Empress He

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(Redirected from Empress Dowager He)

Empress Dowager He (named He Mou 何某) was the chief consort of Emperor Ling of Han Dynasty China. Along with her half-brother He Jin, she was able to temporarily dominate power at the imperial court after the death of Emperor Ling in 189 as Empress Dowager.

Originally from a butcher's family from Wan county in central China, He Mou entered the Lateral Courts of Luoyang probably in the early 170s. After giving birth to Liu Bian in 176, the future emperor, she was promoted to the rank of guiren, and again to Empress in 180. The next year, male members of her family were also elevated in rank. Her father He Zhen became General of Chariots and Cavalry and Marquis of Wuyang. The Hou Han shu describes Empress He's ruthlessness and power struggles in Emperor Ling's harem. She allegely had the Beauty Wang, another of the Emperor's favourites, poisoned after she gave birth to Liu Xie, the future Emperor Xian. After details of the plot were revealed, Empress He was demoted and her son taken into the care of Empress Dowager Dong.

When Emperor Ling died in 189, her son Liu Bian was chosen as successor. Empress He was made Empress Dowager He and presided over the imperial court, sharing power with her half-brother General-in-chief He Jin. Throughout much of the year, Empress He acted as balancing force between the enunuch faction, led by Jian Shuo and Zhang Rang, and the official faction, led by He Jin and Yuan Shao. The climax of the struggles came in September, when He Jin was assassinated by the eunuchs at the imperial palace. In the chaotic fighting which followed, Empress He lost all the members of her clan of political importance, including her brother He Miao and mother, the Lady of Wuyang. The entry of the frontier general Dong Zhuo into the capital shortly afterwards added to the general confusion of the situation.

Dong used his military power to bully the imperial court into subservience. He deposed Liu Bian in favour of his younger half-brother Liu Xie. Empress Dowager He was accused of the murder of Empress Dowager Dong and ordered to move to the Yongle Palace, outside the main palace complex. She was poisoned there by order of Dong Zhuo on 30 September 189.

The posthumous title "Thoughtful" was awarded to the Empress He. It had been held earlier by the Empress Yan of Emperor An and the Empress Dou of Emperor Huan: they too survived their husbands to become empress-dowagers, and in both cases their power and that of their clan was overthrown in a palace coup. She was given the honour of burial with her late husband Emperor Ling. Her mound was called Mound of Accomplished Display and lays south of Luoyang. It is said to have been desecrated by Dong Zhuo at the beginning of the civil wars of the 190s.



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