On October 8, 1895, Empress Myeongseong was killed in her palace by assassins at the age of 43. She was the empress to Emperor Gwangmu, ruler of the Kingdom of Joseon in modern-day Korea. The empress had encouraged and fostered a relationship with the Russians, thereby stunting Japanese influence within Korea. This was highly controversial, and Japanese sympathizers within their borders began plotting her assassination.
122 years ago this morning, Japanese agents conducted an attack alongside a Japanese trained Korean unit, Hullyeondae. Over a thousand men from these groups surrounded the empresses’ palace, opening the gates to allow several ronin to infiltrate the compound with one intention: to seek out and kill Empress Myeongseong.
Russian architect Afanasy Seredin-Sabatin wrote a detailed report of the incident, describing it as a “mad house: no one paid the slightest attention to the orders of their superior.” They were completely surrounded by the majority of their own force, and ronin were roaming the palace with blood on their minds. He describes a scene of chaos as Japanese soldiers run here, Korean soldiers there, palace occupants in a panic–he calls it “a mob.” The minister of the royal household was killed.
Seredin-Sabatin noticed the ronin gathering in the courtyard, sabers drawn. Next, they stormed the queen’s wing and “threw themselves upon the women they found there. They pulled them out from inside their windows by the hair and dragged them across the mud, questioning them about something.” They took Seredin-Sabatin and demanded to know where the queen was, but he had never even met her. An unlucky day for him, this was the architect’s first day at the queen’s wing. After some more fruitless interrogation, the Japanese sympathizers were sure to keep Seredin-Sabatin safe from harm, most likely as they would not want to incur the wrath of the Russians as well.
The ronin eventually found the queen and stabbed her to death, also killing two female assistants. They dragged her body out into the garden, soaked her in kerosene and lit her on fire. Whether it was a brutal political statement for all to see or the personal sadism of a few masterless samurai, it is difficult to say.
Japanese courts would later charge 56 of the men in leadership positions, but all were acquitted as they lacked evidence to support any claims made. Of course the assassination sparked an outrage throughout Korea and many “righteous armies” arose in an effort to free Korea from foreign influence in such ways.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia
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