Bought for £10 from a Parisian cheese merchant, Lady Hyegyong’s Uigwe is now digitised

The Joseon court knew how to document things. And one of those court records, recently digitised and put online by the British Library, shows they also knew how to celebrate.

The Uigwe – The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty – were included in the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2006. In its nomination form it is described as

A unique form of documentary heritage … a collection of Royal Protocols of the over 500 year-long Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910), that both records and prescribes through prose and illustration the major ceremonies and rites of the royal family.

One small piece of the Uigwe is in the possession of the British Library. In the library’s blog, Hamish Todd, lead curator of the Japanese and Korean collection, tells us that this particular volume was bought in 1891 for £10 from a mysterious Parisian cheese merchant, acting as a middleman for an unknown owner.

Uigwe orchestra
The musicians and orchestra at the celebrations. Courtesy of the British Library, Manuscript Or 7458, folio 17 recto (detail)

The manuscript was produced in 1809 and documents the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of not the marriage of Lady Hyegyong to Crown Prince Sado in 1744, but of its consummation five years later. Its official title is Records of the ritual presentation and banquet in the kisa year (Kisa chinp’yori chinch’an ŭigwe’ 己巳進表裏進饌儀軌).

Lady Hyegyong (1735-1815) is one of those characters from history that one would love to meet. But she is so discreet in her fascinating memoirs that maybe she would be equally guarded in real life.

But now at least, thanks to the British Library, we can now see precisely how the big anniversary was celebrated, when she was in her mid-70s. The manuscript has been digitised, and is now available online. Clearly, there was a big orchestra, and the flower arrangements were very splendid.

Uigwe flowers
Some of the flowers at the celebration. Courtesy of the British Library, Manuscript Or 7458, folio 19 verso (detail)

Read Hamish Todd’s article for further background.

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