le Thanh Ton (1460 - 1497)
  5. Le Hien Ton (1497 - 1504)
  6. Le Tuc Ton (1488 - 1505)
  7. Le Uy Muc (1505 - 1509) killed by Gian Tu Cong, King Le Thanh Tons nephew.  Gian Tu Cong proclaimed himself King.  It was King Le Tuong Duc.
  8. Le Tuong Duc (1510 - 1516) killed by Trinh Duy San.
  9. Le Chieu Ton (1516 - 1526) killed by Mac Dang Dung.
  10. Le Cung Hoang (1526 - 1527) killed by Mac Dang Dung.

The Later Le temple in Bo Ve, Thanh Hoa (Photo: Kiến Thức)


After the coup led by Mac Dang Dung in 1527, Nguyen Kim, son of General Nguyen Hoang Du, went South to recruit the pro-Le militia and looked for the members of the Later Le for enthronement to strengthen the cause of the anti- Mac movement.

From 1530 to 1592 Dai Viet had two dynasties:

- The Northern Dynasty headed by the Mac in the Red River Delta with Dong Do (Thang Long - Ha Noi) as capital.

- The Southern Dynasty headed by the descendants of the Le in the Ma River Delta with Tay Do as capital.

In 1592 the Mac were expelled from Dong Do.  Supported by the Ming they founded a small kingdom in Cao Bang.  In 1677, losing support from the Qing, the Mac were totally defeated by the Trinh.

The Restored Le Dynasty had 16 Kings:  three Kings before the fall of the Mac and 13 Kings after the fall of the Mac.  All of them were powerless for they were enthroned, dethroned and even killed by Trinh Kiem, Trinh Tung and their descendants.

Before the fall of the Mac

1. King Le Trang Ton (1532 - 1548) (enthroned by Nguyen Kim)
2. King Le Trung Ton (1548 - 1556) (enthroned by Trinh Kiem)
3. King Le Anh Ton (1557 - 1573).  He was enthroned by Trinh Kiem, son in law of Nguyen Kim.  King Le Anh Ton plotted the downfall of Trinh Tung, Trinh Kiem’s son.  Failed he was killed by the latter in 1573.

After the fall of the Mac

4.  King Le The Ton (1573 - 1599).  In 1592 the Mac were expelled from Dong Do.  The next year King Le The Ton was the first King of the Restored Le returning to Dong Do (Thang Long - Ha Noi)
5.  King Le Kinh Ton (1600 - 1619).  The King was forced by Lord Trinh Tung to hang himself in 1619
6.  * King Le Than Ton (1619 - 1643).  In 1643 King Le Than Ton abdicated.  His son was enthroned.  It was King Le Chan Ton.
7.  King Le Chan Ton (1643 - 1649).  In 1649 King Le Chan Ton died childless.  Once again Le Than Ton became King.
* King Le Than Ton (1649 - 1662) (2nd time)
8.  King Le Huyen Ton (1663 - 1671)
9.  King Le Gia Ton (1672 - 1675)
10. King Le Hi Ton (1676 - 1705) raised by Lord Trinh Tac, who allowed him to succeed to the throne of King Le Gia Ton, his brother.
11.  King Le Du Ton (1706 - 1729).  He was enthroned by Lord Trinh Can and deposed by Lord Trinh Cuong.
12.  King Le De Duy Phuong (1729 - 1732).  Enthroned by Lord Trinh Cuong in 1729, he was deposed and killed by Lord Trinh Giang in 1732.
13.  King Le Thuan Ton (1732 - 1735)
14.  King Le Y Ton (1735 - 1740).  He was forced to resign by Lord Trinh Doanh
15.  King Le Hien Ton (1740 - 1786).  In 1786, under the command of Nguyen Hue, the Tay Son attacked and defeated the Trinh in Bac Ha.  The Trinh shogunate collapsed.  King Le Hien Ton was very happy about the fall of the Trinh.  He married his daughter, Princess Le Thi Ngoc Han, to General Nguyen Hue.  The King died after this wedding ceremony.
16.  King Le Chieu Thong (1786 - 1789). 


Trinh Kiem (1503 - 1570) was the ancestor of Lords Trinh.  After Nguyen Kim’s suspicious death, Trinh Kiem killed Nguyen Kim’s son, Nguyen Uong, to command the pro-Le troops.

