Princess Anle

Princess Anle
Born 684
Fang Prefecture, Tang China
Died 21 July 710 (aged 26)
Spouse Wu Chongxun 武崇訓
Wu Yanxiu 武延秀
Issue one son[1]
Full name
Li Guo'er 李裹兒
Posthumous name
悖逆庶人 ("rebellious commoner")
House Tang Dynasty
Father Emperor Zhongzong of Tang
Mother Empress Wei

Princess Anle (安樂公主) (684?[2] – 21 July 710), personal name Li Guo'er (李裹兒), was a princess of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty. She was the youngest daughter of Emperor Zhongzong and his wife Empress Wei. Popular history holds that she was doted upon heavily by her parents and siblings, which contributed to her later drive for power.[3]

Eventually, after Emperor Zhongzong died in 710—a death that traditional historians assert was a poisoning carried out by Empress Wei and Li Guo'er (so that Empress Wei could reign and Li Guo'er could become crown princess) -- a coup led by Li Guo'er's cousin Li Longji the Prince of Linzi and Li Guo'er's paternal aunt Princess Taiping overthrew and killed Empress Wei and Li Guo'er.


Li Guo'er was the youngest of four children that Emperor Zhongzong (Li Zhe) had with his wife Empress Wei. She is said to have been born at a time when Li Zhe had, after a brief reign in 684, been deposed by his mother Empress Dowager Wu (later known as Wu Zetian), reduced to the title of Prince of Lulin, and exiled to Fang Prefecture (房州, in modern Shiyan, Hubei). He was replaced by his brother Li Dan the Prince of Yu (as Emperor Ruizong). Legend holds that at her birth, Li Zhe took off his shirt and wrapped her in it, thereafter she was named Guo'er (meaning "the child that was wrapped"). It is held that, as she was born in times of trouble, Guo'er was pampered by her parents and Empress Wei, in particular, favoured her when she became older, as she was beautiful and eloquent.[4]

In 698, at the urging of the chancellor Di Renjie, Wu Zetian (who had taken the throne herself in 690, reducing Li Dan to the rank of crown prince) recalled Li Zhe to the capital. Li Dan offered to yield the position of crown prince to Li Zhe, and Wu Zetian agreed, creating Li Zhe crown prince (and subsequently changing his name, first to Li Xian, and then to Wu Xian). Sometime after the end of exile, Li Guo'er married Wu Chongxun (武崇訓) the Prince of Gaoyang, the son of Wu Zetian's nephew Wu Sansi the Prince of Liang.

During Emperor Zhongzong's second reign

In 705, a coup led by Zhang Jianzhi, Cui Xuanwei, Jing Hui, Huan Yanfan, and Yuan Shuji overthrew Wu Zetian and restored Emperor Zhongzong to the throne. However, Wu Sansi, who was carrying on an affair with Empress Wei, became a trusted advisor of Emperor Zhongzong, and Zhang and his cohorts soon lost power (and eventually all were killed or died in exile in 706). Li Guo'er and Emperor Zhongzong's concubine Consort Shangguan Wan'er also became powerful figures. Li Guo'er, in particular, as she was favored by both Emperor Zhongzong and Empress Wei, was said to be powerful, arrogant, and corrupt.

In spring 706, Emperor Zhongzong issued an edict that, in an unprecedented manner, established staffs for seven princesses—his sister Princess Taiping; his daughters Princesses Changning, Yicheng, Xindu, Ding'an, and Anle; and Princess Jincheng, the daughter of his cousin Li Shouli the Prince of Yong. It was said, among the seven, Li Guo'er had a particularly large staff, and she also sold governmental offices, even to people who were of low social stations, as long as they had the money. Because the offices she sold had their commissions sealed in envelopes that were sealed in a slanted manner to indicate that they needed not to be approved by the examination bureau of government (門下省, Menxia Sheng), they were known as the "slanted-sealed officials" (斜封官, xiefeng guan). It was said that at times, she would even draft edicts for Emperor Zhongzong and then, covering the text of the edicts, ask him to sign them—and that he did so willingly. She also requested that she be made crown princess. Emperor Zhongzong, as advised by the senior chancellor Wei Yuanzhong, refused, and she, disappointed, replied rather irreverently:

Wei Yuanzhong is simply a carpenter from east of the mountain [(i.e., east of modern Sanmenxia, Henan)], and he has black feet. What does he know about the affairs of state? If that Wu woman [(i.e., Wu Zetian)] could become the Emperor, why cannot the daughter of the Emperor become an Emperor?

Despite this irreverence, Emperor Zhongzong did not rebuke her. He did, however, make her brother Li Chongjun, born of a concubine, crown prince. Both Li Guo'er and her husband Wu Chongxun looked down on Li Chongjun, however, and at times they even called him "slave." In summer 707, in anger, Li Chongjun rose in rebellion with the ethnically Mohe general Li Duozuo and Emperor Zhongzong's cousin Li Qianli (李千里) the Prince of Cheng. Li Chongjun killed Wu Sansi and Wu Chongxun, but in his subsequent attack on the palace was defeated and forced to flee; he was then killed in flight.

