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Kingdom of Vietnam

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Kingdom of Vietnam

Đại Việt Nam quốc  (Vietnamese)
Royaume de Vietnam  (French)
Vietnam at its greatest territorial extent in 1840 (under Emperor Minh Mạng), superimposed on the modern political map
Vietnam at its greatest territorial extent in 1840 (under Emperor Minh Mạng), superimposed on the modern political map
16°28′N 107°36′E / 16.467°N 107.600°E / 16.467; 107.600
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Common languagesVietnamese
Vietnamese folk religion, Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism, Catholicism, Sunni Islam
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
• 1802–20 (first)
Gia Long
• 1884–85 (last independent)
Hàm Nghi
Historical eraNew Imperialism
• Coronation of Gia Long
• End of independence
9 June 1885
• Merged into French Indochina
17 October 1887
1843906,000[1] km2 (350,000 sq mi)
1880455,000[2] km2 (176,000 sq mi)
• 1843
• 1880
CurrencyVăn (Sapèque), Tiền, and Lạng
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Đại Việt
French Indochina
Today part of Vietnam
The Vietnamese empire in 1845

The Kingdom of Vietnam[5][6][7][8][9] (French: Royaume de Vietnam, Vietnamese: Nước Việt Nam; [vîət nāːm] (About this soundlisten)) or the Vietnamese Empire, officially The (Great) Vietnamese state (Vietnamese: Đại Việt Nam quốc)[10], sometimes known as Nguyễn Vietnam, was a historical multiethnic state and a monarchy in Southeast Asia with capital Huế,[11] succeed the kingdom of Đại Việt (960–1802) after long periods of Vietnamese disunification and civil wars from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Established in June 1802 by Emperor Gia Long, a descendant of the last Nguyen lord, who achieved in reuniting the Vietnamese after centuries of bloodshed and internecine warfare, with a greater land mass than ever before, stretching from China down to the Gulf of Siam. Its territories comprised the present-day territories of Vietnam and portions included Cambodia and Laos, bordered with Siam to the west and Manchu Qing dynasty to the north. Throughout its existence, the ruling Nguyen emperors established and ran the first well-defined imperial administrative and bureaucratic system across the country, annexed Cambodia and Champa into its territories in the 1830s. Together with Chakri Siam and Konbaung Burma, it was one among three major Southeast Asian powers at the time.[12]

Gia Long, or Nguyen Phuc Anh, was relatively friendly toward Western powers and Christianity. The second emperor after Gia Long, Minh Mạng, ruled for 21 years from 1820 to 1841, a conservative and Confucian Orthodoxy ruler that had been adopted the policy of isolationist, kept the country from the rest of the world for nearly 40 years until the French invasion in 1858. Minh Mạng tightened control over Catholicism, Muslim, and ethnic minorities, resulting in more than two hundred rebellions across the country during his twenty-one-year reign. He also expanded his ambition to modern-day Laos and Cambodia. Minh Mạng's successors, Thiệu Trị (r. 1841–1847) and Tự Đức (r. 1847–1883) however consecutive faced more serious problems that ultimately decimated the Vietnamese state. In the late 1840s, Vietnam was struck by a global deadly cholera pandemic that killed roughly 8% of the kingdom’s population, while continuously isolationist policies and prohibition of trade and contact damaged the kingdom’s economy and internal politics. The French Empire of Napoleon III and Spain of Isabell II declared war on Vietnam in September 1858. Facing mighty industrialized France and Spain, the hermit Vietnamese kingdom and its military crumbled as the Franco-Spanish alliance took Saigon in early 1859. A series of unequal treaties followed; the occupied territory became the French colony of Cochinchina in the 1862 Treaty of Saigon, and the 1863 Treaty of Huế gave France access to Vietnamese ports and increased control of its foreign affairs. The Treaty of Saigon (1874) concluded the French annexation of Cochinchina. Later, the Hue court was forced to sign the Harmand Convention in September 1883, which handover Tonkin (northern Vietnam) and several provinces to the French administration. After the Treaty of Patenôtre was signed in 1884, France annexed and partitioned Vietnam into three constituent protectorates of French Indochina, and effectively turned the ruling Nguyen dynasty court into a vassal monarchy of France. Finally, the Treaty of Tientsin (1885) between the Chinese Empire and the French Republic was signed on 9 June 1885, which ended the independent Kingdom of Vietnam after 83 years of existence.

The ruling dynasty of Vietnam, the Nguyen dynasty, were allowed to continue reigning nominally as heads of state under French supervision until March 1945 when the last Nguyen emperor, Bao Dai, joined the Japanese forces overthrew the Vichy France regime and became Emperor of nominally independent Japanese puppet state Empire of Vietnam, and the abolition of French Indochina. It ended with Bảo Đại's resignation as an emperor following the surrender of Japan and August Revolution by the anti-colonial communist Việt Minh in August 1945. Ho Chi Minh seized power and formed Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, 1945–1976), while Bảo Đại was invited by the French and became leader of State of Vietnam (SoV, 1949–1955), and finally was overthrown by his prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem, founder of Republic of Vietnam (RV, 1955–1975).

Vietnamese Empire
Vietnamese alphabetNước Việt Nam


The earliest attested usage of the Việt designation used by the Vietnamese to refer to themselves dated back to the 10th century were found on brick inscriptions. Nam Việt (Viets, Yueh,... of the South) was also used by the Vietnamese to refer to themselves as early as on an Buddhist inscription dated 973 AD.[13] During the Ly period (11th-12th century), two inscriptions in vernacular Vietnamese script also engraved the Cự Việt kingdom, lit. Great Viet kingdom.[14] By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, educated Vietnamese called themselves and their people as nguoi viet and nguoi nam, which combined to become nguoi viet nam (Vietnamese people). However, this designation was for the Vietnamese themselves and not for the whole country.[15]

Nguyễn Ánh immediately sent an embassy to Qing China in 1802 to establish relations with his new kingdom. However, the envoys cited the ancient kingdom of Nanyue (V. Nam Viet) to the Ching emperor Jiaqing to represent their country, that made the emperor dissatisfied, and that Nguyen Anh had to officially rename his kingdom as Vietnam in the next year in favour of the Chinese audience.[16][17] Around 1862 Vietnam changed its name to Dai Nam (the Great South).[18] Westerners in the past often called the kingdom as Annam[5][19] or the Annamite Empire.[20] However, in Vietnamese historiography, modern historians often refer to this period in Vietnamese history as Nguyen Vietnam[21] or Vietnam to distinguish with the pre-19th century Dai Viet kingdom.[22]