Trinh Kiem (1503 - 1570) was born into a poor family in Soc Son village, Vinh Loc district, Hoang Hoa prefecture, Thanh Hoa province.  A gifted military man, Trinh Kiem was the most powerful man in the Southern Dynasty.  He died in 1570 when the Mac weren’t totally defeated yet.

The Mac were expelled from Dong Do in 1592.  The Trinh shogunate was established by Trinh Tung.  With the shogunal regime the Kings of the Restored Le were powerless.  The Trinh restored the Le by defeating the Mac.  For that reason the real power belonged to them.  Lords Trinh had the right to enthrone, to dethrone, and even to kill the Kings.

Trinh temple in Thanh Hoa (Photo: vietlandmarks.com)

The Trinh shogunate lasted 216 years (1570 - 1786) with 10 Lords:

1. Trinh Tung (1570 - 1623), son of Trinh Kiem and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Bao, Nguyen Kim’s daughter.  He was the architect of the pro-Le victory over the Mac.  Trinh Tung killed King Le Anh Ton in 1573.  In 1619 he forced King Le Kinh Ton to hang himself.

2. Trinh Trang (1623 - 1657).  Under the Trinh Trang Administration the civil war between the Trinh and the Nguyen broke out (1627).

3. Trinh Tac (1657 - 1682).  Lord Trinh Tac was arrogant and cruel.  He enthroned three kings:

- Le Huyen Ton (1663 - 1671)

- Le Gia Ton (1672 - 1675)

- Le Hi Ton (1676 - 1705)

He killed his brother Trinh Toan.  In 1667 the Mac were defeated in Cao Bang.  They disappeared completely 10 years later for being abandoned by the Qing (China).

4.  Trinh Can (1682 - 1709).  Diplomatic relations between Bac Ha and Laos were good.  But the Qing annexed some mountainous villages in Cao Bang provinces such as Vi Xuyen, Bao Lac, Na Oa, Loc Binh to China.

5.  Trinh Cuong (1709 -1729) was a capable and clairvoyant leader. 

6.  Trinh Giang (1729 - 1740) was a cruel and lustful leader.  Bac Ha was in financial crisis due to Trinh Giang ’s love of luxury.  It was dotted by violent jacqueries.  Lord Trinh Giang dethroned King Le De Duy Phuong and killed him.  He was deeply influenced by the eunuches.  Therefore he didn’t listen to prestigious Chancellor Nguyen Cong Hang.  The capital was in immense darkness at night because Lord Trinh Giang was afraid of thunderbolt!  Lighting was banned.  Lord Trinh Giang was always in the underground shelter to be not seen by God of Thunder.  In 1740 he was overthrown and replaced by his younger brother, Trinh Doanh.  Lord Trinh Giang died in 1762.

7.  Trinh Doanh (1740- 1767).  There were many jacqueries led by Nguyen Huu Cau, Nguyen Danh Phuong, Hoang Cong Chat, Prince Le Duy Mat in Bac Ha under the Trinh Doanh Administration.

8.  Trinh Sam (1767 - 1782).  Seduced by his beautiful concubine Dang Thi Hue, Lord Trinh Sam denied Trinh Khai’s right to succession.  Trinh Can, son of Trinh Sam and Dang Thi Hue, should be his successor.  Lord Trinh Sam was arrogant, luxurious and ambitious.  He sent a letter to Chinese Emperor Qianlong (Can Long Emperor: 1735 - 1796) stating that the Le didn’t deserve to be Kings.  But he did.  His envoy burned the letter and never returned to Dong Do (Thang Long - Ha Noi).

9.  Trinh Can (1782).  Lord Trinh Can was five years old in 1782.  He was ousted by the ‘proud soldiers’ (kieu binh), Trinh Khai’s supporters.  Duke Huy (Hoang Dinh Bao) and his mother, Dang Thi Hue, were killed.  As for the young Lord, he died a few weeks after the coup de force. 

10.  Trinh Khai (1783- 1786).  The Trinh Shogunate was overthrown by the Tay Son troops commanded by Nguyen Hue in 1786.   Lord Trinh Khai was captured.  He killed himself by biting his tongue.


Most pro-Le fighters during the civil war between the Mac and Le-Trinh were from Thanh Hoa and Nghe An.  Thanh Hoa was the native province of Le Loi (King Le Thai To), Nguyen Kim (ancestor of Lords and Kings Nguyen), and Trinh Kiem (ancestor of Lords Trinh).

