DAVID LAN PHAM, F.A.B.I.
THREE ORPHANS: THREE KINGS
The Vietnam history was characterized
by a long-time colonial past, civil wars and intermittent jacqueries. National
heroes and the dynasties founders had their military exploits after expelling
foreign invaders from their country.
Some of them were from tribal leadersí family or from family
Ngo Quyen was the founder of the Ngo dynasty. His father was
a tribal leader in Son Tay. Ngo Quyen was Duong Dien Ngheís subordinate. He was
governor of Ai Chau (Thanh Hoa). Ngo Quyen founded the Ngo dynasty after
defeating the Nan Han in 938.
Nguyen Anh, founder of the Nguyen dynasty, was descendant of
Lord Tien (Nguyen Hoang).
Some of the dynasties founders were from ordinary people.
Le Loi, founder of the Earlier Le, was a rich farmer in Thanh
Hoa. He succeeded to expel the Ming from Dai Viet.
Mac Dang Dung, founder of the Mac, had been a fisherman, who
received the title of Do Luc Si after passing a military contest.
After the Twelve- Seignior War our country had three orphans
founding three different dynasties: Dinh, Earlier Le and Ly. The three Kings and
dynasties founders in the 10th and 11th centuries were Dinh Bo Linh, Le Hoan
and Ly Cong Uan.
Dinh Bo Linh (924- 979) was a native of Ninh Binh. His
father, Dinh Cong Tru, was governor of Hoan Chau (Nghe An & Ha Tinh) under the
Ngo dynasty. He died when Linh was too young. Dinh Bo Linh underwent his
miserable childhood. Quarrelling with his uncle, Linh and his eldest son left
Ninh Binh for Bo Hai Khau, Thai Binh, where they served Seignior Tran Lam (Tran
Minh Cong). Tran Lam died. Replacing him Dinh Bo Linh became Seignior. He moved
his troops to his native province, Ninh Binh. Dinh Bo Linh and his son Dinh Lien
were successful in defeating the other Seigniors to unify the country. Our then
country consisted of the delta of the Red River and the deltas of the Ma, Ca and
Chu Rivers. Champa was in the South of the 18th parallel. It was religiously and
linguistically influenced by Hindu culture. After the 13th century a large
number of Cham converted to Islam.
Under Ngo Quyenís reign our country had no countryís name.
Dinh Bo Linh proclaimed himself Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and named our country
Dai Co Viet. Prince Nam Viet Vuong Dinh Lien should be Dinh Tien Hoangís
Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang had five queens. Of them Duong Van
Nga was the most beautiful and famous queen. She was of Duong Dien Nghe and
Duong Tam Khaís lineage. Duong Dien Nghe was Ngo Quyenís superior and father in
law. Duong Tam Kha was Duong Dien Ngheís son. King Ngo Quyen died in 944. Duong
Tam Kha became regent. Taking advantage of this opportunity Duong Tam Kha
usurped the throne from the Ngo and proclaimed himself king Binh Duong (945-
950). It was the beginning of political disorder in the capital Co Loa and of
the seigniorial war in the Red River delta.
Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh Lien were two talented military commanders in feudal
time. They defeated 11 Seigniors to unify the country, and to re-establish
national security, and order by using severe punishments and by spreading
Buddhist philosophy. Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh Lien were over self- confident for
counting on their military victory, their prestige in the army and in the
grassroots. They spent time drinking rice alcohol. Alcoholic addiction stole
Dinh Tien Hoangís lucidity when replacing Dinh Lien by prince Hang Lang as his
future successor. Prince Hang Lang was too young while Dinh Lien was a
prestigious general during the Twelve- Seignior War. Furious Dinh Lien killed
his younger half- brother.
Dinh Tien Hoang, a hero in the battle fields, began to know
failure in his royal family and at the Court. What was the origin of the myopic
abolition of Dinh Lienís right of succession which led to bloodshed in the royal
family? Needless to say there was a political conspiracy from a young and
powerful generalissimo at the Court. The conspiracy of seizing the throne was
carried out by the beautiful and influential queen, who was tired of the drunk
emperor, and by the young generalissimo through the following steps:
1. demotion of Dinh Lien replaced by prince Hang Lang, who
was politically and militarily inexperienced, and popularly unknown. Prince Hang
Lang was son of Dinh Tien Hoang and queen Dan Gia. The latter had two children
with the Ngo. The daughter was Dinh Lienís wife, and the son was princess Phat
Kimís husband. Dinh Lien and Phat Kim were children of Dinh Bo Linh and his
first wife, who died before Dinh Bo Linh ascended to the throne.
