Lý dynasty

The Lý dynasty (/l/ LEE; Vietnamese: [ɲâː lǐ]) (Vietnamese: Nhà Lý, Hán Nôm: 家李), also known as the Later Lý dynasty, was a Vietnamese dynasty that began in 1009 when emperor Lý Thái Tổ overthrew the Early Lê dynasty and ended in 1225, when the empress Lý Chiêu Hoàng (then 8 years old) was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her husband, Trần Cảnh. During emperor Lý Thánh Tông's reign, the official name of Vietnam became Đại Việt. Domestically, while the Lý emperors were devout to Buddhism, the influence of Confucianism from China was on the rise, with the opening of the first University in Vietnam in 1070 for selection of civil servants who are not from noble families.The first imperial examination was held in 1075 and Lê Văn Thịnh became the first Trạng Nguyên(Zhuangyuan) of Vietnam. Politically, they established an administration system based on the rule of law rather than on autocratic principles. The fact that they chose the Đại La Citadel as the capital (later renamed Thăng Long and subsequently Hanoi) showed that they held onto power due to economic strength and were liked by their subjects rather than by military means like previous dynasties. Some of the noble scholar such as Lê Văn Thịnh, Bùi Quốc Khái, Doãn Tử Tư, Đoàn Văn Khâm, Lý Đạo Thành, Tô Hiến Thành made vast contributions culturally and politically, allowing the dynasty to flourish for 216 years.

Kingdom of Đại Cồ Việt (1009–1054)
Kingdom of Đại Việt (1054–1225)

Đại Cồ Việt Quốc (大瞿越國)
Đại Việt Quốc (大越國)
Map of the Lý dynasty
CapitalHoa Lư

Thăng Long
Common languagesVietnamese, Chinese[1]
Lý Thái Tổ (first)
Lý Thánh Tông
Lý Nhân Tông
Lý Chiêu Hoàng (last)
Lý Thường Kiệt
Lý Đạo Thành
Đỗ Anh Vũ
Tô Hiến Thành
Tô Trung Từ
Trần Thủ Độ (last)
 Coronation of Lý Công Uẩn
 Lý Thánh Tông change national name from Đại Cồ Việt to Đại Việt
 Lý Chiêu Hoàng ceded the throne to Trần Cảnh
Currencyxu, văn
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Early Lê dynasty
Trần dynasty
Today part ofVietnam

Style of emperor proclaimer

According to Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư, in the seventh year of Thiên Thành era (1034),emperor Lý Thái Tông generated the order to everyone to call himself as "triều đình" (朝庭) (meaning: royal court) which is similar to Your Majesty. Until the rule of emperor Lý Thánh Tông, it converted to the title of "Vạn Thặng" (萬乘); the name derived from "Mencius": "一天萬乘" . Finally, Emperor Lý Cao Tông required all mandarin to call him as "phật"(佛)-Buddha.



In 1009, the Early Lê dynasty passed from flourish and downfall in 29 years with 3 Emperors Lê Đại Hành, Lê Trung Tông and Lê Ngọa Triều. The last emperor Lê Ngọa Triều died in 1009 after evil and brutal ruling in Đại Cồ Việt which made him and his dynasty becoming unpopular to civilians. According to some history records of Vietnam like Khâm định Việt sử Thông giám cương mục, Việt sử lược, Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư all proved that in October 1009, Lê Long Đĩnh died because of consequence of his licentious life . The crown prince of Lê Long Đĩnh was still very young and he could not take the power from his dad. Then,the conference by the members of royal court was held to discuss about the fate of nation. Finally, Lý Công Uẩn,the high position mandarin and aristocrat was chosen by Đào Cam Mộc and Vạn Hạnh buddhist monk to become the new emperor of Đại Cồ Việt.