After expelling the Mac from Dong Do (Thang Long - Ha Noi) those soldiers recruited from Ha Trung, Thieu Hoa and Tinh Gia prefectures were proud of their military exploits leading to the fall of the Mac, to the restoration of the Le, and to the birth of the Trinh shogunate.  Kings Le and Lords Trinh were thankful to them.  The Trinh gave birth to militarism in Bac Ha in the 17th and 18th Century.  Called ‘proud soldiers’ or ‘the three-prefecture soldiers’ (linh Tam Phu) they became arrogant and lawless in the capital especially after the fall of Trinh Can in 1782.  They bullied everyone including the high ranking officials of the then government.  People considered them ‘the day-time pirates’.

In 1674 the proud soldiers killed Chancellor Nguyen Quoc Trinh, set fire to Duke Pham Cong Tru’s mansion.

In 1741 they destroyed Chancellor Nguyen Qui Canh’s mansion but they failed to kill him.

In 1782 the proud soldiers helped Trinh Khai, Trinh Sam’s eldest son, oust Trinh Can, the five-year old Lord.  In this coup de force they killed Duke Huy born Hoang Dinh Bao and Madame Dang Thi Hue, Trinh Can’s mother.  The proud soldiers became the Lord makers after this coup de force.  Lord Trinh Khai thanked them and trusted them.

In 1786 the Trinh shogunate collapsed. The proud soldiers left the capital for their birth places in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An. They claimed to be dumb beggars to be not recognized and avenged by the dwellers of Bac Ha.


The ancestor of the Nguyen was Nguyen Kim, who was born in 1468 in Gia Mieu village, Tong Son district, Thanh Hoa province.  His father was General Nguyen Hoang Du.  Nguyen Kim himself was General and  Marquis before the coup led by Mac Dang Dung aiming at overthrowing the Later Le Dynasty in 1527.

Nguyen Kim took refuge in Laos.  He recruited militants from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An in order to restore the Le.  A son of King Le Chieu Ton was enthroned.  It was King Le Trang Ton.

The pro-Le troops got stronger and stronger under the command of Nguyen Kim and his son in-law, Trinh Kiem. 

In 1545 Nguyễn Kim was poisoned by Duong Chap Nhat, a defected General of the Mac.  Nguyen Kim’s death was suspicious.  Trinh Kiem replaced his father in-law to command the pro-Le forces by killing Nguyen Uong, son of Nguyen Kim.  Nguyen Hoang, Nguyen Uong’s younger brother, was very scared.  He claimed to have mental health problems.  He asked his sister, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Bao, Trinh Kiem’s wife, to tell Trinh Kiem to let him go down South to defend the Southern border, to exploit the lands and to pay annual taxes to the King.

Nguyen Hoang (1525 - 1613) founded the Nguyen Shogunate in Dang Trong (1600 - 1801) in which he was the first Lord (Chua Tien, 1600 - 1613).

King Gia Long (born Nguyen Phuc Anh) was the founder of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802 - 1945).

The Nguyen Shogunate (1600 - 1801)

Nguyen Hoang (1525 - 1613) and many Thanh Hoa residents went down South in 1558.  He was a popular leader, a good organizer and military man, who turned the Southern lands into a new center of power and an important economic zone with immense agricultural and maritime resources.  Apparently Nguyen Hoang was submissive to the Le and Trinh in Dang Ngoai.  Silently he did his best to be independent from the Le and Trinh in Dang Ngoai.  Doing so, Dang Trong must be rich economically and strong militarily.  The leader’s popularity was a MUST.

The Nguyen Shogunate took shape in 1600.  It consisted of 10 Lords:

