Civil War Ravages Vietnam Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The northern Trinh battled the southern Nguyen for control of Vietnam, ultimately resulting in a stalemate and the partitioning of the country. Europeans sold weapons to both sides in the civil war and sent missionaries and traders, yet the Vietnamese successfully resisted foreign control.

Summary of Event

In the seventeenth century, a civil war effectively divided Vietnam into two parts. The war was rooted in the rivalry of two clans, the Trinh in the North and the Nguyen in the South. Both families rose to power in the aftermath of the decline of the Le Dynasty. Since 1533, the Le emperors had been figureheads, while the Trinh and the Nguyen had fought for real control of the Vietnamese empire. The two families were actually related, but this did little to cool their rivalry. [kw]Civil War Ravages Vietnam (1626-1673) [kw]Vietnam, Civil War Ravages (1626-1673) [kw]War Ravages Vietnam, Civil (1626-1673) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1626-1673: Civil War Ravages Vietnam[1010] Expansion and land acquisition;1626-1673: Civil War Ravages Vietnam[1010] Southeast Asia;1626-1673: Civil War Ravages Vietnam[1010] Vietnam;1626-1673: Civil War Ravages Vietnam[1010] Vietnam, civil war in (1626-1673)

In the early 1600’, the Trinh lords controlled northern Vietnam. Their leader was Trinh Trang Trinh Trang . In 1570, his father had made himself hereditary lord, or chua. At age twenty-three, in 1600, Trinh Trang married Nguyen Ngoc Tu Nguyen Ngoc Tu , apparently cementing an alliance between the rival clans. However, when Ngoc Tu’s brother, Phuc Nguyen Phuc Nguyen , became Lord Sai and ruler of southern Vietnam in 1613, Trinh Trang secretly allied himself with two other brothers of his wife. In 1620, Phuc Nguyen caught his two disloyal brothers and put them in jail to die. Trinh Trang avoided seizure, and in 1623 became Lord Thanh Do Vuong.

In 1626, Trinh Trang moved five thousand soldiers to the south, just outside of Dong Hoi, where the lands of his Nguyen enemies began. Trinh Trang ordered the southern lord to pay tribute and to help fight anti-Le rebels in the north. To buy time, Phuc Nguyen pretended to agree, but he had his military counselor, Dao Duy Tu Dao Duy Tu , build a defensive wall at Dong Hoi that eventually ran for 6 miles (10 kilometers) inland from the coast and reached a height of 20 feet (6 meters). The partition between the Trinh and the Nguyen domains was close to where North and South Vietnam would be divided from 1954 until 1976.

Angered by Phuc Nguyen’s delays, Trinh Trang finally attacked in 1627. Contemporary sources speak of 200,000 soldiers, 500 war elephants, and 500 warships. Trinh Trang was defeated, as Phuc Nguyen’s gunners employed their Portuguese cannons to kill and frighten the elephants, who trampled his soldiers to death. The Nguyen victory highlighted the importance of European arms. Portuguese missionaries and traders had been active in southern Vietnam since 1540, and they had used the gun trade to form alliances in the south of the country. This also frustrated the ambitions of the English, who could not gain a foothold of their own in the south once the Portuguese connection with the Nguyen was established. Military;Vietnam

In the north, the French sought an alliance with the Trinh. At first, they sent primarily missionaries, who doubled as traders and scientific advisers. One of the most famous of these was Alexandre de Rhodes, Rhodes, Alexandre de who arrived in 1624. He was welcomed at the Trinh capital of Thang Long (modern Hanoi), and by the time of the first battle, he claimed to have baptized sixty-seven hundred Vietnamese people. Rhodes’s missionary work angered the Trinh, and in 1630 he was officially expelled, only to sneak back many times. Christianity;Vietnam

During the dry season of 1631, Dao Duy Tu advised Phuc Nguyen to launch an attack against the north. Nguyen forces captured the border district of Nam Bo Chinh. The Nguyen also forbade Christian preaching, while continuing to buy arms from the Portuguese. To strengthen his position in the south, where Vietnamese settlers and soldiers were in conflict with the Chams and the Khmer (Cambodians), Phuc Nguyen married Princess Ngoc Khoa Ngoc Khoa to the king of Champa in 1631. Princess Ngoc Van had already married the Cambodian king in 1620. In 1634, Trinh Trang sought revenge by allying himself with a traitorous son of Phuc Nguyen. However, the son, Nguyen Anh Nguyen Anh , was replaced as commander of the border district of Quang Binh, preventing him from being of use to Trinh Trang. When the disappointed Trinh Trang attacked anyway, he was defeated.

After Phuc Nguyen died in 1635, his second son, Phuc Lan Phuc Lan , succeeded him. Nguyen Anh responded by rebelling against the family order. This time, he sought the help of Japanese traders. The Nguyen soldiers caught him, however, and an uncle decided to have him executed. In 1639, Phuc Lan fell in love with a prince’s widow, Tong Thi Tong Thi . She moved in with him and he ended his family’s tradition of not mistreating their subjects, extorting valuables from his rich followers to give as gifts to his paramour.