The founder of the Lý, Lý Thái Tổ (Lý Công Uẩn) 李公蘊 has been said to have had origins from Fujian province somewhere in his paternal bloodline,[2][3][4][5][6] while little is known about his maternal side except for the fact that his mother was a woman named Phạm Thị. Very few direct details about his parents are known,[7] however, the ethnic Chinese background of Lý Công Uẩn, at least on his paternal side, was accepted by Vietnamese historian Trần Quốc Vượng.[8]

The Lý dynasty was started by Lý Công Uẩn, a former temple orphan who had risen to commander of the palace guard, succeeded Lê Long Đĩnh of the Early Lê dynasty in 1009, thereby founding the Lý dynasty. He took the reign name Lý Thái Tổ. The early Lý emperors established a prosperous state with a stable monarchy at the head of a centralized administration. The name of the country was changed to Đại Việt in 1054 by Emperor Lý Thánh Tông.

Moving the capital

After a year of enthronement, in 1010, Lý Thái Tổ started to move the capital from Hoa Lư(Ninh Bình) to Đại La(Hà Nội), and renamed it Thang Long. He wrote the Edict on the Transfer of the Capital to announce his plan to move to the new place.

This decision had a marked influence on Vietnam, which opening the flourishing era of the dynasty Following dynasties such as Trần, Lê and Mạc continued to use Thang Long as their capital, as does the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam today.

Throne crisis

In 1028, Lý Thái Tổ died at the age 55 with Posthumous name Thần Vũ hoàng đế (神武皇帝),buried at Thọ royal tomb. In his funeral, Most of his mandarins expected crown prince Lý Phật Mã to take a throne however 3 of his brothers are Duke of Đông Chinh(Đông Chinh vương),Duke of Dực Thánh(Dực Thánh vương) and Duke of Vũ Đức(Vũ Đức vương) rejected this decision, then ambushed royal palace by their own armies to steal the throne. Crown prince Lý Phật Mã discovered the danger, then ordered to close all the gates of palace and arranged guards for protection. However his eunuch Lý Nhân Nghĩa advised him to fight with betrayer. Thus, Lý Phật Mã decide to let Lý Nhân Nghĩa to lead the royal army to fight against his brothers.Lý Nhân Nghĩa succeeded in his campaign and caught Vũ Đức Vương,the 2 others escaped. After that,Lý Phật Mã enthroned and take the temple name Lý Thái Tông. To grant his mercy to all those who tried to opposed him,he pardoned his two brothers Đông Chinh vương and Dực Thánh vương.

Flourish era

From the reign of Lý Thái Tổ with the other emperors, Lý dynasty began to focus on solving some major and minor situation:

+Strengthen internal rule :the economy was promoted to high progress,especially agriculture. The government introduced "Hình thư" (Ministry of Punishments) as the first system of law and legislation of Vietnam after gain independence from China and opened the education system based on imperial examination of China
+ Strengthen territory reigning : The royal court tried to expanded their influence to the remote areas by managing the marriage policy such as giving princesses to marry with the other local lords for closer relationships with royal family. To conciliate those who were not loyal mto government,the emperor will order princes to eliminate the revolts.
+Protecting country from foreigners: Resolve and reconcile some minor issues with Song dynasty (China),fighting against the invasion of Nanzhao and Champa.

One of the big event of Lý dynasty is changing name of country from Đại Cồ Việt (大瞿越) to Đại Việt (大越) in 1054 under reign of Lý Thánh Tông.

During the Lý dynasty, the Vietnamese began their long march to the south (Nam tiến) at the expense of the Chams. In 1069, Champa Kingdom gained more support from Song dynsaty so Cham stopped paying tributary to Đại Việt so this made the Vietnamese government felt angry. As the result,the emperor Lý Thánh Tông made the expedition against Champa – (Champa-Đại Việt war 1069) and successfully captured the king of Champa Rudravarman III. Then Rudravarman III have to sign a treaty with Lý Thánh Tông to cede the Quảng Nam, Quảng Trị and Quảng Bình to Đại Việt which massively contributed to the expansion of Đại Việt territory. Consequently,Champa had to restore the tributary system to Lý dynasty . Soon afterwards, Vietnamese peasants began moving into the untilled former Cham lands, turning them into rice fields and moving relentlessly southward, delta by delta, along the narrow coastal plain. The Lý Emperors supported the improvement of Vietnam's agricultural system by constructing and repairing dikes and canals and by allowing soldiers to return to their villages to work for six months of each year. As their territory and population expanded, the Lý Emperors looked to China as a model for organizing a strong, centrally administered state. In 1070 Lý Thánh Tông ordered to construct Royal academy school to educate people. Minor officials were chosen by examination for the first time in 1075, and a civil service training institute and an imperial academy were set up in 1076. In 1089 a fixed hierarchy of state officials was established, with nine degrees of civil and military scholar officials. Examinations for public office were made compulsory, and literary competitions were held to determine the grades of officials.[9]

