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Mạc Dynasty 1527–1592
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Champa Dynasties 192–1471
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The Mạc Dynasty (Vietnamese: Nhà Mạc; Hán Việt: , Mạc Triều), ruled the northern provinces of Vietnam from 1527 until 1592, when they lost control over the capital Hanoi for the last time. Later Mạc representatives ruled over the province of Cao Bằng (with the direct support of the Qing) until 1677.


Mac Dang Dung

Map of Vietnam circa 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. Unlike his ancestor, Mạc Đăng Dung choose 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. (Vietnam: The Revolutionary Path by Thomas Hodgkin, 1981).

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 Mac 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

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.

A few years later the situation for Mạc Đăng Doanh turned desperate as an official Ming delegation reported that the Mạc rule was illegitimate and that the Lê should be restored to power. As a result, in 1537 a huge Ming army came down from the north with orders to defeat the Mạc.

At this point, Mạc Đăng Doanh died and his father reclaimed the throne. Once again, Mạc Đăng Dung managed to send the Ming away by means of diplomacy (and bribes). 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.

1541-1592: defeat

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 (1545-1561) 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

Map of Vietnam showing (roughly) the areas controlled by the Trịnh, Nguyễn, Mạc, and Champa about the year 1640

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 (Quang 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 1548.

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 1673.


Coins of Vietnam - short history with the coins.

List of Vietnamese dynasties

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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