October 8th 1895: Queen Min assassinated
On this day in 1895, Queen Min was assassinated in the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, Korea, aged forty-three. Born in 1851 into a noble family but orphaned at a young age, she married King Gojong of the Joseon dynasty when she was sixteen. Queen Min defied the traditional roles expected of female royalty, proving herself a keen intellect and reading widely in history, politics, philosophy, and science. Her advanced studies led her husband’s father - Yi Ha-eung, the Daewongun, who ruled Korea as regent - to turn against her and try to limit her power. Min’s influence only grew, and, after convincing her husband to oust his father and rule in his own right, wielded significant power in the Korean court. King Gojong, however, proved an ineffective ruler, causing a diplomatic rift with Japan which led to Korea signing an unequal treaty, surrendering control of key ports and granting Japanese citizens immunity to Korean laws. Queen Min desperately sought to preserve Korean sovereignty, seeking help from western powers and reorganising the military. Her reforms caused discontent in the ranks, and an 1882 rebellion ousted Gojong and Min in favour of the Daewongun. However, their Chinese allies sent troops to march on Seoul and arrest the Daewongun, allowing Min and Gojong to return to power. While they were restored to the throne and Min was able to enact a series of modernising reforms, Japanese influence in Korea continued grow, especially following their victory in the first Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese, concerned by Min’s resistance to their expansionist efforts and her alliance with Russia, planned to assassinate the queen. On the morning of October 8th 1895, fifty Japanese and Korean assassins infiltrated the palace, seizing King Gojong and locating Queen Min. They subjected the Queen and her attendants to brutal violence and sexual assault, killing Queen Min and burning her corpse in a nearby forest. Upon King Gojong’s return from exile, he ordered an extensive search for his late wife’s remains. While they only discovered a single finger bone, Gojong held a formal funeral to celebrate Queen Min, bestowing upon her the posthumous title of Empress Myeongseong. Queen Min has since been celebrated for her defiance of gender norms, and dedicated efforts to preserve Korean independence.