Depression era

Emperor Lý Nhân Tông was the longest reign ruler in the history of Vietnam. However he was childless so he had to choose some of kids of royal relatives as the successor and then Lý Dương Hoán (李陽煥) ,his nephew was chosen to be the crown prince. In 1128, Lý Nhân Tông died at aged 63. At that time, Lý Dương Hoán enthrone at 11 year olds and took temple name Lý Thần Tông. The incident of death of Lý Nhân Tông had marked the transition of crown succession from main line to cadet line and also ended the flourish era of Lý dynasty. After the reign of Lý Nhân Tông ,all of his successors were too young and under control by regent and this led to the power competition among the regent. In the early of Lý Thần Tông era, Most of the member of government were good people who supported emperor to rule the stable Đại Việt. Those people include Chancellor Lê Bá Ngọc(黎伯玉), Vice chancellor Dương Anh Nhĩ (杨英耳), Lý Công Bình, Mâu Du Đô (缪攸度) and Lý Sơn (李山)... In Lý dynasty, Most of emperors had a favourite hobby of collecting the rare and precious treasures and this hobby become emerging when emperor Lý Thần Tông grew up. Then this causes the increase existing of corruption, people who flattered or gave the emperor the precious good, can get into the high rank position in the court. In 1138, Lý Thần Tông died at 23 year old after ruling in 10, years. before his death, Lý Thiên Lộc (李天禄), the first son and had been granted title dauphin of Đại Việt.Nevertheless, 3 Concubines Cảm Thánh, Phụng Thánh and Nhật Phụng corrupted the eunuch Từ Văn Thông (徐文通) to encourage emperor to change his mind. The emperor was persuaded and replaced prince Lý Thiên Tộ (emperor Lý Anh Tông) as crown prince when he was 3 year old.


After that, Concubine Cảm Thánh became the empress dowager and she fell in love with Đỗ Anh Vũ (杜英武) who was sibling of empress Đỗ.She had the high confidence on lover so she put him as the regent of emperor Lý Anh Tông. This situation cause some opposition of mandarin and royal members, then followed by the coup of capturing Đỗ Anh Vũ . He was not killed but must live exile as the farmer who works for the state. The empress dowager tried to restore the position for Anh Vũ and she succeeded to bring him back as the regent and the chancellor. Đỗ Anh Vũ wanted to revenge who took him down by controlling the young child emperor to pass the law against the people who got involved in the coup. The emperor unwillingly had to approve it and all people who were impeached, then executed or go exile. In 1158, Đỗ Anh Vũ died and Tô Hiến Thành (蘇憲誠) who was the relatives of wife of Anh Vũ,later become the chancellor. Different from his brother in law, Tô Hiến Thành was the loyal subject to the Lý dynasty with skills and talents in organising military. He helped army to invade Champa and Lan Xang In 1174, dauphin Lý Long Xưởng caused debauchery with concubine of emperor, so he was deposed and emperor Lý Anh Tông made Lý Long Cán as dauphin. Tô Hiến Thành still hold the regent and vice chancellor because he was too young. In 1175, emperor Anh Tông died at aged 40, reigned in 36 years. The young dauphin had to enthrone with title emperor Lý Cao Tông and Lý dynasty began deep in the decline.


