Empress Xiaojiesu, belonging to the Chen clan, served as a Chinese empress consort during the Ming dynasty and was the first empress to the Jiajing Emperor. Daughter of Chen Wanyang, she entered the palace in 1522 and was appointed empress later that year upon the request of the emperor’s aunt, the Empress Dowager Zhang. Despite this, the emperor, due to strained relations with his aunt, did not favor Empress Xiaojiesu. Tragically, in 1528, during her pregnancy, the emperor’s anger led to a fatal miscarriage. Shockingly, she was not allowed burial in the imperial mausoleum by the emperor, and this act was not rectified until 1567.
Empress Zhang (Jiajing)
Empress Zhang, also known by her personal name Zhang Qijie, was a Chinese empress consort during the Ming dynasty and the second empress to the Jiajing Emperor. The daughter of an Imperial guard member, she entered the imperial harem in 1526 and ascended to the position of empress in January 1529 following the death of the previous empress. However, in 1534, she was unexpectedly deposed from her empress title, and although no official reason was provided, unofficially it was attributed to the emperor’s displeasure with her close relationship with Empress Xiaochengjing. Empress Zhang passed away three years after her demotion in 1537.
Empress Xiaolie, of the Fang clan, was a Chinese empress consort during the Ming dynasty and the third empress to the Jiajing Emperor. Originating from Nanjing, she entered palace service in 1531 and became a concubine for the emperor. Described as beautiful and talented, she refrained from using bribes to enhance her chances of intimacy with the emperor. In January 1534, just nine days after the deposition of Empress Zhang, Fang was chosen to succeed as empress consort due to her support for the emperor during a dispute with officials over imperial ancestor rituals. Notably, she played a crucial role in saving the emperor’s life during the Renyin palace rebellion in 1542 when palace maids attempted to assassinate him. Despite her efforts, Empress Fang faced personal turmoil as the emperor held her responsible for the death of his favorite concubine, Consort Duan. She tragically died in a fire in 1547, with the emperor refusing to answer a plea to save her during the incident, but he granted her posthumous honors.
Spouse: Emperor Jiajing of Ming
The Jiajing Emperor (Chinese: 嘉靖帝; pinyin: Jiājìng Dì; Wade–Giles: Chia-ching Ti; 16 September 1507 – 23 January 1567), personal name Zhu Houcong (朱厚熜), was the 12th emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1521 to 1567. He was the former Zhengde Emperor’s cousin. His father, Zhu Youyuan (1476–1519), Prince of Xing, was the fourth son of the Chenghua Emperor (reigned from 1464 to 1487) and the eldest son of three sons born to the emperor’s concubine, Lady Shao. The Jiajing Emperor’s era name, “Jiajing”, means “admirable tranquility”.
Known for his intelligence, he however neglected his official duties. He faced criticism for his reliance on corrupt officials, his cruelty and promiscuity, the latter of which contributed to the Palace plot of Renyin year. He had to face several external challenges such as Mongol harassment and pirate attacks. His pursuit of Taoist practices and alchemy strained the government financially and after a long reign, he died, contributing to the decline of the dynasty.