  1. Nguyen Hoang (Lord Tien, 1600 - 1613)
  2. Nguyen Phúc Nguyen (Lord Sai - Chua Sai, 1613 - 1635).  Lord Sai refused to pay taxes to the Le & Trinh in Dang Ngoai.  The civil war between the Le & Trinh and the Nguyen erupted (1627).  Lord Sai had a good advisor and strategist, Dao Duy Tu.
  3. Nguyen Phúc Lan (Lord Thuong - Chua Thuong, 1635 - 1648).  The Nguyễn troops destroyed the Dutch battleships joining the Trinh troops to attack Dang Trong. 
  4. Nguyen Phúc Tan (Lord Hien - Chua Hien Vương, 1648 - 1687).  Lord Hien was a good organizer and commander. The Nguyễn defeated the Trinh, killed two Dutch admirals siding with the Trinh. The Nguyen crossed the Gianh River and occupied 07 districts of Nghe An province temporarily. 
  5. Nguyen Phúc Tran (Lord Nghĩa - Chua Nghĩa or Ngai, 1687 - 1691).  The Việt troops were deployed to My Tho to repress the revolt led by Huang Tsin (Hoang Tien), and to Land Chenla  (Luc Chan Lap) to force it to pay tribute to Phu Xuan (Hue).  Ang Sor was enthroned in Oudong.  Ang Non was Vice- Roy in Prei Kor (Sai Gon).  In 1690 Ang Non died childless.  Prei Kor was annexed to Nam Ha (Dang Trong). 
  6. Nguyen Phúc Chu (Lord Quoc Chua, 1691- 1725).   Lord Quoc Chua used his military potential to force Champa and Land Chenla (Luc Chan Lap- Cambodia) to pay tribute to Phu Xuan.  He would like to proclaim himself King but Emperor Kangxi (Khang Hy- Emperor:  1661- 1722) recognized the Le only.
  7. Nguyen Phúc Tru (Lord Ninh Vương - Chua Ninh Vương, 1725- 1738).  Under the Ninh Vương Administration the Nguyễn interfered deeply in Land Chenla (Luc Chan Lap - Cambodia).  Relations between Nam Ha (Dang Trong) and Siam (Thailand) got sour because of Chenla.
  8. Nguyen Phúc Khoát (Lord Vo Vương - Chua Vo Vương, 1738- 1765).  The influence of the Ngyen on Land Chenla (Luc Chan Lap - Cambodia) was undeniable.  In 1757 Water Chenla (Thuy Chan Lap - Cochinchina) was totally annexed to Nam Ha.
  9. Nguyen Phuc Thuan (Lord Dinh Vương - Chua Dinh Vương, 1765- 1777).  In 1771 the uprising of the Tay Son erupted.  Lord Dinh Vuong left Phu Xuan for the South.  In 1777 all the members of Lord Dinh Vuong’s family were killed by the Tay Son in Long Xuyen (An Giang).
  10. Nguyen Phúc Anh (Lord: 1777 - 1801, King: 1802 - 1820).  Nguyễn Phúc Anh survived after the 1777’s massacre in Long Xuyen.  He commanded the Nguyen troops to fight the Tay Son at the age of 16.  In 1801 he unified the country after defeating the Tay Son.  In 1802 he ascended to the throne.  It was King Gia Long, the founder of the Nguyen Dynasty.

THE NGUYEN DYNASTY (1802 - 1945)

The founder of the Nguyen Dynasty was King Gia Long (1802 - 1820).  He chose his reign name Gia Long in remembrance of his military victories unifying the country from Gia Dinh to Thang Long. The Nguyen Dynasty lasted 143 years with 13 Kings.

King Gia Long named the country NAM VIET but Emperor Jiaqing (Gia Khanh-Emperor, 1796 - 1820) of China didn’t accept this country’s name which reminded him of Nan Yue (Nam Viet) including Guangdong (Quang Dong) and Guangxi (Quang Tay after Zhao Tuo (Trieu Da- Chao To) conquered Au Lac in 111 BC.  For that reason Nam Viet was changed to VIET NAM.

Viet Nam was a tributary independent country from 1802 to 1862.  In 1862 Viet Nam lost three Eastern provinces of Cochinchina (Bien Hoa, Gia Dinh, Dinh Tuong) to France.  In 1867 the French occupied the three Western provinces of Cochinchina (Vinh Long, An Giang, Ha Tien).  Cochinchina became a French colony.  In 1884 Tonkin and Annam were under French protectorate.

Royal tombs en temple Trieu Tuong, built by King Gia Long in 1803 in Gia Mieu,
Thanh Hoa (the cradle of 10 Lords en 13 Kings of the Nguyen - Photo: baothanhhoa.vn)

Earmarks of the Nguyen Dynasty

1. Deeply influenced by Confucianism.

2. Rigid observation of the Three Non - Creation Principle (Tam Bat Lap) elaborated by King Gia Long.

3. Kings Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc were good at literature and poetry.

4. The persecution of the Vietnamese Roman Catholics occurred under the reign of Minh Mang and became horrible under the reign of Tu Duc.