Lý Cao Tông became the emperor at 3 and his mom concubine Đỗ became Chiêu Thiên Chí Lý empress dowager, Her younger brother Đỗ An Di became Consort kin and Tô Hiến Thành was still a regent and teacher to teach the emperor.[10] However, Chiêu Linh empress dowager, mom of depose dauphin Lý Long Xưởng who tried to take the throne back for his son but not successful because of Tô Hiến Thành's determination In middle of 1179, Chancellor Tô Hiến Thành died when emperor Cao Tông was only 6 and Đỗ An Di replace him as regent. In 1188, Đỗ An Di died and Ngô Lý Tín replace his mission til death in 1190. Then, Đàm Dĩ Mông (譚以蒙), younger brother of Empress An Toàn, became regent. Emperor Lý Cao Tông was raised up in the luxury life and he allowed to make court position sale which led nation into crisis. The useless or rich people could be promote as the high rank officials so this increased the social unrest, corruption, poverty and thief . Finally, these cause a lot of revolts against royal court by local leaders.

Quách Bốc rebellion

The emperor Lý Cao Tông enjoyed the luxury life and exploit the property of civilians to build the palace and castle and the hatred of people was being cumulated and some revolts happened, typically Quách Bốc rebellion (chữ Hán: 郭卜之亂, Quách Bốc chi loạn) that was the main reason of weakening the dynasty and the power was seized by the other houses. The Governor Đoàn Thượng (段尚) of Hồng province (now Hải Dương and Hải Phòng provinces) began the revolt against the court. The emperor ordered generals Phạm Bỉnh Di (范秉異), Phạm Du (范兪), Đàm Dĩ Mông and the others to lead army to suppress the revolt. Nevertheless, Đoàn Thượng corrupted Phạm Du to retreat his infantry and persuade emperor to retreat all soldiers successfully. Đoàn Thượng got the victory Phạm Du then was nominated to train the military in Nghệ An but he started to recruit the thief and criminals to make the robbery everywhere. Cao Tông dispatched Phạm Bỉnh Di to catch Phạm Du, the Du lost the battle and fled to Hồng province. In 1209, the emperor summoned Du back to Thăng Long but Du slandered Phạm Bỉnh and prove him innocent. However, Cao Tông trusted Du's accusation and ordered to capture Phạm Bỉnh Di and his son (Phạm Phụ). After getting news of capture his lord, the general of Bỉnh Di was Quách Bốc (郭卜) who decided to fight into the royal palace to rescue his master. Emperor Cao Tông and Phạm Du suddenly killed Bỉnh Di and son and both fled to (Vĩnh Phú, Yên Bái). Quách Bốc captured the royal palace and celebrate the funeral for his master, then made son of emperor Cao Tông (Lý Thầm) to be the new emperor. Prince Lý Hạo Sảm (李日旵) fled to Hải Ấp with his mother Empress An Toàn, they met the leader of Trần clan, Trần Lý (陳李) and scholar Phạm Ngu both support Lý Hạo Sảm as the emperor. Lý Hạo Sảm then married to the daughter of Trần Lý, Trần Thị Dung (陳氏庸), after that he nominated and grant promotion to the people of Trần clan The emperor Lý Cao Tông thought prince Sảm wanted ti be the emperor and against him. Therefore; then he fought against Sảm but failing to reclaim the throne .After that, Trần Lý led the army against Quách Bốc at capital city and won .The rebellion was ended