Historical summary[edit]


Nguyen Anh (Emperor Gia Long)

Nguyễn Ánh (well-known as Nguyen Anh), the only surviving heir of the last Nguyen lord Nguyễn Phúc Thuần, had escaped the Taysons purge in 1777. He was sheltered by a Catholic priest in Rạch Giá, near Gulf of Thailand. Therefore he met a French priest, Pigneau de Behaine in Hà Tiên, and they became comrades. In 1786, the Taysons under Nguyen Hue stormed northern Vietnam, overthrew the ruling Trịnh family who were former enemies of the Nguyen and the old Lê dynasty, then annihilated a large Chinese intervention in Spring 1789. In November 1787, Nguyễn Ánh signed a treaty of alliance with Louis XVI in Versailles, sought military help. With the assistance of the French, Portuguese, Chinese-Vietnamese, Siamese, Chams, and Cambodians,[23] and the command of the loyal talented generals Le Van Duyet and Nguyen Van Thanh, his forces slowly conquered Vietnam from the Taysons, captured Saigon in 1789, Hue in 1801, and Hanoi in June 1802, successfully unified the whole country under his hands by July 1802.[24][25]

The Royal Complex of Hue from aerial view, 1932

On 1 June, Nguyễn Ánh enthroned as Emperor Gia Long in Huế, whose imperial title emphasized his rule from Gia[-dinh] region (Saigon) in the far south to [Thang]-long (Hanoi) in the north.[17] Gia Long claimed to revive the old government system of the bureaucratic state that was built by King Le Thanh Tong during the fifteenth-century golden age (1470–1497), adopted Confucian-bureaucratic government model, and sought unification with northern literati.[26] His first concern was to bring stability over the unified kingdom, and placed two of his most loyal and Confucian-educated figures, Nguyễn Văn Thành and Le Van Duyet as viceroys of Hanoi and Saigon.[27] From 1780 to 1820, roughly 300 French served Gia Long’s court as officials.[28] Under his reign, a system of road connecting Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon with postal stations and inns that laid the foundation for the latter national highway, several canals connecting the Mekong River to the Gulf of Siam were constructed and finished.[29][30] In 1812, Gia Long issued the Gia Long Code, which was instituted based on the Ch'ing Code of China, replaced the previous Thanh Tong's 1480 Code.[31][32][28] In 1811, a coup d'état arose in the Kingdom of Cambodia, a Vietnamese tributary state, forced the pro-Vietnamese king Ang Chan II to offer Gia Long for help. Gia Long sent 13,000 men to Cambodia. He restored the Cambodian monarch to the throne,[33] and began the occupation of the country for the next 30 years, while Siam seized northern Cambodia in 1814.[34]

Seeming a Vietnam with French influences as a potential danger, the British Empire sent two envoys to Gia Long in 1803 and 1804 to convince him to abandon his friendship with the French.[35] In 1808, a British fleet led by William O'Bryen Drury mounted an attack on Vietnamese Red River Delta, but was soon driven back by the Vietnamese navy and suffered several losses. After the Napoleonic war and Gia Long’s death, the British Empire renewed relation with Vietnam in 1822.[36]

Throughout his reign, Gia Long continued to adopt the liberal and tolerant policy of his former rival Tayson. He died in 1819 and was succeeded by his fourth son, Nguyễn Phúc Đảm, who soon became known as Emperor Minh Mạng (r. 1820–1841) of Vietnam.[37]

Rise and expansion under Minh Mạng[edit]

Portrait of Minh Mang by John Crawfurd, the year 1828.

Minh Mạng was the younger brother of prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh and fourth son of emperor Gia Long. Educated in Confucian classic since youth age[38], Minh Mạng became the Emperor of Vietnam in 1820, during a deadly cholera (or plague) outbreak that ravaged and killed 200,000 people across the country.[39] His reign mainly focused on centralizing and stabilizing the state, by abolishing the Viceroy system and implementing a new full bureaucracy-provincial-based administration.[40] He also halted diplomacy with Europe, and imposed religious intolerance.[41]

Minh Mạng immediately shunned relations with the outside world. By 1824, after the death of Jean Marie Despiau, none Western advisers who had served Gia Long remained in Minh Mạng's court. The last French consul of Vietnam, Eugene Chaigneau, was never able to obtain one audience with Minh Mạng. After he left, France made no further attempts.[42] In the next year he launched an anti-Catholicism propaganda campaign, denounced it as a "vicious religion" and "false teaching." In 1832 Minh Mạng turned the Cham Principality of Thuan Thanh into a Vietnamese province.[43] He coercively fed lizard and pig meat to Cham Muslims and cow meat to Cham Hindus against their will to punish them and assimilate them to Vietnamese culture.[44] The first Cham revolt for independence took place in 1833–1834 when Katip Sumat, a Cham mullah who had just returned to Vietnam from Mecca declared a holy war (jihad) against the Vietnamese emperor. The rebellion later quickly lost support from the Cham elites and was overrun by Royal Vietnamese troops with ease.[45] The second Cham revolt started in 1834, led by a Muslim clergy named Ja Thak with supports from the old Cham royalty, highland people, and Vietnamese dissents. Minh Mạng mercilessly crushed the Ja Thak rebellion and executed the last Cham ruler Po Phaok The in early 1835.[46]

In 1833, as Minh Mạng had been trying to take firm control over six southern provinces, a large rebellion led by Lê Văn Khôi (an adopted son of the Saigon viceroy Le Van Duyet) against Minh Mạng in Saigon, attempted to establish the brother of Minh Mạng, Prince Cảnh's line to the throne.[47] The rebellion lasted for two years, gathered support from Vietnamese Catholics, Khmers, Chinese merchants in Saigon, and even the Siamese ruler Rama III until it was crushed by the government forces in 1835.[48][49][43] In January, he issued the first kingdom-wide prohibition of Catholicism, and began persecuting Christians.[50][51] 130 Christian missionaries, priests and church leaders were executed, dozens of churches were burned and destroyed during his persecution.[37]

Execution of French missionary Pierre Borie, 1838.

