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Trịnh-Nguyễn War
Part of the Civil wars in Vietnam
Date 1627 - 1672, 1774-1775
Location Vietnam
Result 1627-1672: Indecisive
1774-1775: Trịnh Victory
Trịnh Lords
Lê Dynasty
Nguyễn Lords
Trịnh Kiểm
Trịnh Cối
Trịnh Tùng
Trịnh Tráng
Trịnh Tạc
Trịnh Căn
Hoàng Ngũ Phúc
Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên
Nguyễn Phúc Lan
Nguyễn Phúc Tần
Đào Duy Từ
Nguyễn Hữu Tiến
Nguyễn Hữu Dật
Nguyễn Phúc Thuần

The Trịnh-Nguyễn War (Vietnamese: Trịnh-Nguyễn phân tranh; 1627–1673) was a long war waged between the two ruling families in Vietnam.


Working together

Both the Trinh and the Nguyễn families were descended from close friends and aides to the hero-Emperor Lê Lợi who freed Vietnam from Chinese rule and started the Lê Dynasty in 1428. By 1520 a succession of weak or evil kings had brought the country into a state of civil war (see Lê Dynasty's civil war). For the next 20 years the Trịnh and Nguyễn families fought as allies against the usurper Mạc Đăng Dung. In theory, they both were fighting on behalf of the Lê Emperor (Lê Trang Tông) but in reality, the Emperor was a figurehead with little or no power.

Working apart

History of Vietnam Map of Vietnam
Hồng Bàng Dynasty prior to 257 BC
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First Chinese domination 207 BC – 39 AD
Triệu Dynasty 207–111 BC
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Lady Triệu's Rebellion 248
Early Lý Dynasty 544–602
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• Mai Hắc Đế 722
Phùng Hưng 791–798
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Khúc Family 906–930
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Đinh Dynasty 968–980
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• Lam Sơn Rebellion 1418–1427
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• Early Lê 1428–1788
• Restored Lê 1533–1788
Mạc Dynasty 1527–1592
Southern and
Northern Dynasties
Trịnh-Nguyễn War 1627–1673
Tây Sơn Dynasty 1778–1802
Nguyễn Dynasty 1802–1945
Western imperialism 1887–1945
Empire of Vietnam 1945
Indochina Wars 1945–1975
Partition of Vietnam 1954
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 of Vietnam
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Socialist Republic of Vietnam from 1976
Related topics
Champa Dynasties 192–1471
List of Vietnamese monarchs
Economic history of Vietnam
Prehistoric cultures of Vietnam

The prime mover in the period from 1525 onwards was Nguyễn Kim. His daughter married the young head of the Trịnh family Trịnh Kiểm. Around 1530, the rebels were forced into exile in Lan Xang (modern-day Laos) but they gathered a new army and captured some southern provinces. In 1545, Nguyễn Kim was assassinated and his son-in-law, Trịnh Kiểm, took control over the Royal army. 13 years later (in 1558) Trịnh Kiểm gave the rulership over the southern-most province of Quang Nam to Nguyễn Hoàng, the son of Nguyễn Kim and his wife's brother. The ill-will between the two families dates from around this time.

For the next 55 years, Nguyễn Hoàng ruled Quảng Nam. He gradually asserted his control over the province and extended his control south into the remaining Champa lands. Periodically, he sent military forces north to help the Trịnh in their long fight against the Mạc Dynasty. In 1570 Trịnh Kiểm died and was succeeded by his second son Trịnh Tùng. Tùng was a very vigorous leader and he captured Hanoi from the Mạc king in 1572. However, the Mạc king (Mạc Mau Hiep) recaptured the city the next year. 20 years later, Trịnh Tùng, again captured Hanoi and executed the Mạc king (1592). The next year Nguyễn Hoàng went personally to the court, he brought money and an army to help destroy the remaining Mạc armies.

Once the Mạc were defeated, the Trịnh became increasingly unhappy with the independence of Nguyễn Hoang who ruled as an independent prince in the south. For reasons that are unclear in 1600 the old Nguyen ruler broke relations with the Trịnh court and gave himself the title Vương (Prince or King). Nguyễn Hoang finally died in 1613 and the new leader of the Nguyễn, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, continued his father's policy of defiance. Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên also initiated friendly relations with the Europeans who were now sailing into the area. A foreign trading post was set up in Hội An. By 1615 the Nguyễn were producing their own bronze cannons with the aid of Portuguese engineers.

The first campaign

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

In 1620, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên officially refused to send taxes to the court in Hanoi. A formal demand was made to the Nguyễn to submit to the authority of the court, and it was formally refused. In 1623 Trịnh Tùng died and was succeeded by his son Trịnh Trang. Now Trịnh Trang made a formal demand for submission, and again Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên refused. Finally in 1627 open warfare broke out between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn. For four months a large Trịnh army battled against the Nguyễn army but were unable to defeat them. The result of this war was that Vietnam had effectively been partitioned into northern and southern regions, with the Trịnh controlling most of the north and the Nguyễn controlling most of the south; the dividing line was the Gianh River in Quang Binh Province. This border was very close to the Seventeenth parallel (in actuality the Ben Hai River located just to the south in Quang Tri Provinces, which was imposed as the border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam during the Partition of Vietnam (1954-1975).