2. bloodshed in the Dinh royal family after the killing of
prince Hang Lang by Dinh Lien.
3. Assassination of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and prince Dinh
Lien by Do Thich while they were blind drunk. This assassination occurred in the
same year Dinh Lien killed prince Hang Lang (979).
The fall of the Dinh dynasty was seen after emperor Dinh Tien
Hoang and prince Dinh Lienís death. The Dinh dynasty existed in history for 12
years (968- 980). Dinh Tien Hoang ascended to the throne when he was 44 years
old. He died at the age of 55.
Rice alcohol and the queenís beauty constituted the cause of the fall of the
Dinh dynasty. Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and prince Dinh Lien were killed while
they were blind drunk. Queen Duong van Nga was young and beautiful. She was born
into the famous Duong family. Itís no doubt she was very influential beside Dinh
Tien Hoang, an orphan and herdsman in his childhood. Queen Duong Van Ngaís
adultery with generalissimo Le Hoan led to the total fall of the Dinh dynasty.
Le Hoanís biography was unclear. Where was he born? Ha
Nam? Ninh Binh? Thanh Hoa? What was his fatherís name? According to the oral
tale his father died as soon as he was born. Soon after his fatherís death, his
mother died. Le Hoan was adopted by a rich landlord Le in Thanh Hoa.
Le Hoan was Dinh Lienís subordinate. He was 17 years younger
than Dinh Bo Linh. He was a good general trusted by Dinh Bo Linh and Dinh Lien.
He was generalissimo under the Dinh dynasty. Dinh Bo Linh became Emperor in 968
when he was 44 years of age. At that time Le Hoan was 27 years old. We donít
know whether queen Duong Van Nga and generalissimo Le He Hoan had any role in
Dinh Lienís disgrace and Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh Lienís assassination in 979?
After the assassination, Do Thich, the assassin, hid himself on a house roof
near the Royal Palace without neither eating nor drinking. It rained. Do Thich
raised his hands to get rain water. Arrested by the royal guard he was killed.
Nobody knew who directed the killing of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and prince Dinh
In 979 the Dinh royal family lost three important persons:
prince Hang Lang, Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang, and prince Dinh Lien.
Aware of political chaos in Hoa Lu the Chinese troops
concentrated at the border threatening to invade Dai Co Viet. General Pham Cu
Luong was nominated by Le Hoan to command the Viet troops to stop the Chinese
invaders. Before going to the battlefield Pham Cu Luong would like generalissimo
Le Hoan to replace the six- year old king, Dinh Tue, pretexting that the infant
king couldnít recognize the generals and soldiersí military merits. All the
soldiers applauded Pham Cu Luongís opinion. Queen Duong Van Nga wore the royal
robe on generalissimo Le Hoan. Le Hoan became King of Dai Co Viet after this
coup. It was King Le Dai Hanh (980- 1005). He was the founder of the Earlier Le
dynasty. Some courtiers, who were loyal to the Dinh were killed in the coup.
Duong Van Nga became the Two- Dynasty Queen. (Dinh & Earlier Le).
Le Dai Hanh was king at the age of 39 in 980. He died in 1005
when he was 64 years old.
The Confucian scholars denounced Queen Duong Van Nga
critically. But they didnít criticize Le Dai Hanh, who had resounding victories
over the Song and Champa.
The Earlier Le dynasty lasted 29 years (980- 1009) with three kings:
- Le Dai Hanh (980- 1005)
- Le Trung Ton (1005- 03 days in throne)
- Le Long Dinh known as Le Ngoa Trieu (Lying King) (1005- 1009)
King Le Dai Hanh had 05 queens. The most powerful and beloved queen was Duong
Van Nga, who exchanged her soní s throne for her queen title in the new dynasty.
King Le Dai Hanh and queen Duong Van Nga had a princess: Le Thi Phat Ngan. Later
princess Le Thi Phat Ngan was married to Ly Cong Uan, founder of the Ly dynasty.
Ly Cong Uan (974- 1028) was born in Bac Ninh. His
father was unknown. It was said in the oral tale that he was son of a human God.
His mother had Pham as her family name. Since his childhood Ly Cong Uan has been
raised and educated by a Buddhist monk, Ly Khanh Van.
Ly Cong Uan was an intelligent child, who had kingly speech.
One day he was punished by Ly Khanh Van he recited two verses to explain why he
was punished by the monk:
At bed time I darenít extend my legs
For fear that the whole country would be at risk of falling.