Minh Mạng also expanded his empire westward, putting central and southern Laos under Cam Lộ province, and collided with his father’s former ally-Siam in Vientiane and Cambodia.[52][53] He backed the revolt of Laotian king Anouvong of Vientiane against the Siamese, and seized Xam Neua and Savannakhet in 1827.[53]

In 1834, the Vietnamese Crown fully annexed Cambodia and renamed it to Tây Thành Province. Minh Mạng placed the general Truong Minh Giang as the governor of the Cambodian province, imposing the policy of assimilating the Cambodians. King Ang Chan II of Cambodia died in the next year and Ming Mang installed Chan's daughter Ang Mey as Commandery Princess of Cambodia.[54] Cambodian officials were required to wear Vietnamese-style clothing, and govern in Vietnamese style.[55] However the Vietnamese rule over Cambodia did not last long as it wasted the Vietnamese economy.[56] Minh Mạng died in 1841, while a major Khmer uprising in the same year with Siamese aid eventually end the Tay Thanh province and his ambition over Cambodia.[57][58]


In the next forty years, Vietnam was ruled by two weak emperors Thieu Tri (r. 1841–1847) and Tu Duc (r. 1848–1883). Thieu Tri or Prince Miên Tông, was the eldest son of emperor Minh Mạng. His six-year reign showed a remarkable decrease in Catholic persecution. The self-sustaining agriculture-based isolationist economy proved insufficient. The population grew from 6 million in the 1820s to 10 million in 1850,[59] severe disasters, epidemics, and famines flawed internal instability.[60] Between 1802 to 1862, the court had faced 405 minor and large revolts of peasants, political dissents, ethnic minorities, Lê loyalists (people that were loyal to the old Lê Duy dynasty) across the country,[61] in many ways contributed to the downfall of the Vietnamese state in the latter half of the 1800s.

In 1845, American warship USS Constitution landed in Da Nang, took all local officials as hostages to demand Thieu Tri to free imprisoned French bishop Dominique Lefèbvre.[62][63][64] In 1847 Thieu Tri had made peace with Siam, but got into trouble with France and Britain. In April French navy attacked the Vietnamese navy and sank many Vietnamese ships in Da Nang, also demanding the relæse of Lefèbvre.[65][66][67] Angered by the incident, Thieu Tri ordered all European documents in his palace to be smashed, and all European caught on Vietnamese land were to immediate execution.[68] In autumn, two British warships of Sir John Davis arrived in Da Nang and asserted a commercial treaty with Vietnam, but the emperor refused. He died a few days later of apoplexy.[69]

Tu Duc, or Prince Hồng Nhậm was Thieu Tri's youngest son, well-educated in Confucian learning, he was crowned by minister and co-regent Trương Đăng Quế. Prince Hồng Bảo-the elder brother of Tu Duc who was the primogeniture chosen by Thieu Tri-rebelled against Tu Duc in the day of his accession.[70] The coup failed. Under the intervention of the empress mother Từ Dụ, his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.[71] Aware of the rise of Western influences in Asia, Tự Đức re-announced the isolationist closed door policy, neither to welcome French or British, American or Spanish embassies, forbid trade and contacts with foreigners and renewed the persecution of Catholics.[72] During Tu Duc's first twelve years, Vietnamese Catholicism faced the worst and bloodiest persecution in history: 27 European missionaries, 300 Vietnamese priests and bishops, and 30,000 Vietnamese Christians were executed and crucified from 1848 to 1860.[68]

In the late 1840s, a cholera outbreak set on Vietnamese soils, via trade with British India. The epidemic quickly spread out of control and killed 800,000 people (8%–10% of Vietnam’s 1847 population) across the kingdom.[73] Locusts plagued northern Vietnam in 1854, and a major rebellion in the following year damaged much of the Tonkin countryside. The central government became so weak and unable to maintain its control on Tonkin as strong as the early period.[68]

In the 1850-1870s, a new class of liberal intellectuals emerged in the court, many of them Catholics and had studied abroad in Europe, most notably Nguyễn Trường Tộ, urged the emperor to reform and transform the kingdom following the Western model, open Vietnam to the world.[74] Their reform efforts however were usually ignored and rejected by the top Confucian conservative bureaucrats and Tu Duc himself.[75][76] No significant industrial economy was available at the time except mining to fund the reformists' modernisation progress. Social cohesion was low. 95 percent of the kingdom’s population lived in rural areas and depended on agriculture and lasting effects of prolonged isolationist policies which undermining the economy.[77]

French conquest[edit]

The Alliance (France-Spain) army capture of Saigon in 1859

In September 1858, Franco-Spanish army bombarded and invaded Da Nang to protest against the executions of two Spanish Dominican missionaries. Seven months later, they sailed to the south to attack Saigon and the rich Mekong Delta.[78] The Alliance troops were holding Saigon for two years, while a rebellion of Lê loyalists led by Catholic bishop Pedro Tạ Văn Phụng, who self-proclaimed to be a Lê prince, broke out in the north and escalated.[79][80] In February 1861, French reinforcement and 70 warships led by General Vassoigne arrived and overwhelmed Vietnamese strongholds. Facing the Alliance invasion and internal rebellion, Tu Duc chose to cede three Southern provinces to France in order to deal with the coinciding rebellion.[81][82]

Treaty of Saigon (1862)
Vietnamese mission to Napoleon III (1863)

In June 1862, the Treaty of Saigon was signed, resulting in Vietnam losing three rich Gia Dinh, My Tho, Bien Hoa provinces, and the Poulo Condoræ Island, open for religious freedom and, along with paying war reparations to France. However, to Queen mother Từ Dụ, the court, and the people, the 1862 treaty was a national humiliation. Tu Duc once again sent a mission to French Emperor Napoleon III, called to revise the 1862 treaty. In July 1864, another draft treaty was signed. France returned the three provinces to Vietnam, but still hold control over three important cities Saigon, My Tho, and Thu Dau Mot.[83] In 1866, France convinced Tu Duc to hand over three remaining southern provinces of Vinh Long, Ha Tien, and Chau Doc. Phan Thanh Gian, the Governor of the three provinces immediately resigned. Without resistance, in 1867 the French annexed the provinces with ease and were turning their attention to the northern provinces.[84]