Rise of Trần clan

In winter 1216, Concubine Thuận Trinh was granted the title as "Empress". People of Trần clan were nominated in some important position in the court: Tự Khánh was chancellor, His brother Trần Thừa as interior guard with title Marquis, Phùng Tá Chu and the first son of Trần Thừa (Trần Liễu) as interior mandarin and the first son of chancellor Trần Hải as Duke of Hiển Đạo "Hiển Đạo vương (顯道王)". In 1217, Đoàn Thượng surrendered to the court, pardoned and granted title of Hồng vương, ruler of Hồng province. At this time, emperor Lý Huệ Tông usually turn into like crazy man and calling himself as Heaven General (Thiên tướng) and helike to put the flag on chignon,holding sword and shield for dancing. Then, he drank and slept after tiring. The emperor does not care about ruling country so all of power and right were relied on chancellor Trần Tự Khánh and the main power of dynasty was gradually belonged to Trần clan. Most of Trần members have done so much achievement and they gained more belief from the emperor . Most of works just needed to be approved by Trần family, not via emperor anymore. In 1223, the chancellor Trần Tự Khánh died and Trần Thừa replaced his position and was given more privilege from emperor "He can move freely into royal palace and does not to announce name when working at court.

Abdication of Lý Chiêu Hoàng

In 1224, a serious illness harmed the longevity of emperor Huệ Tông but he did not have a son as heir. Most of princess was sponsored by Trần Thủ Độ. He decided the second daughter Princess Chiêu Thánh will be crowned princess and Empress of Vietnam. Huệ Tông abdicated and gave the throne to crowned princess and become the first empress of Vietnam Empress Lý Chiêu Hoàng at 6 years old. Trần Thủ Độ sponsored all of events and workflow in royal court. He brought nephew Trần Cảnh who was the second son of Trần Thừa to become the confidant of young empress. Both of them then had blossom closed relationship. In aim to overthrow the rule of Lý dynasty, Trần Thủ Độ had arranged the marriage for 2 people in next year and Trần Thừa later became the prince consort of Lý dynasty. Trần Thủ Độ then forced Lý Chiêu Hoàng to gave the throne to Trần Cảnh(some sources said the empress did it willingly ). As the result, the large festival was held at Thiên An palace and Lý Chiêu Hoàng gave the crown to her husband. The rule of Lý was transferred to Trần .Then the former emperor Huệ Tông was forced to commit suicide by Trần Thủ Độ at Chân giáo pagoda.The Lý dynasty was collapsed and Trần dynasty was officially established.

Civil service system

At the central level, under the king were the Thái positions: Tam thái for the three literary mandarins (Thái sư, Thái bảo and Thái phó), and Thái úy for the martial mandarin. Under the Tháis were the Thiếu positions like Thiếu sư, Thiếu bảo, Thiếu phó, and Thiếu úy.

Administration division

In 1010, Lý Thái Tổ changed the 10 đạo subdivisions into 24 lộ. The lộ was possibly subdivided into châu (in mountainous areas) or phủ (in the lowlands). The châu and phủ were further subdivided into huyện and giáp, and under them hương and ấp.


During the Lý dynasty, laws in Đại Việt were primarily based on royal proclamations, although a body of law composing of civil laws, criminal laws, litigation laws, and laws dealing with marriage existed. However, because the Lý rulers were devout Buddhists, the punishments during this era were not very severe.



The pillar of the Đại Việt economy in the Lý era was agriculture. Technically, all farmland was in possession of the Emperor. Each village allocated the farmland to households. Each household farmed their allocated land and paid annual tax, as well as provided mandatory labors and military services.

To facilitate cultivation, the central court built irrigation facilities and river levees. Buffalo and ox slaughtering was strictly prohibited since these cattle provided indispensable draft force in farming.



The Lý dynasty encouraged trade with foreign countries, primarily with Song China, Java, and Siam. Trade between Đại Việt and Song China in the border areas flourished. Private and government traders frequently visited Chinese trading ports in present Guangxi to exchange spices, ivory and salt for silk. The Lý dynasty founded the port of Vân Đồn in modern Quảng Ninh Province, a major trading port in South East Asia for hundreds of years. On the other hand, the Lý court, particularly under Emperor Thái Tông's reign, tried to promote the consumption of domestic products.

For reasons unknown, Emperor Cao Tông forbade the trade of salt and metal, giving rise to unrest and rebellions against the central court, which later led to the collapse of the Lý dynasty.









