Mạc dynasty

Mạc dynasty
House of Mạc
The Mạc still control northeast Vietnam and Later Lê dynasty reclaim the rest of territory after 1592
Capital Thăng Long

Cao Bằng
Languages Vietnamese, Mandarin
Religion Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism
Government Monarchy and Autonomy state
   1483–1541 Mạc Đăng Dung (first)
  1638–1677 Mạc Kính Vũ (last)
   Established 1527
   Disestablished 1592
Currency Văn
Preceded by
Later Lê dynasty

The Mạc dynasty (Vietnamese: Nhà Mạc; Hán Việt: , Mạc Triều), ruled the whole of Vietnam (then known as Đại Việt) between 1527 and 1533 and the northern part of the country from 1533 until 1592, when they lost control over the capital Hanoi for the last time.[lower-alpha 1] Later Mạc representatives ruled over the province of Cao Bằng (with the direct support of the Ming and Qing dynasties) until 1677.

Mạc Đăng Dung

Map of Vietnam c. 1560
The Mạc still control northeast Vietnam but their territory is shrinking

The founder of the Mạc dynasty was a man who was related to a famous Trần dynasty Confucian scholar named Mạc Đĩnh Chi. The Ming's ethnic Vietnamese collaborators included Mac Thuy whose grandfather was Mạc Đĩnh Chi who was a direct ancestor of Mạc Đăng Dung.[1][2] Unlike his ancestor, Mạc Đăng Dung chose to enter the military and ascended the ranks to become the senior general in the Vietnamese army. Later he seized power in a coup d'état and ruled Vietnam from 1527 till his death in 1541. Officially he resigned his position as Emperor in favor of his son but the reality was, he continued to rule.[3]

Main article: Mạc Đăng Dung

Mạc Đăng Dung, famed for his strength and cunning, got his start as a bodyguard for the cruel and reviled Lê Emperor – Lê Uy Mục (around 1506). Over time, despite the deaths of several emperors, Mạc Đăng Dung increased his power and gained many supporters. However, he also gained the enmity of other rivals for power.

Around 1520, a civil war started. This war would last, with occasional breaks, for the next 150 years. Apparently fearing the growing ambition of Mạc Đăng Dung, the young Emperor, Lê Chiêu Tông, fled to the south. A revolt started with the Trịnh and the Nguyễn families claiming to support the Emperor against the power of Mạc Đăng Dung. Mạc Đăng Dung responded by proclaimed the Emperor's younger brother, Prince Xuan, was now the true Emperor and installed as Emperor under the name Lê Cung Hoàng. The revolt was ended, temporarily, when Mạc Đăng Dung's forces captured and executed Lê Chiêu Tông along with the leaders of the revolt.

In 1527 Mạc Đăng Dung removed the figurehead Emperor he had installed earlier and proclaimed himself as the new Emperor under the title Minh Đức. This usurpation of the throne from the rightful Lê Emperors was not well received by the officials in the government. Some were killed, some committed suicide, some fled to the south to join a new revolt by the Trịnh and the Nguyễn against the Mạc Emperors.

A new revolt began, and both sides tried to pull in allies, mainly the Ming dynasty but also from King Phothisarat I of Lan Xang (modern-day Laos). Mạc Đăng Dung, through submissive diplomacy and massive bribes, convinced the Ming not to attack in 1528. He then abdicated his position as Emperor in favor of his son, Mạc Đăng Doanh a year later. However, this was done purely to solidify his son's claim to rule after he was gone. In reality Mạc Đăng Dung continued to rule with the title of Senior Emperor (Viet: Thái thượng hoàng).

Mạc Đăng Dung's return

Statue of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, crimson and gilded wood (16th century)

The revolt in the south gathered strength and over the next three years all the provinces south of the Red River were captured by the Nguyễn and Trịnh armies. In 1533 the figurehead Lê Emperor, Lê Trang Tong, was officially crowned at the newly recaptured western capital.

At this point, Mạc Đăng Doanh died and his father reclaimed the throne. The Ming Chinese threatened Mạc Đăng Dung with an invasion of 110,000 men ready to invade Vietnam from Guangxi in 1540. Mac succumbed and caved in to Chinese pressure and accepted the bitter demands the Chinese made, including crawling barefoot in front of the Chinese, giving up land to China, downgrading the status of his polity from a country to a chieftancy and giving up official documents like tax registers to the Ming.[4][5][6] The Ming official position was that the Mạc should rule over the northern half of Vietnam, while the Lê should rule over the southern half (in other words, below the Red River). Then the Ming returned home. The Nguyễn and the Trịnh refused to accept this division of the country and the war continued.

In 1541 Mạc Đăng Dung died and was succeeded by his grandson Mạc Phúc Hải.