Portrait of Emperor Tu Duc

By the late 1860s, pirates, bandits, remnants of the Taiping rebellion in China, fled to Tonkin and turned Northern Vietnam into a hotbed for their raid activities. The Vietnamese state was on its deep decline and was unable to fight against the pirates.[85] These Chinese rebels eventually formed their own mercenary armies like the Black Flags, and cooperated with local Vietnamese officials, together harassing French business. As France was looking for Yunnan and Tonkin, in 1873, a French merchant-adventurer named Jean Dupuis was intercepted by local Hanoi authority, prompting the French Cochinchina government to set out a new attack without talking with the Hue court.[86] An French army led by Francis Garnier arrived at Tonkin in November. Because local administrators had allied with the Black Flags and mistrusting of Hanoi governor Nguyen Tri Phuong, in late November the French and Le loyalists opened fire at the Vietnamese citadel of Hanoi. Tu Duc immediately sent delegations to negotiate with Garnier, but Prince Hoàng Kế Viêm, governor of Sơn Tây, had enlisted the Chinese Black Flags militia of Liu Yongfu to attack the French.[87] Garnier was killed on 21 December by the Black Flag soldiers at the Battle of Cầu Giấy [vi].[88] A peace negotiation between Vietnam and France was reached on 5 January 1874.[89] France formally recognized Vietnam's full independence from China; France would pay off Vietnam's Spanish debts; French force returned Hanoi to the Vietnamese; Vietnamese military in Hanoi had to disband and be reduced to a simple police force; total religious and trade freedom was ensured; Vietnam must recognise all six southern provinces as French territories.[90][91]

The last ten years and dissolution (1874–1885)[edit]

French victory in Thuan An, August 1883.

Just two years after French recognisation, Tu Duc sent an embassy to Qing China in 1876 and re-provoked the tributary relationship with the Chinese (the last mission was in 1849). In 1878, Vietnam renewed relation with Thailand.[92] In 1880, Britain, Germany, and Spain were still debating the fate of Vietnam, and the Chinese Embassy in Paris openly rejected the 1874 Franco-Vietnamese agreement. In Paris, Prime minister Jules Ferry proposed a direct military campaign against Vietnam to revise the 1874 treaty. Because Tự Đức was too preoccupied to keep the French out of his kingdom without directly engaging against them, he requested the Chinese court. In 1882, 30,000 Qing troops flooded into the northern provinces and occupied cities. The Black Flags also had been returning, together, collaborating with local Vietnamese officials and harassing French businesses. In March, the French responded by sending a second expedition led by Henri Rivière to the north to quell off the obstacles as their obligation, but had to avoid all international attention, particularly with China.[93] On 25 April 1882, Rivière took Hanoi without facing any resistance.[94][95] Tự Đức hopelessly informed the Chinese court that their tributary state was being attacked. In September 1882, 17 Chinese divisions (200,000 men) crossed the Sino-Vietnamese borders and occupied Lạng Sơn, Cao Bằng, Bac Ninh, and Thái Nguyên, commissioning for Tự Đức and also themselves to defend against the French aggression.[96]

Mainland Southeast Asia by 1876
French Indochina (blue-gray) in 1889

Backed by the Chinese army and the prince Hoàng Kế Viêm, Liu Yongfu, and the Black Flags decided to attack Rivière. On 19 May 1883, the Black Flags ambushed and beheaded Rivière at the Second battle of Cầu Giấy.[97] News of the death of Rivière spread waves of anger among the French public triggered the national response. The French Parliament quickly voted for the conquest of Vietnam. Tens of thousands of French and Chinese reinforcement poured into the Red River Delta.[98]

Tự Đức died on 17 July.[99] Succession trouble temporarily paralyzed the court. One of his nephews Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Ái was crowned as Emperor Dục Đức but was however imprisoned and executed after three days by the three powerful regents Nguyễn Văn Tường, Tôn Thất Thuyết and Tran Tien Thanh for an unclear reason. Tự Đức's brother Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Dật succeeded on 30 July as Emperor Hiệp Hòa.[100] The senior Censorate official of the court Phan Đình Phùng denounced the three regents for their irregular handling of Tự Đức's succession. Tôn Thất Thuyết blasted Phan Đình Phùng and sent him back to home, where later he led a nationalist resistance movement against the French for ten years.[101]

To knock Vietnam out of the war, France decided to take a direct assault on the city of Hue. The French army split up itself into two parts: the smaller under General Bouët stayed in Hanoi and waited for reinforcement from France while the French fleet led by Amédée Courbet and Jules Harmand sailed to Thuận An, the sea gate of Hue on August 17. Harmand demanded the two regents Nguyễn Văn Tường and Tôn Thất Thuyết to surrender Northern Vietnam, North-Central Vietnam (Thanh Hoá, Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh) and Bình Thuận Province to French possession, and to accept a French résident in Huế who could demand royal audiences. He sent an ultimatum to the regents that "The name Vietnam will no longer exist in history" if they would resist.[102][103]

On 18 August, French battleships began shelling Vietnamese positions in the Thuận An citadel. Two days later, at dawn, Courbet and the French marines landed on the shore. By the next morning, all Vietnamese defenses in Hue were overwhelmed by the French. Emperor Hiệp Hòa dispatched mandarin Nguyen Thuong Bac to negotiate.[104]

Emperor Đồng Khánh (r. 1885–89)–the first Vietnamese monarch under French suzerainty
Emperor Hiệp Hòa, reign 30 July – 29 Nov 1883
Emperor Kiến Phúc, reign 2 Dec 1883 – 31 July 84
Emperor Hàm Nghi (r. 1884–85), the last sovereign of the Vietnamese empire, was exiled to Algeria in 1888.

