Lý Thái Tổ

Lý Thái Tổ
Emperor of Đại Việt

Statue of Lý Thái Tổ beside the Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi
Emperor of Đại Cồ Việt
Reign 10091028
Predecessor Lê Long Đĩnh
Successor Lý Thái Tông
Emperor of Lý Dynasty
Reign 10091028
Predecessor Dynasty established
Successor Lý Thái Tông
Born 973
Cổ Pháp, Bắc Giang, Đại Cồ Việt
Died 1028 (aged 55)
Thăng Long, Vietnam
Burial Thọ Lăng
Spouse 9 empresses
Issue Lý Thái Tông, Ly Bo, Ly Luc, Ly Nhat Quang, two other sons, and thirteen daughters.
Full name
Lý Công Uẩn (李公蘊)
Era dates
Thuận Thiên (10101028)
Posthumous name
Thần Vũ Hoàng đế
Temple name
Thái Tổ (太祖)
House Lý Dynasty
Religion Buddhism

Lý Thái Tổ (Chinese: 李太祖, 974 - 1028), birth name Lý Công Uẩn (李公蘊), courtesy name Triệu Diễn (兆衍), was Annam's first emperor and the founder of the Later Lý Dynasty; he reigned from 1009 to 1028.[1] He moved the capital to Hanoi in 1010.[2][3]

Early years

He was born in Cổ Pháp village, Đình Bảng, Từ Sơn, Bắc Ninh Province in 973. There are few details about his parents and family background as they were not prominently recorded. However, his mother was called “Phạm Thị,” which means "Lady Phạm". His father may have been a minor official of the Anterior Lê Dynasty, perhaps the Đinh Dynasty, or even has some connection to the Cổ Pháp Pagoda monastic clergy.

He was born at Cổ Pháp Pagoda, also known as Dận Pagoda. At the age of 3, his mother brought him back to the pagoda. Lý Khánh Văn, head monk of the pagoda, adopted him and named him Lý Công Uẩn. He was brought to the pagoda and became a Buddhist disciple.[4][5]

Lý Thái Tổ
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Lý Thái Tổ

Later in his youth, he was put under the guardianship of the pagoda's new headmaster Lý Vạn Hạnh, who was a very well respected cleric during the Anterior Lê Dynasty era, he came to the royal capital Hoa Lư to be religious advisor for the Lê royal court. He was gradually promoted from a minor official to a prominent post of the imperial government and was ultimately bestowed with the title “Tả Thân Vệ Điện Tiền Chỉ Huy Sứ” meaning "The Commander of the Palace's Left Flank", which was one of the most important positions within the imperial guards. In 1009, Lê Ngoạ Triều, the last monarch of the Anterior Lê Dynasty died under the wrath of the people because of his brutality and cruelty he brought onto them during his reign. Đào Cam Mộc, an imperial official, and Vạn Hạnh seized the opportunity and imposed their power and political influence to enthrone their trusted disciple Lý Công Uẩn without much resistance, thus ended the Anterior Lê Dynasty.

Birth name
Vietnamese alphabet Lý Công Uẩn

After his ascension to the throne, Lý Công Uẩn named his era "Thuận Thiên" meaning "Will of Heaven". His royal title became Lý Thái Tổ and the first year of his reign was in Hoa Lư.

Imperial capital relocation

Lý Thái Tổ is best known for relocating the imperial capital from Hoa Lư to Thăng Long (modern day Hà Nội) in 1010 AD. He is generally viewed as the founder of the city of Hà Nội. In 2010, the city of Hà Nội celebrated its 1000th anniversary and in honoring Lý Thái Tổ.

Although Hoa Lư was a strategic citadel surrounded by mountains and marshland that was difficult for invading armies to attack or conquer, Hoa Lư was geographically too small and difficult for commerce and urban development to flourish. Lý Công Uẩn, who had wished to implement civic development and economic growth within the realm, soon realized that Hoa Lư was not a suitable place for such aspirations. This prompted Lý Thái Tổ to move the capital to a more spacious landscaped settlement called Đại La, now Hà Nội. Đại La was an ideal location for the new capital since it was on flatland and surrounded by rivers and lakes, which was advantageous for transportation, commerce, and military mobilization. In 1010, he issued a royal decree called Edict on the Transfer of the Capital for moving the imperial capital from Hoa Lư to Đại La. While travelling from Hoa Lư to the imperial settlement, he claimed to have had a vision of "a yellow dragon ascending" which inspired him to change the new settlement's name from Đại La to Thăng Long which means "Ascending Dragon". Lý Công Uẩn also built Trường An Citadel in the former capital Hoa Lư to further fortify the garrison for military defense and Thiên Đức Citadel in Cổ Pháp village as a tributary honor to his childhood home town.