1541–92: Lê–Mạc wars

Mạc Phúc Hải ruled only for six years, during which he was defeated by the Trịnh army and lost more territories. He was succeeded by Mạc Phúc Nguyên (1545–61) who had to fight a war with his brother Trung.

Mạc Mậu Hợp ruled from 1561 to 1592. He was the last significant Mạc ruler. In 1572 the capital was captured by the Trịnh army but then he recaptured it a year later. Then, in 1592, Trịnh Tùng unleashed a massive invasion of the north and conquered Hanoi along with the rest of the northern provinces. Mạc Mậu Hợp was captured during the retreat and was cut to pieces over three days.

The last 80 years

The Mạc now lost all of Vietnam except for the areas around Cao Bằng Province which was under the formal protection of the Ming army. The new Mạc leader was Mạc Kinh Chi. He managed to assemble a large army which defeated the army of Trịnh Tùng but a year later, he and his army were wiped out by a new Trịnh army under Trịnh Tùng.

Mạc Kinh Cung ruled for more than twenty years (1593–1616). Based out of Van Ninh (Quảng Ninh Province?) the Mạc army staged many attacks against the Trịnh. The Trịnh requested and received aid from the Nguyễn and the joint army (with Nguyễn Hoàng) defeated the Mạc.

In 1598 yet another official Ming commission declared the Mạc to be rulers over Cao Bằng province and so the Mạc rulers stayed in this protected area, occasionally launching raids into Trịnh controlled Vietnam.

During his time in power, the aggressive Trịnh Lord Trịnh Tráng conquered more territory from the Mạc. He also began the Trịnh–Nguyễn War which started to go badly for him after the disaster at the battle of Truong Duc in 1648.

The next Trịnh Lord, Trịnh Tạc was more successful than his father. He pushed the Nguyễn back to their original lands and then spent the next 15 years rebuilding the country and his army.

Up until this point the Trịnh had been prevented from completing the final destruction of the Mạc because the Mạc were protected by the Ming dynasty. But now the Ming had fallen (in 1644) and had been replaced by the Manchu. As a result, the Mạc no longer enjoyed the same relationship with the Chinese government. In the early 1660s, the Mạc made the mistake of siding with a disloyal governor and so the Kangxi Emperor withdrew his protection of the Mạc. Learning of this change, in 1667, Trịnh Tạc invaded Cao Bằng, defeated the Mạc army and drove them out of the province and into China.

The last mention of the Mạc comes in 1677 when a Mạc army invaded northern Vietnam from their refuge in southern China. This invasion was defeated by the Royal (Trịnh) army, still under the command of Trịnh Tac.

So ended the long but ineffective dynasty founded by Mạc Đăng Dung. The civil war he started continued after his descendants lost control of Hanoi and turned into a war between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn. The Vietnamese civil war finally came to an end with the peace of 1672.


While contemporary historians of feudal Le and Nguyen dynasties regarded Mac rulers as downright usurpers, historians after 1945 debate over this controversial dynasty with more favorable and objective viewpoints. Modern researchers recognize that during the reign of Mạc Emperors, women enjoyed much more freedom and privileges than in the previous dynasties. The Mạc court also allowed domestic and foreign trade to flourish, resulting in the rise of Đông Đô and the surrounding areas such as Chu Đậu in Hải Dương province as an important link in the East-West maritime commerce route.

Many notable figures of the Mạc court, such as Prince regent Mạc Kính Điển, general Nguyễn Quyện, general Mạc Ngọc Liễn were praised by both friends and foes for their virtues, talents and exceptional loyalty, which is indeed rarely seen far and wide.

See also


  1. Lockhart & Duiker (2010, p. 437):
    • Mạc Dynasty:
    • Mạc Thái Tổ (Mạc Đăng Dung) (1527-30)
    • Mạc Thái Tông (Mạc Đăng Doanh) (1530-40)
    • Mạc Hiến Tông (Mạc Phúc Hải) (1540-46)
    • Mạc Tuyên Tông (Mạc Phúc Nguyên) (1546-64)
    • ruler without imperial titles: Mạc Mậu Hợp (1564-92)


  1. K. W. Taylor (9 May 2013). A History of the Vietnamese. Cambridge University Press. pp. 232–. ISBN 978-0-521-87586-8.
  2. Bruce M. Lockhart; William J. Duiker (14 April 2010). The A to Z of Vietnam. Scarecrow Press. pp. 229–. ISBN 978-1-4617-3192-4.
  3. Hodgkin 1981.
  4. Dardess 2012, p. 5.
  5. Yamazaki 2013.
  6. http://www.eacrh.net/ojs/index.php/crossroads/article/view/43/Vol8_Yamazaki_html


Preceded by
Later Lê Dynasty
Ruler of Vietnam
Succeeded by
Later Lê Dynasty
Preceded by
Ruler of North Vietnam
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Ruler of Cao Bằng
Succeeded by
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