On 25 September, two court officials Tran Dinh Tuc and Nguyen Trong Hop signed a twenty-seven-article treaty known as Harmand Convention.[105] French seized Bình Thuận; Da Nang, Qui Nhon were opened for trade; the ruling sphere of the Vietnamese monarchy was reduced to Central Vietnam while Northern Vietnam became a French Protectorate. In November Emperor Hiệp Hòa and Tran Tien Thanh were executed by Nguyễn Văn Tường and Tôn Thất Thuyết for their pro-French stand. 14-year-old Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Đăng was crowned as Emperor Kiến Phúc. After achieving peace with China through the Tientsin Accord in May 1884, on 6 June the French Ambassador in China Jules Patenôtre des Noyers signed with Nguyen Van Tuong the Protectorate Treaty of Patenôtre, acknowledge confirmed the French dominant over Vietnam.[106][107] On 31 May 1885, France appointed the first governor of all Vietnam.[108] On 9 June 1885, Vietnam ceased to exist after 83 years as an independent state.[109] Leader of the pro-war faction, Tôn Thất Thuyết and his supporters revolted against the French in July 1885, were forced to retreat to the Laotian highlands with the young emperor Hàm Nghi (Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Lịch), while the French had already installed his pro-French brother Nguyễn Phúc Ưng Kỷ as emperor Đồng Khánh.[110] Thuyết called up the nobility, royalists and nationalists to arm for the resistance against the French occupation (Cần Vương movement).[111] The movement lasted for 11 years (1885–1896) and Thuyết was forced to exile in China in 1888. As the Can Vuong got suppressed and the French took over the monarchy, the Kingdom of Vietnam finally became no longer exist as an independent polity by 1896.[112]



Map of Vietnam in Chu Quoc Ngu, published in Saigon in 1838, showing 31 provinces and Laotian dependencies.

During the reign of Gia Long, the empire was divided into twenty-three quasi-militant protectorates trấn and four military departments doanh.[113] Each protectorate, besides having their own separated regional governments, were under patrol of one greater, powerful unit called Overlord of Citadel, or the Viceroy. For examples, the northern protectorates had Bắc thành Tổng trấn (Viceroy of Northern Protectorates) in Hanoi, and southern protectorates had Gia Định thành Tổng trấn (Viceroy of Gia Định Protectorates) resides in Saigon.[114] Two known viceroys during Gia Long's reign were Nguyễn Văn Thành (Hanoi) and Lê Văn Duyệt (Saigon). By 1802, these were:

  • 16 protectorates under joint-governance from the Viceroys.
  1. Sơn Nam Thượng (Hanoi)
  2. Sơn Nam Hạ (Nam Định)
  3. Sơn Tây
  4. Kinh Bắc (Bắc Ninh)
  5. Hải Dương
  6. Tuyên Quang
  7. Hưng Hoá
  8. Cao Bằng
  9. Lạng Sơn
  10. Thái Nguyên
  11. Quảng Yên
  12. Gia Định or Phiên An
  13. Biên Hoà
  14. Vĩnh Thanh (later became Vĩnh Long and An Giang
  15. Định Tường (Bến Tre)
  16. Hà Tiên
  • 7 Central protectorates
  1. Thanh Hoá
  2. Nghệ An
  3. Quảng Nghĩa (Quảng Ngãi)
  4. Bình Định
  5. Phú Yên
  6. Bình Hoà (Khánh Hoà[disambiguation needed])
  7. Bình Thuận[disambiguation needed]
  • 4 departments surrounding Huế, directly ruled by Gia Long.
  1. Quảng Đức
  2. Quảng Bình
  3. Quảng Trị
  4. Quảng Nam

In 1831, Minh Mạng reorganized his kingdom by converting all these protectorates into 31 provinces (tỉnh). Each province had a series of smaller jurisdictions: the prefecture (phủ), the subprefecture (châu, in areas whereas have significant population of ethnic minorities). Under prefecture and subprefecture, there were the district (huyện), the canton (tổng). Under district and canton, the bundle of hamlets around one common religious temple or social factor point, the village làng or the commune () was the lowest administrative unit.[3] Every province had a governors-general (Tổng đốc) and a governor (Tuần phủ).[115] Cambodia also was been absorbed into Vietnamese administrative system for decades.[116] With areas having minority groups like Tày, Nùng, Mèo (Hmong people), Mường and Jarai, the Huế court imposed the co-existing tributary and quasi-bureaucratic governance system, while allowing these people to have their own local rulers and autonomy.[117]

In 1832, there were:

  • 31 provinces (encompassed modern-day Vietnam):[118]
  1. Hanoi
  2. Lạng Sơn
  3. Cao Bằng
  4. Bắc Ninh
  5. Thái Nguyên
  6. Nam Định
  7. Hưng Yên
  8. Sơn Tây
  9. Hưng Hoá
  10. Tuyên Quang
  11. Hải Dương
  12. Quảng Yên
  13. Ninh Bình
  14. Thanh Hoá
  15. Nghệ An
  16. Hà Tĩnh
  17. Quảng Bình
  18. Quảng Trị
  19. Thừa Thiên
  20. Quảng Nam
  21. Quảng Ngãi
  22. Bình Định
  23. Phú Yên
  24. Khánh Hoà[disambiguation needed]
  25. Bình Thuận[disambiguation needed]
  26. Biên Hoà
  27. Gia Định
  28. Vĩnh Long
  29. Định Tường
  30. An Giang
  31. Hà Tiên
  • Client/dependent territories:[119]
  1. Luang Phrabang
  2. Vientine
  3. Cambodia
  4. Jarai chiefdoms
Street of Hanoi during late 19th-early 20th century
  • Chief cities:
  1. Huế, capital city, population (1880): 30,000
  2. Hanoi, major city, population (1880): 120,000[120]
  3. Saigon, major city, population (1880): 100,000[121]


The Kingdom of Vietnam's national flag or the Royal flag first appeared during the reign of Gia Long. It was a yellow flag with a single or three horizontal red stripes, sometimes in 1822, it was entirely blank yellow or white.[122] The emperor's personal flag was a golden dragon spitting fire, surrounded by clouds, a silver moon, and a black crescent on a yellow background.[122]



A dragon sculpture made during the reign of Thiệu Trị (1842). The dragon was the symbol of Vietnamese royalty.