Ly Cong Uan was 05 years old when Dinh Tien Hoang died in an
assassination. During his stay in the Buddhist temple Ly Cong Uan learned
Chinese characters and Buddhist philosophy. In his youth he learned martial
arts. He went to Hoa Lu to serve king Le Dai Hanh. In 1005 King Le Dai Hanh
died. There was a throne conflict between prince Le Long Tich and his younger
brother Le Trung Ton. A loser Le Long Tich fled to Thach Ha, Ha Tinh, where he
was killed by the dwellers. Le Long Viet came to the throne. It was king Le
Trung Ton. Staying in the throne in 03 days king Le Trung Ton was killed by his
younger brother, Le Long Dinh. All the couriers were fearful. Only Ly Cong Uan
embraced king Le Trung Tonís dead body, bursting into sobs. King Le Long Dinh,
instead of hating Ly Cong Uanís loyalty to king Le Trung Ton, appreciated his
good behavior by letting him command the royal army.
Le Long Dinh was a debauched, brutal and cruel king. Having
excessive sex with beautiful ladies he had serious backache. He couldnít sit. He
lied down at the Court during the meeting with the courtiers. That is why he was
called LE NGOA TRIEU (Lying King Le). King Le Long Dinhís daily pleasure was to
see blood, pain and suffering from others. He died in 1009 when he was 24 years
The Earlier Le dynasty lasted 29 years (980- 1009(. The
grassroots detested king Le Long Dinh. A bloodless coup occurred in Hoa Lu
during Le Long Dinhís funeral. Buddhist monk Van Hanh and general Dao Cam Moc
supported generalissimo Ly Cong Uan to steal the throne from the Earlier Le.
Buddhist monk Van Hanh spread prophecy predicting the replacement of the Le by
the Ly. Generalissimo Ly Cong Uan had strong popular support: army (Dao Cam Moc),
Buddhist Church (Van Hanh). The transfer of kingship from the Earlier Le to the
Ly was smooth and bloodless.
Ly Cong Uan was enthroned. It was king Ly Thai To, founder of
the Ly dynasty. King Ly Thai To dinít choose either Co Loa or Hoa Lu as capital.
He chose Dai La on the Red River. It was said when moving from Hoa Lu to Dai La
king Ly Thai To saw the dragon soaring over the citadel. He renamed Dai La Thang
Long (Soaring Dragon). In the Far East the sacred animals such as the Dragon,
Unicorn, Turtle, Phoenix and geomancy were used to consolidate legitimacy of the
countryís leaders. These things were very familiar in Chinese and Vietnamese
stories relating to certain historic persons.
King Ly Thai To had 09 queens. The first queen was Le Thi
Phat Ngan, daughter of king Le Dai Hanh and queen Dung Van Nga. The Ly dynasty
lasted 245 years (1010- 1225) with nine leaders. Of them eight were male; one
was female. The eight kings of the Ly were: Ly Thai To (1010- 1028), Ly Thai Ton
(1028- 1054), Ly Thanh Ton (1054- 1072), Ly Nhan Ton (1072- 1127), Ly Than Ton
(1128- 1138), Ly Anh Ton (1138- 1175), Ly Cao Ton (1176- 1210), Ly Hue Ton
(1211- 1225), and Queen Ly Chieu Hoang (1225).
The Ly dynasty had great contributions to Dai Viet with:
- the prosperity of Buddhism
- the move of capital from Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh, to Thang Long (actual Ha Noi)
- change of countryís name from Dai Co Viet to Dai Viet (Great Viet) (1054).
- victory on the Song and Champa; occupation of Dia Ly, Ma Linh, Bo Chinh (Quang
Binh, Quang Tri) (1069); repression of the minority peoplesí revolts in the
- organization of the triennial contests in order to choose talented persons for
public services. Confucianism found good environment to grow. Buddhism was at
risk of being eclipsed by Confucianism. The Temple of Literature was built under
the reign of Ly Thanh Ton (1054- 1072) to worship Confucius and 72 Chinese
philosophers. The educational development was tied to the growth of Confucianism
and Chinese characters knowing that in the 11th century Dai Viet had no public
schools. Education wasn't compulsory.
- Famous persons such as Le Phung Hieu, Ly Thuong Kiet, Ton Dan, Ly Dao Thanh,
To Hien Thanh, Y Lan Thai Phi, Le Van Thinh etc.