Having begun life as a Buddhist monk, Lý Thái Tổ practiced Buddhism and promoted it as the national religion. As a result, he gave much support to the Buddhist clergy and institutions. He donated money to build pagodas throughout Đại Việt. Many citizens joined monastic institutions during this reign since he was a strong patron of the Buddhist religion. Clerical officials such as Nguyễn Đạo Thanh and Phạm Hạc were sent to China (Song Dynasty court) to study and bring back the sutra named Tam Tạng (Tripiṭaka) to Đại Việt.


During the reign of Lý Thái Tổ, the Song Dynasty was pre-occupied with maintaining internal stability and still recovering from previous defeats or skirmishes with the Liao and Xi Xia empires. Đại Việt, as a result, was mostly left alone and political relations between the two kingdoms revived. Lý Thái Tổ sent many envoys to the Song court and demanded that its government officially recognize Đại Việt's status as a vassal independent kingdom rather than an autonomous Chinese province of Song. The Emperor of the Song Dynasty consented and sent envoys in return to be formally entitled Lý Thái Tổ as the "emperor of Đại Việt" superseding the title "Lord of Giao Chỉ", In turn, some vassal kingdoms of Đại Việt to the south such as Champa (modern-day central Vietnam) and Chenla (modern-day Cambodia) brought annual tributes to Đại Việt, allowing Lý Thái Tổ to ensure good relations between these neighboring kingdoms. Lý Thái Tổ's political skills enabled Đại Việt to secure peace with its neighboring kingdoms to the north and south. During his reign, Đại Việt had a stabilized political infrastructure and good relations with its neighbors, which enabled Đại Việt's economic development to flourish.

There were some small rebellions in Nghệ An and in highland areas in the southwest. Lý Thái Tổ himself led the army and quelled these rebellions successfully. During the Lý Dynasty, all royal princes were granted the title “Vương” or "King", a title given emperors' kin or occasionally some primary officials or commanders who had achieved meritorious services or victories. The princes themselves were granted and led their own army regiments into battles. The royal institution enabled the princes to learn and many became experts in army tactics and martial arts as a result.

Lý Thái Tổ also paid close attention to civic development. He issued many royal decrees and edicts that amended many of the previous Lê Dynasty's rigid and primitive policies, such as reforming the royal administration system, establishment of the national university for higher education, and division of the realm into 24 “lộ” or commanderies, in particular Hoan Châu and Ái Châu, to strengthen strategic military defenses. He also reformed the tax system by creating six tax classifications, which enabled the royal court to efficiently collect taxes and citizens to clearly know which tax classification affected them:


Lý Thái Tổ died in 1028 at the age of 55 according to the royal official accounts. He was buried at “Thọ Lăng” meaning the Mausoleum of Longevity, outside of Thiên Đức Palace. His designated regal name was "Thái Tổ" meaning "The Supreme Forefather"; his posthumous imperial title was “Thần Vũ Hoàng Đế” meaning "The Revered Martial Emperor". Today the ancestor spirit of Lý Thái Tổ is among those popularly honoured in rites at national shrines.[6][7]


  1. Origines: the streets of Vietnam : a historical companion J. Wills Burke - 2001 - Page 71 "LÝ THÁI Tổ (974 - 1028) Tổ, named Lý Công Uẩn by the family that adopted him, was crowned emperor Lý Thái Tổ as a reward for his military exploits. He wạs thefounder and first emperor of the Lý Dynasty (1010 - 1225).
  2. Anh Thư Hà, Hồng Đức Trần A Brief Chronology of Vietnam's History 2000- Page 40 "Taking this as a good omen, he named the new capital Thăng Long (City of the Soaring Dragon), now Hanoi. Lý Thái Tổ reorganized the administration"
  3. Patricia M. Pelley Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past 2002- Page 213 "When Lý Thái Tổ relocated the capital in 1010."
  4. Frank Ra Zen: from China to Cyberspace "Lý Thái Tổ who was raised in a pagoda (Buddhist temple)."
  5. The Lê Code: Law in Traditional Vietnam Ngọc Huy Nguyễn, Văn Tài Tạ, Văn Liêm Tràn - 1987 "The dynastic founder Lý Công Uẩn, later to become Emperor Lý Thái Tổ, was an illegitimate son and had been adopted by a monk, Khánh Vân. Another monk, Vạn Hạnh, encouraged him to take the throne when he saw portents in a tree ..."
  6. Karen Fjelstad, Nguyen Thi Hien Spirits Without Borders: Vietnamese Spirit Mediums 2011 "Later, she learned that ritual masters purify the temples and animate the statues using a ritual similar to those employed for representations of national heroes such as Hồ Chí Minh or Lý Thái Tổ that are situated in historical sites and parks"
  7. Philip Taylor Modernity and Re-enchantment "Afterwards, the temple elders learned that the visitor was a thirty-first-generation heir of Lý Thái Tổ"
Lý Thái Tổ
Born: 974 Died: 1028
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Lê Long Đĩnh
Emperor of Đại Cồ Việt
Succeeded by
Lý Thái Tông
Preceded by
Emperor of Lý Dynasty
Succeeded by
Lý Thái Tông
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