The emperor of Vietnam was an absolutist ruler, which means he was both the head of state and the head of government.[123] The Gia Long Code in 1812 declared the Vietnamese monarch as the universal ruler of all Vietnam; using the Confucian concept Mandate of Heaven to provide monarchs absolute power. Their reign and popular images were judged based on how prosperous the livelihood (dân sinh) of the people and the Confucian concept of chính danh (rectification of names), according to the Confucian biblical Analects, everything has to stay in its right order.[124][125] Gia Long also perceived the ancient Chinese conception of Hua-yi (Hoa-Di in Vietnamese) and in 1805 he confessed his kingdom as trung quốc (the middle kingdom), the Vietnamese term which often refers to China but now was taken by Gia Long to emphasis his Son of Heaven status and devaluation of China.[126][127] Following next decades, Confucianism and the Mandate of Heaven theory gradually lost their positions within the Vietnamese officials and intellectuals. When the fourth emperor, Tu Duc, ceded Southern Vietnam to France and called all Southern officials to give up arms, many ignored, disobeyed the Son of Heaven, and continued to fight against invaders. Many dissents viewed him as surrendering and frightened of France. Rebellions against Tu Duc erupted every year from 1860 until he died in 1883.[128]

A dual theory of sovereignty existed in Vietnam. All the Nguyen monarchs were addresses as hoàng đế (Sino-Vietnamese title for emperor) in the court while referring himself the first person honorific trẫm (he who give the order). They also used the concept of thiên tử (Son of Heaven, which is borrowed from China) to demonstrate that the ruler was descended and commissioned by heaven to rule the kingdom.[124] However, in most cases, Nguyen rulers were formally called vua (Vietnamese title for monarch/king/ruler) by the ordinary Vietnamese folks.[129] The concept of a divine Son of Heaven has not been dogmatically practiced, and the monarch's divinity was not absolute due to the dual theory. For example, Xu Jiyu, a Chinese geographer, reported that the bureaucrats in the Vietnamese court sat down and even felt free to search themselves for body lice during the court audiences. Gia Long once told the son of J. B. Chaigneau, one of his advisors, that the use of Son of Heaven in Vietnam was an "absurdity" and "at least in mixed Vietnamese-European Company."[129] Once the young crown prince being chosen to succeed, his obligation was to be filial with parents, being well-educated in politics and classics, internalize the morals and ethics of a ruler.[130]

Inside the Thái Hòa Palace [fr] and the Vietnamese Throne


Photograph of a Danang fort, May 1845 by Jules Itier.

The first photographs of Vietnam were taken by Jules Itier in Danang, in 1845.[131] The first photos of the Vietnamese were taken by Fedor Jagor in November 1857 in Singapore.[132] Due to the forbidden contact to foreigners, photography returned to Vietnam again during the French conquest and had shots taken by Paul Berranger during the French invasion of Da Nang (September 1858).[133] Since the French seizure of Saigon in 1859, the city and southern Vietnam had been opening to foreigners, and photography entered Vietnam exclusively from France and Europe.[134]

Early photographers active in Vietnam were:

  • Octave de Bermond de Vaulx[135] (1831–95)
  • Jules-Félix Apollinaire Le Bas[136] (1834–75)
  • August Sachtler[137] (?–1874)
  • John Thomson[138]
  • Wilhelm Burger[139] (1844–1920)
  • Émile Gsell[140] (1837–1869)

Commercial studios:

  • Clément Gillet[141] (fl. 1863–1867)
  • Charles Parant[142] (fl. 1864)
  • Pun Lun[143] (f. 1867–1872)
  • Đặng Huy Trứ's Cam Hieu Duong Photography Shop[144] (fl. 1869–1874)
  • Pun Ky[145] (f. 1870)
  • Louis Auguste Gustave Jugant[146]
  • Noémie Ary-Jouanne[147] (fl. 1877–1881)


Merchant with opium pipe, 1867. Courtesy: Émile Gsell

Before the French conquest, the Vietnamese population was very sparse due to the agricultural backbones economy of the country. The population in 1802 was 6.5 million people and had only grown to 8 million by 1840.[148] Rapid industrialization after the 1860s ushered in massive population growth and rapid urbanization in the late 19th century. Many peasants left tenant farms and poured into cities, they were hired by French-owned factories. By 1880 the Vietnamese were estimated back then as high as 18 million people,[149] while modern estimates by Angus Maddison have suggested a lower figure of 12.2 million people.[4] The Kingdom of Vietnam was always a multiethnic complex. Nearly 80% percent of the kingdom's population were ethnic Vietnamese (called Annamites then),[150] whom language belonged to the Mon-Khmer (Mon—Annamite then) stock,[120] and the rest were Cham, Chinese, Khmer, Muong, Tày (called Tho then), and other 50 ethnic minorities such as the Mang, Jarai, Yao.[151]

The Annamites are distributed across the lowland of the country from Tonkin to Cochichina. The Chams live in central Vietnam and the Mekong Delta. The Chinese particularly concentrated in urbanized areas such as Saigon, Cho Lon, and Hanoi.[152] The Chinese tended to be divided into two groups called Minh Hương and Thanh nhân.[153] The Minh hương were Chinese refugees that had migrated and settled down in Vietnam earlier during the 17th century, who married with Vietnamese women, had been substantially assimilated to local Vietnamese and Khmer populaces, and loyal to the Nguyen,[154] compared to the Thanh nhân that recently arrived in Southern Vietnam, dominated the rice trade. During the reign of Minh Mạng, a restriction against the Thanh nhân was issued in 1827, Thanh nhân could not access to the state bureaucracy and had to be integrated into Vietnamese population like the Minh Hương.[155]

The Muongs inhabited on the hills west of the Red River Delta, although subordinate to the central authority, they were also permitted to bear arms, a privilege not accorded to any other subjects of the court of Hue. The Tay and the Mang live in the northern highlands of Tonkin, both submitted to Hue court along with taxes and tribute, but are allowed to have their hereditary chiefs.[156]



Church of Sơn Tây in 1884.

Although the previous Nguyen lords were faithful Buddhists, Gia Long was not a Buddhist. He adopted Confucianism and actively prohibited Buddhism. Scholars, elites, and officials attacked Buddhist doctrine and criticized them as superstitious and useless. The third emperor, Thieu Tri, elevated Confucianism as the true religion and while regarding Buddhism as superstition.[157] Building new Buddhist pagoda and temple were forbidden. Buddhist clergies and nuns were forced to join public works in order to suppress the Buddhism religion, its deities and promote Confucianism as the sole dominant belief of the society. However, such embracing a Sinic Confucian culture among the Vietnamese populace whom lived amidst a Southeast Asian infrastructure, pushed the distance between the population and the court far away.[158] Buddhism still made it prevailed in society and penetrating the royal palace. Empress mother, queens, princess, and concubines were devout Buddhists, despite the patriarchy prohibition.