5. King Dong Khanh was the first King of the Nguyen learning French from Petrus Truong Vinh Ky and Diep Van Cuong.

6. Bao Dai (1913 - 1997) was the first King of the Nguyen studying in France when he was 09 years old.  A Westernized King, he married Nguyen Huu Thi Lan, a French naturalisee and Roman Catholic.  He violated the Three Non- Creation Principle created by King Gia Long when recognizing Marie Therese Nguyen Huu Thi Lan as Queen Nam Phuong.  In 1945 he appointed Tran Trong Kim Prime Minister.  Four  months later he abdicated after receiving an unknown telegram from Ha Noi.  He became Advisor to Ho Chi Minh after this abdication.  In 1946 he lived in exile in Hong Kong.  In 1949 he returned to Viet Nam as Chief of State (Quoc Truong).  In 1955 he was ousted by Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.  Bao Dai died in Paris in 1997.

Thirteen Kings of the Nguyen

  1. Gia Long (1802 - 1820)
  2. Minh Mang (1820 - 1840)
  3. Thieu Tri (1840 - 1847)
  4. Tu Duc (1848 - 1883)
  5. Duc Duc (1883)  ( three days after his coronation the King was imprisoned and starved to death by Regents Ton That Thuyet and Nguyen Van Tuong).
  6. Hiep Hoa (1883) (killed by Ton That Thuyet and Nguyen Van Tuong after the treaty of Harmand was signed - 1883).
  7. Kien Phuc (1883 - 1884)
  8. Ham Nghi (1884 - 1885, deported to Algeria by the French in 1889)
  9. Dong Khanh (King: 1885 - 1889)
  10. Thanh Thai (King: 1889 - 1907) (deported to Reunion Island by the French in 1907)
  11. Duy Tan (King: 1907 - 1916) (deported to Reunion Island by the French in 1916)
  12. Khai Dinh (King: 1916 - 1925)
  13. Bao Dai (King: 1925 - 1945. Chief of State: 1949 - 1955).

Kien Phuc, Ham Nghi and Dong Khanh were sons of Prince Nguyen Phuc Hong Cai (Duke Kien - Kien Quoc Cong), son of King Thieu Tri and Truong Thi Vinh.

King Kien Phuc was born in 1869 and died in 1884.

King Ham Nghi was born in 1870 and died in Algeria in 1947.

King Dong Khanh was born in 1864 and died in 1889.  He was father of King Khai Dinh and grand father of King Bao Dai.


The Later Le Dynasty lasted 99 years (1428 - 1527). There were only two great Kings: King Le Thai To (1428 - 1433) and King Le Thanh Ton (1460 - 1497)

The Restored Le Dynasty lasted 257 years (1532 - 1789).  All the Restored Le Kings were puppet ones.  They were powerless and dependent on Trinh Kiem, Trinh Tung and their descendants.  The Le reigned in Dai Viet for 356 years (99 + 257 years).


Trinh Kiem and all Lords Trinh were military men. They established an authoritarian regime In Bac Ha.  The Trinh Shogunate lasted 194 years (1592 - 1786).  In reality Trinh Kiem and Trinh Tung had their full power in the Southern Dynasty from 1545 to 1591 (46 years) i.e before the total collapse of the Mac in the Northern Dynasty.

After the fall of the Later Le Dynasty in 1527 Dai Viet had two opponent great families:  the Mac from Hai Duong on the one hand and the  Le & Trinh from Thanh Hoa on the other hand.  Hai Duong and Thanh Hoa became two political opponent axes in the 16th Century.


Lords Nguyen were popular leaders, good organizers and military commanders.  They turned Nam Ha into the new land of freedom and democracy.   The Nguyen shogunate lasted 201 years (1600 - 1801).

The Nguyen Dynasty lasted 143 years (1802 - 1945). 

Lords Nguyen were more popular than Kings Nguyen.  In the 17th Century the Nguyen defeated the Le & Trinh troops to protect the new land.  When Nguyen Nhac led the uprising of the Tay Son he didn’t say the Tay Son attacked the Nguyen.  He did know Lords Nguyen’s popularity in Nam Ha.  Therefore the slogan of the uprising was to overthrow corrupt Regent Truong Phuc Loan. 

Under the leadership of the Nguyen, the territorial expansion to the detriment of Champa and Chenla ended in 1757.

In the 19th Century Viet Nam was weakened by continual jacqueries, the closed- door policy, religious persecution, incapable, conservative, lunatic and narrow- minded leaders.  Consequently, Viet Nam was easily conquered by France.


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

Direct link: https://caidinh.com/Archiefpagina/Cultuurmaatschappij/thanhhoathecradle.html

Cái Đình - 2022