Emperor Zhongzong buried Wu Sansi and Wu Chongxun with great honor, creating Wu Chongxun the Prince of Lu posthumously. Li Guo'er wanted Wu Chongxun to be buried with honors due an emperor, and Emperor Zhongzong initially was inclined to agree, but after the official Lu Can (盧粲) advised against it, changed his mind—and Li Guo'er, in anger, had Lu demoted to be the prefect of Chen Prefecture (陳州, roughly modern Zhoukou, Henan).

Meanwhile, in the aftermaths of Li Chongjun's rebellion, Emperor Zhongzong had his alleged coconspirators investigated, at both Li Guo'er and the minister of defense Zong Chuke tried to implicate both Li Dan and Princess Taiping into the plot, but at the urging of the deputy minister of civil services and deputy imperial censor Xiao Zhizhong stopped the investigations into Li Dan and Princess Taiping.

By 708, Li Guo'er, her older sister Princess Changning, Empress Wei's sister the Lady of Cheng (郕), Consort Shangguan, Consort Shangguan's mother Lady Zheng (鄭), along with senior ladies in waiting of the families Chai (柴) and Helou (賀婁), the sorceress Diwu Ying'er (第五英兒), and Lady Zhao (趙) of Longxi (隴西), were all extremely powerful. It was said that Li Guo'er was particularly powerful and arrogant and that many officials, including chancellors, received offices because of her recommendations. She competed with Princess Changning in their extravagance, building mansions that were even more luxurious than imperial palaces. At one point, she asked Emperor Zhongzong to bestow on her the imperial pond Kunming Pond (昆明池) -- a request Emperor Zhongzong denied on the account that many commoners fish at Kunming Pond to feed themselves. Li Guo'er, in anger, seized much private property to create a pond of her own, known as the Dingkun Pond (定昆池, i.e., "the pond that would compete with Kunming"), with many wondrous features that were intended to exceed those of Kunming Pond. She spent enormous amounts of money adorning her private pleasure park, having workers excavate a sixteen-mile circumference lake, dig out a river in the form of the milky way, and pile stones in the form of the sacred Mount Hua. Carpenters also made walkways and pavilions. After her death in 710, the government made the property a public place. She also built many Buddhist temples, as did her mother Empress Wei and sister Princess Changning.

In late 708, Li Guo'er remarried—with her new husband being Wu Chongxun's cousin Wu Yanxiu (武延秀) -- in a grand ceremony that included ceremonial guards that were only allowed for empresses, with Li Dan serving as the ceremonial commander. The wedding banquet was set within the palace, and when Li Guo'er came out to greet the guests, they all bowed to her. Her young son, by Wu Chongxun, only a few years old, was created the Duke of Gao.

In 709, two corrupt chancellors with connections to Li Guo'er, Cui Shi and Zheng Yin, were indicted by the assistant censors Jin Heng (靳恆), Li Shangyin, and Pei Cui (裴漼), and initially, Zheng was reduced to commoner rank and exiled, while Cui Shi was reduced in rank to be the military advisor to a prefectural prefect, but at the urging of Consort Shangguan, Li Guo'er, and Wu Yanxiu, their punishments were subsequently reduced.


In summer 710, Emperor Zhongzong died suddenly. Traditional historians assert that it was a poisoning (with the poison placed into a cake), carried out after a conspiracy by Empress Wei, her new lovers Ma Qinke (馬秦客) and Yang Jun (楊均), and Li Guo'er—with Li Guo'er's motive being that she hoped that Empress Wei would become "emperor" like her grandmother Wu Zetian and that she could become crown princess. After Emperor Zhongzong's death, Empress Wei placed his son (not by her) Li Chongmao the Prince of Wen on the throne (as Emperor Shang), but retained power herself as empress dowager and regent. Less than a month later, however, imperial guards, incited by Li Dan's son Li Longji the Prince of Linzi and Princess Taiping, attacked the palace, and during the attack, it was said that Li Guo'er was looking at herself in the mirror and putting on makeup when a soldier charged in and killed her. Also killed were Empress Dowager Wei, Wu Yanxiu, and Lady Helou. Subsequently, other members of the empress dowager's and Li Guo'er's factions were also killed.

Subsequently, at the urging of Princess Taiping, Li Longji, and Li Longji's brother Li Chengqi the Prince of Song, Li Dan took the throne again, displacing Emperor Shang. He posthumously reduced Empress Wei to commoner rank and reduced Li Guo'er further to the unusual rank of "rebellious commoner." However, he still buried her with honors due an official of the second rank. Her husband Wu Chongxun's grand tomb, however, was destroyed.


Notes and references

  1. Fathered by Princess Anle's first husband; he was created Duke of Gao
  2. Accounts of Li Guo'er's birth imply, but do not definitively state, that she was born during her parents' journey to their place of exile, which would make her birth in 684. See New Book of Tang, vol. 83.
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