Confucianism itself was the ideology of the Nguyen court, also provided the basic core of classical education and civil examination every year. Gia Long pursued Confucianism to create and maintain a conservative society and social structures. Confucian rituals and ideas were circulations based within ancient Confucian teaching such as The Analects and Spring and Autumn Annals in Vietnamese-script collections.[159] The court rigidly imported these Chinese books from Chinese merchants. Confucian rituals such as cầu đảo (offering heaven for wind and rain during a drought) that the emperor and court officials perform for wishing heaven to rain down his kingdom.[160] If the offer went successful, they had to conduct lễ tạ (thanksgiving ritual) to heaven. In addition, the emperor believed that holy spirits and natural goddesses of his country can also make rain. In 1804, Gia Long built the Nam Hải Long Vương Temple (Temple of Dragon king of Southern ocean) in Thuận An, northeast of Hue in his faithfulness to the spirit of Thuận An (Thần Thuận An), the place where most of cầu đảo ritual was performed.[161][162] His successor, Minh Mang, continued to build several temples dedicated to the Vũ Sư (rainmaking goddess) and altars for Thần Mây (Cloud Goddess) and Thần Sấm (Thunder Goddess).[163]

Nguyen Truong To, a prominent Catholic and reformist intellectual, launched an attack on Confucian structures in 1867 as decadent. He wrote to Tu Duc: "the evil that has been brought on China and on our country by the Confucian way of life." He criticized the court’s Confucian education as dogmatic and unrealistic, promoted for his education reform.[75][164]

During Gia Long’s years, Catholicism was peacefully worshipped without any restriction. Began with Minh Mạng, who considered Christianity as a heterodox religion for its rejection of ancestor worship, the important belief of the Vietnamese monarchy. After reading the Bible (Old and New Testament), he considered the Christianity religion irrational and ridiculous, and praised Tokugawa Japan for its notorious policies on Christians. Minh Mạng also was influenced by anti-Christian propaganda written by Vietnamese Confucian officials and literati, which described the mixing of men and women and liberal society among the Church. The most thing he worried about Christianity and Catholicism was writing texts that proved that Christianity was a means for Europeans to take over foreign countries. He also praised the anti-Christian policy in Japan.[165] Churches were destroyed and many Christians were imprisoned. The persecution got intense during the reign of his grandson Tu Duc, when most of the state efforts were to annihilate Vietnamese Christianity. Unironically, even during the height of the anti-Catholic campaign, many Catholic scholars were still permitted to hold high positions in the royal court.

After a royal edict in late 1862, Catholicism was officially recognised and worshippers obtained state protection. It is estimated that late-19th century Vietnam had about 600,000 to 700,000 Catholic Christians.

Royal family[edit]

Royal Palanquin
Stone sculptures outside the tomb of Minh Mạng
Emperor Thanh Thai of Vietnam-under French Indochina protection-on a 22 January 1898 magazine.

The House of Nguyen Phuc (Nguyen Gia Mieu) had historically been founded in the 14th century in Gia Mieu village, Thanh Hoa Province, before they came to rule southern Vietnam from 1558 to 1777, then became the ruling dynasty of the entire Vietnam. Traditionally, the family traces themselves to Nguyễn Bặc (?–979), the first duke of Dai Viet. Princes and male descendants of Gia Long are called Hoàng Thân, while male lineal descendants of previous Nguyen lords are named Tôn Thất. Grandsons of the emperor were Hoàng tôn. Daughters of the emperor were called Hoàng nữ, and always earned the title công chúa (princess).

Their succession practically is according to the law of primogeniture, but sometimes conflicted. The first succession conflict arose in 1816 when Gia Long was designing for an heir. His first prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh died in 1802. As a result, two rival factions emerged, one support Nguyễn Phúc Mỹ Đường, the eldest son of Prince Cảnh, as the crown prince, while other support Prince Đảm (later Minh Mang).[166] The second conflict was the 1847 succession when two young princes Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Bảo and Hồng Nhậm were dragged by the ill-failing emperor Thieu Tri as a potential heir. At first, Thieu Tri apparently chose Prince Hồng Bảo because he was older, but after hearing advice from two regents Trương Đăng Quế and Nguyễn Tri Phương, he revised the heir at last minute and choose Hồng Nhậm as the crown prince.[167]

Succession line[edit]

  • Simple silver crown.svg Thiệu Trị (1801-1847)
    • Simple silver crown.svg Tự Đức (1829-1883)
    • Kiên Thái Vương (1845-1876)
      • Simple silver crown.svg Đồng Khánh (1864-1889)
        • Simple silver crown.svg Khải Định (1885-1925)
          • Simple silver crown.svg Bảo Đại (1913-1997)
            • Crown Prince Bảo Long, Head of the House of Nguyễn Phúc (1936-2007)
            • Prince Bảo Thắng, Head of the House of Nguyễn Phúc (1943-2017)
            • Prince Bảo Ân, Head of the House of Nguyễn Phúc (b. 1951)
              • (1) Nguyễn Phúc Quý Khang (b. 1978)
                • (2) Nguyễn Phúc Định Lai (b. 2012)
                • (3) Nguyễn Phúc Định Luân (b. 2012)
      • Simple silver crown.svg Kiến Phúc (1869-1884)
      • Simple silver crown.svg Hàm Nghi (1871-1944)
        • Prince Minh Đức [vi] (1910-1990)


Simplified family tree of the House of Nguyen Phuc:

  • - Lords of Cochinchina (1550s–1777)
  • - Emperors of Vietnamese Empire (1802–1885)
  • - Emperors of French Annam and Tonkin/Emperor of Empire of Vietnam (1885–1945)