The dynasty continued to employ "ngụ binh ư nông" (literally "servicemen billeted in farms")- a system dated back to the Tang dynasty and Đinh dynasty. Soldiers stayed in duty only several months per year, the rest of the year they returned to their home in peacetime. However at home they were still required to train regularly with their captains and comrades, and during wartime they were not permitted to leave. Soldiers were not paid by the state but they were exempted from tax and duty. This system allowed for a large trained standing army while the state was not burdened with maintaining it.

"Ngụ binh ư nông" shares many common traits with Swedish allotment system.

Foreign relations

In foreign relations with the Song dynasty during the Lý dynasty, Vietnam acted as a vassal state, although at its zenith it had sent troops into Chinese territory to fight the Song during the Lý–Song War. In 1075, Wang Anshi, the prime minister, told the Song emperor that Đại Việt was being destroyed by Champa, with less than ten thousand soldiers surviving, hence it would be a good occasion to annex Đại Việt. The Song emperor mobilized troops and passed a decree to forbid all the provinces to trade with Đại Việt. Upon hearing the news, the Lý ruler sent Lý Thường Kiệt and Tôn Đản with more than 100,000 troops to China to carry out a preemptive attack against the Song troops. In the ensuing 40-day battle near modern-day Nanning, the Đại Việt troops were victorious, capturing the generals of three Song armies. In 1076, the Songs formed an alliance with Champa and the Khmer Empire and sent troops to invade Đại Việt. Lý Nhân Tông again sent Lý Thường Kiệt. Being one of the many great military strategists of Vietnam, Lý Thường Kiệt had placed spikes under the Như Nguyệt River before tricking the Song troops into the deadly trap, killing more than 1,000 Song soldiers and forcing the Song army to retreat. According to legend, during this time Lý Thường Kiệt had also composed the famous poem Nam quốc sơn hà (Rivers and Mountains of the South Nation), which asserted the sovereignty of Vietnam over its land. This poem is considered the first Vietnamese Declaration of independence.


The main religion in the Đại Việt during the Lý dynasty was Buddhism. The first century of Lý rule was marked by warfare with Song dynasty (China) and the two Indianized kingdoms to the south, the Khmer Empire and Champa. After these threats were dealt with successfully, the second century of Lý rule was relatively peaceful, enabling the Lý Emperors to establish a Buddhist ruling tradition closely related to the other East Asian Buddhist kingdoms of that period. Buddhism became a kind of state religion as members of the royal family and the nobility made pilgrimages, supported the building of pagodas, sometimes even entered monastic life, and otherwise took an active part in Buddhist practices. Bonzes became a privileged landed class, exempt from taxes and military duty. At the same time, Buddhism, in an increasingly Vietnamized form associated with magic, spirits, and medicine, grew in popularity with the people.

Temple of house


Thái Tổ
Thái Tông
Thánh Tông
Nhân Tông
Sùng Hiền hầu
Thần Tông
Anh Tông
Cao Tông
Huệ Tông
Chiêu Hoàng

See also


  1. Taylor 2013, p. 120.
  2. Le Minh Khai (Liam Kelley Professor of Vietnam History at University of Hawaii at Manoa). The Stranger Kings of the Lý and Trần Dynasties.
  3. Dream Pool Essays volume 25 Classical Chinese :桓死、安南大亂、久無酋長。其後國人共立閩人李公蘊為主。夢溪筆談 卷25 Chinese Wikisource has original text related to this article: 夢溪筆談/卷25
  4. (in Chinese) 千年前泉州人李公蕴越南当皇帝 越南史上重要人物之一
  5. (in Chinese) 两安海人曾是安南皇帝 有关专家考证李公蕴、陈日煚籍属晋江安海
  6. Lynn Pan. The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas. Harvard University Press. p. 228. ISBN 0674252101.
  7. Frank Ra Zen: from China to Cyberspace
  8. Cuong Tu Nguyen (1997). Thiền Uyển Tập Anh. University of Hawaii Press. p. 371. ISBN 978-0-8248-1948-4.
  9. The Ly dynasty Countrystudies.us
  10. Ho Chi Money Trail Forbes.com

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