By Gabby Storey
Lý Chiêu Hoàng was born in 1218 to the Emperor Lý Huệ Tông and the Empress Trần Thị Dung. Though she had an elder sister, Thuận Thiên, Lý Chiêu was chosen by her father as successor. Due to mental illness, Lý Huệ abdicated and ceded the throne to Lý Chiêu in 1224.
Lý Chiêu was the first empress regnant and the second female monarch after Trưng Trắc. Due to her young age, the realm was controlled by the Commander of the Royal Guard, Trần Thủ Độ. Trần Thủ Độ appointed family members to several key positions, and likely engineered the marriage between his nephew Trần Cảnh and Lý Chiêu.
The royal marriage took place in October or November 1225 when both parties were seven years old. Afterwards, Trần Thủ Độ announced that Trần Cảnh would immediately succeed to the throne and began to eliminate members of Lý Chiêu’s family. In January 1226 Lý Chiêu was given the new title of empress consort.
However, Trần Thủ Độ was concerned about the succession as Lý Chiêu would be unable to bear heirs for several years. In 1237 Trần Thủ Độ arranged the marriage between Trần Cảnh and his sister-in-law and Lý Chiêu’s sister, Princess Thuận Thiên, when she was three months pregnant with Trần Quốc Khang for three months. After the marriage ceremony, Thuận Thiên was made the new empress of the Trần Dynasty and Lý Chiêu was downgraded to princess.
In 1258, Lý Chiêu was married to the general Lê Phụ Trần as a political favour for the general’s military successes. They had two children together, Marquis Lê Tông and Princess Ứng Thụy Lê Khuê. Lý Chiêu died in March 1278, aged 61.
Lý Chiêu’s experience as a child empress mirrors that of her contemporaries in some respects; there was uncertainty about the stability of a minor ruler, particularly one who did not have a favourable regent chosen for her by her natal family. The speed with which royal power was usurped by a political rival and Lý Chiêu was removed from political power is perhaps demonstrative of not only issues of age, but of gender as well, given the willingness to elevate her husband, a male of the same age.
Nhung Tuyet Tran, Familial Properties: Gender, State, and Society in Early Modern Vietnam, 1463–1778 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2018)
Oscar Chapuis, A history of Vietnam: from Hong Bang to Tu Duc (New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995)