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  2. Johnston (1881), p. 332.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Woodside (1988), p. 143.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Avakov (2015), p. 28.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Verlag (1827), p. 298.
  6. McGregor (1834), p. 120.
  7. Everett (1841), p. 413.
  8. Kol (1846), p. 199.
  9. Balfour (1884), p. 214.
  10. Momoki (2015), pp. 157, "...When my father Thế tổ Cao hoàng đế [Gia Long] possessed An Nam, our kingdom was named the country of Great Việt Nam [Đại Việt Nam quốc]...".
  11. O'Brien (2007), p. 196.
  12. Lieberman (2003), p. 30–31.
  13. Kiernan (2019), p. 3.
  14. Momoki (2015), pp. 158.
  15. Lieberman (2003), pp. 405.
  16. Taylor (2013), p. 398.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lieberman (2003), pp. 427.
  18. Toda (1882), pp. 46.
  19. Toda (1882), pp. 41.
  20. Hiley (1848), p. 350.
  21. Lieberman (2003), pp. 187.
  22. Holcombe (2017), p. 10, 11.
  23. Kiernan (2019), p. 2.
  24. Kiernan (2019), p. 257–267.
  25. Woodside (1988), p. 2–4.
  26. Whitmore & Zottoli (2016), pp. 200, 226.
  27. Taylor (2013), p. 400.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Kiernan (2019), p. 273.
  29. Goscha (2016), p. 49.
  30. Kiernan (2019), p. 274.
  31. Woodside (1988), p. 46, 48.
  32. Taylor (2013), p. 401.
  33. Woodside (1988), p. 248.
  34. Kiernan (2019), p. 276.
  35. Mikaberidze (2020), p. 487.
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  37. 37.0 37.1 Kiernan (2019), p. 277.
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  39. Woodside (1988), p. 37.
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  41. Goscha (2016), p. 45.
  42. Chapuis (2000), p. 4.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Kiernan (2019), p. 279.
  44. Choi (2004a), p. 141.
  45. Goscha (2016), p. 419.
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  47. McLeod (1991), p. 30.
  48. Li (2004a), p. 12.
  49. Goscha (2016), p. 57.
  50. McLeod (1991), p. 31.
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  52. Kiernan (2019), p. 283.
  53. 53.0 53.1 Woodside (1988), p. 249.
  54. Kiernan (2019), p. 285.
  55. Chandler (2018), p. 152–153.
  56. Kiernan (2019), p. 286.
  57. Kiernan (2019), p. 283–288.
  58. Chandler (2018), p. 159–163.
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  60. Kiernan (2019), p. 295.
  61. Heath (2003), p. 163.
  62. Miller (1990), p. 42–44.
  63. Chapuis (2000), p. 47.
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  65. McLeod (1991), p. 35.
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  70. McLeod (1991), p. 39.
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  73. Goscha (2016), p. 60.
  74. Keith (2012), p. 47.
  75. 75.0 75.1 Kiernan (2019), p. 305.
  76. Chapuis (2000), p. 87.
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  78. Amirell (2019), p. 169.
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  80. Bradley (2016), p. 50.
  81. Chapuis (2000), p. 48–49.
  82. Goscha (2016), p. 65.
  83. Chapuis (2000), p. 50–51.
  84. Chapuis (2000), p. 53.
  85. Amirell (2019), p. 174.
  86. Bradley (2016), p. 63–64.
  87. Goscha (2016), p. 66.
  88. Amirell (2019), p. 179.
  89. Amirell (2019), p. 180.
  90. Chapuis (2000), p. 55–61.
  91. Goscha (2016), p. 67.
  92. Chapuis (2000), p. 61.
  93. Chapuis (2000), p. 63.
  94. Chapuis (2000), p. 65.
  95. Bradley (2016), p. 90.
  96. Chapuis (2000), p. 66.
  97. Bradley (2016), p. 102.
  98. Amirell (2019), p. 191.
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  100. Bradley (2016), p. 106.
  101. Taylor (2013), p. 474.
  102. Goscha (2016), p. 69–70.
  103. Kiernan (2019), p. 319.
  104. Chapuis (2000), p. 67.
  105. Bradley (2016), p. 107.
  106. Taylor (2013), p. 475.
  107. Goscha (2016), p. 70.
  108. Chapuis (2000), p. 71.
  109. Goscha (2016), p. 71.
  110. Goscha (2016), p. 91.
  111. Goscha (2016), p. 90.
  112. Goscha (2016), p. 93.
  113. Woodside (1988), p. 141.
  114. Woodside (1988), p. 142.
  115. Woodside (1988), p. 145.
  116. Woodside (1988), p. 146.
  117. Woodside (1988), p. 244.
  118. Woodside (1988), p. 148.
  119. Woodside (1988), p. 238–239.
  120. 120.0 120.1 Richardson (1880), p. 159.
  121. Richardson (1880), p. 160.
  122. 122.0 122.1 122.2 Heath (2003), p. 197.
  123. Keane (1896), p. 295.
  124. 124.0 124.1 Woodside (1988), p. 9.
  125. Woodside (1988), p. 14.
  126. Woodside (1988), p. 18.
  127. Woodside (1988), p. 19.
  128. Kiernan (2019), p. 303.
  129. 129.0 129.1 Woodside (1988), p. 10.
  130. Woodside (1988), p. 11.
  131. Bennett (2020), p. 15.
  132. Bennett (2020), p. 18.
  133. Bennett (2020), p. 20.
  134. Bennett (2020), p. 24.
  135. Bennett (2020), p. 24–25.
  136. Bennett (2020), p. 28.
  137. Bennett (2020), p. 32.
  138. Bennett (2020), p. 38.
  139. Bennett (2020), p. 41.
  140. Bennett (2020), p. 60.
  141. Bennett (2020), p. 46–49.
  142. Bennett (2020), p. 49–50.
  143. Bennett (2020), p. 50–52.
  144. Bennett (2020), p. 54.
  145. Bennett (2020), p. 54–55.
  146. Bennett (2020), p. 56.
  147. Bennett (2020), p. 56–57.
  148. Popkin (1979), p. 136.
  149. Johnston (1881), p. 322.
  150. Lieberman (2003), p. 433.
  151. Keane (1896), p. 272.
  152. Staunton (1884), p. 37.
  153. Lieberman (2003), p. 430.
  154. Choi (2004b), p. 85.
  155. Woodside (1988), p. 272.
  156. Staunton (1884), p. 38.
  157. Dyt (2015), p. 15.
  158. Kelley (2006), p. 349.
  159. Kelley (2006), p. 343.
  160. Dyt (2015), p. 4.
  161. Dyt (2015), p. 12.
  162. Dyt (2015), p. 13.
  163. Dyt (2015), p. 14.
  164. Kiernan (2019), p. 306.
  165. Taylor (2013), p. 421–422.
  166. Smith (1974), p. 154.
  167. Smith (1974), p. 155.
  168. Kiernan (2019), p. 214.


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