The founders of the Dinh, Earlier Le and Ly dynasties were
orphans. Except for Dinh Bo Linhís father, those of Le Hoan and Ly Cong Uan were
unclear enough. Among three orphans only Ly Cong Uan was educated by Ly Khanh
Van in the Buddhist temple.
Dinh Bo Linh, Le Hoan, Ly Cong Uan were military men.
Dinh Bo Linh was fond of drinking rice alcohol. Losing
clairvoyance he revoked Dinh Lienís right of succession. This myopic decision
had its tragic consequence: bloody family conflict.
Le Hoan committed adultery with queen Duong Van Nga.
Morally speaking Ly Cong Uan was superior to Dinh Bo Linh and
Le Hoan. He wasnít addicted to rice alcohol and to female beauty. His knowledge
of Chinese characters and Buddhist philosophy was much better than that of Dinh
Bo Linh and Le Hoan. Ly Cong Uan was backed by the Buddhist Church i.e by the
grassroots. At that time Buddhism was considered the national religion. Buddhist
monks were scholars, philosophers, physicians. Buddhist temples were cultural,
medical and social centers. These factors explained why the Dinh dynasty lasted
12 years; the Earlier Le: 29 years but the Ly dynasty lasted 215 years.
There are some analogies and retributions in the Dinh,
Earlier Le and Ly dynasties:
1. bloody family conflict: Dinh Lien killed his younger half-
brother, Hang Lang (979). In 1005 king Le Dai Hanh died. The conflict of power
erupted between prince Le Long Tich and his younger brother Le Long Viet. A
loser, Le Long Tich fled to Thach Ha, Ha Tinh, where he was killed by the
dwellers. Le Long Viet became king. It was king Le Trung Ton, who, in his turn,
was killed by his younger brother, prince Le Long Dinh, after 03 days on the
throne. King Ly Thai To died in 1028. As the king wasnít buried yet, three
princes and their troops entered the capital to overthrow crown prince Ly Phat
Ma, son of Ly Cong Uan and Le Thi Phat Ngan. Le Phung Hieu used his Herculean
strength to kill one of three rebellious princes. The two princes and their
rebellious troops ran for life. Prince Ly Phat Ma was enthroned. It was king Ly
Thai Ton (1028- 1054).
2. founding the dynasty by means of coup díetat: Emperor Dinh
Tien Hoang and prince Dinh Lien trusted Le Hoan. This young generalissimo
committed adultery with queen Duong Van Nga. Would he be responsible for the
assassination of Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh Lien? He took the throne from the Dinh
with queen Duong Van Nga and general Pham Cu Luongí s active assistance. It
isnít true to call the event the bloodless coup. Some pro- Dinh courtiers such
as Dinh Dien, Nguyen Bac were killed by Le Hoanís henchmen. In order to gain Ly
Cong Uanís loyalty king Le Dai Hanh married his daughter to this generalissimo,
who was strongly backed by the Buddhist Church headed by Van Hanh. Four years
after king Le Dai Hanhís death Ly Cong Uan erased the Earlier Le dynasty. The
Buddhist monk Van Hanh and general Dao Cam Moc played an important role in the
bloodless coup díetat aiming at replacing the Earlier Le by the Ly.
3. The causes of the fall of three dynasties were slightly
analogous. The Dinh dynasty collapsed after Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh Lienís
death. Prince Dinh Tue was enthroned when he was six years old. King Le Long
Dinh died at the age of 24. At this age, if he had children, the oldest would be
five or six years old. The Ly dynasty had considerable contributions to Dai Viet
in respect of national economy, defense, politics, education, laws, religion,
diplomacy. The cause of the fall of the Ly dynasty was that king Ly Hue Ton had
no sons. He chose one of his two daughters as his successor. It was queen Ly
Chieu Hoang ascending to the throne at the age of 07 (1225). The collapse of the
Ly occurred a few months after her enthronement. From then on Vietnamese
princesses didnít have right to succession. The rules of royal succession were
based on: a. Sex: male b. eldest son (birthright) c. kingí s eldest grand son.
It was unhappy for the royal family to be childless or to have only daughters.
It happened to the Nguyen dynasty after the King Tu Ducís death in 1883.
4. Queen Duong Van Nga was important and influential in three
dynasties but her name wasnít mentioned in history. She was the Two- Dynasty
Queen (Dinh & Earlier Le) and king Ly Thai To ís mother in law . She had an
active role in the 980ís coup díetat. It was she, who made profit on the 1009ís
coup after King Le Long Dinhís death. The future king was his son in law: Ly
Trang Phạm Đžnh L‚n