While the Trịnh ruled over a much more populous territory, the Nguyễn had several advantages. First, they were on the defensive. Second, the Nguyễn were able to take advantage of their contacts with the Europeans, specifically the Portuguese, to purchase advanced European weapons and hire European military experts in fortifications. Third, the geography was favorable to them, as the flat land suitable for large organized armies is very narrow at this point of Vietnam; the mountains nearly reach to the sea.

After the first assault, the Nguyễn built two massive fortified lines which stretched a few miles from the sea to the hills. The walls were built north of Huế near the city of Đồng Hới. The Nguyễn defended these lines against numerous Trịnh offensives which lasted till 1672. The story from this time is that the great military engineer was a Vietnamese general who was hired away from the Trịnh court by the Nguyễn. This man is given the credit in Vietnam for the successful design of the Nguyễn walls.

Against the walls the Trịnh mustered an army of 100,000 men, 500 elephants, and 500 large ships (Dupuy "Encyclopedia of Military History" pg. 596). The initial attacks on the Nguyễn wall was unsuccessful. The attacks lasted for several years.

Later campaigns

In 1633 the Trịnh tried an amphibious assault on the Nguyễn to get around the wall. The Trịnh fleet was defeated by the Nguyễn fleet at the battle of Nhat-Le.

Around 1635 the Trịnh copied the Nguyễn and sought military aid from the Europeans. Trịnh Trang hired the Dutch to make cannons and ships for the Royal army. In 1642 and 1643 the Trịnh army attacked the Nguyễn walls. With the aid of the Dutch cannons, the Trịnh army broke through the first wall but failed to break through the second. At sea, the Trịnh, with their Dutch ships: Kievit, Nachtegaels and Woekende Book were defeated by the Nguyễn fleet with their Portuguese ships.

Trịnh Trang staged yet another offensive in 1648 but at the battle of Truong Duc, the Royal army was badly beaten by the Nguyễn. The new Lê king died around this time, perhaps as a result of the defeat. This now left the door open for the Nguyễn to finally go on the offensive.

Nguyễn offensive

The Nguyễn launched their own invasion of Vietnam in 1653. The Nguyễn army attacked north and defeated the weakened Royal army. Quảng Bình province was captured. Then Hà Tĩnh province fell to the Nguyễn army. In the following year, Trịnh Trang died as Nguyễn forces made attacks into Nghệ An province. Under a new Trịnh Lord, the capable Trịnh Tạc, the Royal army attacked the Nguyễn army and defeated it. The Nguyễn were fatally weakened by a division between their two top generals who refused to cooperate with each other. In 1656 the Nguyễn army was driven back all the way to their original walls. Trịnh Tạc tried to break the walls of the Nguyễn in 1661 but this attack, like so many before it, failed to break through the walls.

The end of the fight

Finally in 1672, the Trịnh army made a last effort to conquer the Nguyễn. The attacking army was under the command of Trịnh Tạc's son, Trịnh Căn, while the defending army was under the command of Nguyen Phuc Tan's son Prince Nguyễn Phúc Thuận. The attack, like all the previous attacks on the Nguyễn walls, failed. This time the two sides agreed to a peace. With mediation supplied by the government of the Kangxi Emperor, the Trịnh and the Nguyễn finally agreed to end the fighting by making the Linh River the border between their lands (1673). Although the Nguyễn nominally accepted the Lê King as the ruler of Vietnam, the reality was, the Nguyễn ruled the south, and the Trịnh ruled the north. This division continued for the next 100 years. The border between the Trịnh and the Nguyễn was strongly guarded but peaceful.

(See the Trịnh Lords for more information about the Trịnh.)

(See the Nguyễn Lords for more information about the Nguyễn.)

Conquest of Huế - 1775

The long peace came to an end in 1774. At the time, the Nguyễn were under heavy assault from the Tây Sơn brothers and part of their army had been defeated in recent fighting in Cambodia. The result was, the army in the north defending Huế was weak. Trịnh Sam, one of the last Trịnh Lords and ruler of the north, launched his attack on the Nguyễn November 15, 1774. For the first time, the Nguyễn walls were broken and captured. In February 1775, the Nguyễn capital of Hue was captured by the Royal (Trịnh) army. After some fighting with the army of the Tây Sơn, a treaty was signed and the Trịnh army left the destruction of the Nguyễn to the southern rebels. 12 years later the Trịnh Lords would be thrown out of Vietnam by the youngest and most popular of the Tây Sơn brothers.


  • Southeast Asia to 1875 by Sanderson Beck (downloaded May, 2006)
  • The Encyclopedia of Military History by R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy. Harper & Row (New York).
  • Encyclopedia of Asian History. 1988.
  • Coins of Vietnam - with short historical notes
  • Vietnam, Trials and Tribulations of a Nation by D. R. SarDesai, pg. 38, 1988 ISBN 0-941910-04-0
  • Tay Son website by George Dutton (out of time period but has a good map of historic Vietnam and a superb bibliography).

See also




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