Trinh Trang attacked again in 1643 and was again defeated. The Trinh were allied with the Protestant Dutch, whom the Catholic Portuguese had successfully barred from Nguyen territory. Since 1637, the Dutch had held a trading post at Pho Hien, near modern Hanoi, and had sold arms to the Trinh Netherlands;Vietnam and . In 1641 and 1642, the Dutch and the Vietnamese under Nguyen lordship clashed. Late in 1643, the Dutch attacked near Da Nang with three battleships. The Vietnamese counterattacked with smaller boats. One Dutch warship ran aground and sank. When the Vietnamese boarded the flagship, Dutch captain Pierre Baeck Baeck, Pierre blew it up, killing most of his crew. The last ship escaped to the north, signaling a Vietnamese victory over a European fleet.

This naval victory hardened Vietnamese attitudes toward Christianity. In 1644, missionaries were martyred in Da Nang. In 1645, Alexandre de Rhodes was expelled permanently. Even as the warring Vietnamese used European arms, they vigorously resisted any attempts at colonization and remained unrelentingly suspicious of Christianity. Martyrs;missionaries in Vietnam

In 1648, Trinh Trang launched a land and sea border attack. Even though Phuc Lan died of illness during the fighting, his son Phuc Tan Phuc Tan led one hundred war elephants on a decisive nighttime attack. The Trinh forces were defeated and fled but not before losing three thousand men. Phuc Tan succeeded his father as Lord Hien, the Wise Lord. Emboldened, the Nguyen attacked the Trinh in 1655. Initially, they were successful. In 1657, Trinh Trang died at age 80 (counted as 81 in Asia). Perhaps to give his successor a chance for peace, Phuc Tan halted the Nguyen offensive. Trinh Tac Trinh Tac succeeded his father, but he was disliked for his contemptuous attitude and had a brother tortured to death in 1657.

In the late 1650’, rivalry among Nguyen generals led to the loss of all territory the Nguyens had conquered since 1631. In 1661, moreover, Trinh Tac invaded. Emperor Le Than Tong Le Than Tong was ordered to accompany the invasion. Exemplary of the Trinh’s power over the imperial family, the emperor’s father had been forced to commit suicide by Trinh Tac’s grandfather, whose daughter was Le Than Tong’s mother. Later, Trinh Tac’s father forced his daughter and the emperor to marry, even though she was the ex-wife of the emperor’s uncle and had borne the latter four children.

By 1662, Trinh Tac had to leave the south in defeat. He took Le Than Tong to Hanoi, where he died and was replaced by a son. In 1673, Trinh Tac launched his final attack. Defeated again in front of the wooden wall at Dong Hoi, he gave up. A tenuous peace was established between the Nguyen and the Trinh that would last for the next one hundred years.


The seventeenth century civil war in Vietnam, which divided the country into a northern and southern part, darkly foreshadowed the Vietnam War in the twentieth century. Even though the Trinh had physical possession of the Le emperors, controlled about four-fifths of Vietnam’s population, and had twice as many soldiers, they could not defeat the Nguyen. The inability of the Trinh to achieve victory was due in part to the Nguyen’s use of Portuguese weapons, their relatively small and defensible front line, and the high morale of their soldiers. Portugal;Vietnam and

In spite of the civil war, the Nguyen lords extended their territory in the mid-seventeenth century at the expense of the Chams and Khmer. In 1653, Phuc Tan annexed the province of Khan Hoa, extending his domain toward modern Saigon and the fertile Mekong Delta. This expansion attracted both Vietnamese settlers and Chinese immigrants to Nguyen territories, increasing Nguyen economic power, as well as the sheer percentage of Vietnamese subjects under their authority. In 1679, a Chinese general with a fleet of fifty ships asked for asylum. Phuc Tan welcomed him and his three thousand soldiers and settled them in the Saigon area. In the twenty-first century, the Cho Lon district of Saigon still retains a Chinese character stemming from these seventeenth century migrations. Migration;Chinese into Vietnam

The civil war between the Trinh and the Nguyen provided imperialist Europe with several opportunities, particularly in the sale of weapons and dispensation of scientific advice. Despite these inroads, the Europeans failed to subdue the Vietnamese in the seventeenth century. National resistance to outside colonialism was too strong even in times of fratricide. The most influential European was Alexandre de Rhodes. Convinced that he needed Vietnamese priests, he transcribed the Vietnamese language using the Roman alphabet together with diacritical remarks to help pronunciation. His system, called quoc ngu, is still in use. It has made Vietnamese the only Asian language that uses the Roman alphabet. Vietnam, civil war in (1626-1673)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chapuis, Oscar. A History of Vietnam. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Chapters 5, “The Vietnamese Shoguns,” and 7, “Western Involvement,” offer detailed narratives of the period. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ha, Van Thu. A Brief Chronology of Vietnam’s History. Hanoi, Vietnam: The Gioi, 2000. Brief biographies of all the major players. Gives full diacritical remarks for Vietnamese names.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press, 1983. Still the most widely available source in English. Chapter 3 discusses the seventeenth century. Photos, chronology, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lamb, Helen. Vietnam’s Will to Live. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972. Perceptive account of Vietnamese resistance to European colonialism. Notes, bibliography.

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