Northern Song Dynasty

Empress Cao

Empress Cao (1016–1079) of the Song dynasty was the Chinese empress consort to Emperor Renzong. Born in modern Hebei Province, she became the emperor’s second empress in 1034 after the deposition of Empress Guo. Known for her fondness of gardening and silk production, Empress Cao earned the respect of state officials. Despite having no biological children, she adopted her four-year-old cousin, the future Emperor Yingzong, as her son and arranged his marriage to her niece, the future Empress Gao. In 1063, when Yingzong fell seriously ill after succeeding Renzong, officials asked Empress Cao to serve as regent. During her regency, she exercised caution to avoid accusations of favoritism and usurping imperial rituals. However, Prime Minister Han Qi eventually forced her retirement as regent in 1064. In later years, during the reign of Emperor Shenzong, she was granted the title of Grand Empress Dowager and played a role in influencing certain imperial decisions.

Spouse: Emperor Renzong of Song

Emperor Renzong of Song, born Zhao Zhen, was the fourth emperor of the Song dynasty in China, reigning for about 41 years from 1022 until his death in 1063, making him the longest-reigning Song dynasty emperor. As the sixth son of his predecessor, Emperor Zhenzong, he was succeeded by his cousin’s son, Zhao Shu, who ascended the throne as Emperor Yingzong due to the premature deaths of Renzong’s own sons. Originally named Zhao Shouyi, his personal name was changed by imperial decree in 1018 to “Zhao Zhen,” which carries the meaning of ‘auspicious’ in Chinese.

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