Empress Erzhu Ying'e

Empress Erzhu Ying'e

Empress Erzhu Ying'e (爾朱英娥) (d. 556) was an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. She was the wife of Emperor Xiaozhuang and a daughter of the paramount general Erzhu Rong. She later became a concubine of Northern Wei and Eastern Wei's paramount general Gao Huan.


Erzhu Ying'e's father Erzhu Rong had been a hereditary chief of the Qihu (契胡) tribe, a branch of the Xiongnu, located at Xiurong (秀容, in modern Shuozhou, Shanxi), and during the agrarian rebellions during Emperor Xiaoming's reign had become increasingly powerful as a military general. Sometime during Emperor Xiaoming's reign, she became Emperor Xiaoming's concubine with the rank of "Pin" (嬪). She was described to be capable as a soldier, and she was able to use the bow well.

In 528, Emperor Xiaoming, in a dispute with his mother Empress Dowager Hu over her overly favoring her lover Zheng Yan (鄭儼) and Zheng's associate Xu Ge (徐紇), conspired with Erzhu Rong to have him advance south toward the capital Luoyang to force Empress Dowager Hu to remove Zheng and Xu. When Empress Dowager Hu discovered this, she poisoned Emperor Xiaoming to death. Erzhu Rong refused to recognize the young emperor Yuan Zhao that she put on the throne, instead advancing on Luoyang, capturing it and throwing Empress Dowager Hu and Yuan Zhao into the Yellow River to drown. He also slaughtered a large number of imperial officials and made Emperor Xiaoming's father Emperor Xuanwu's cousin Yuan Ziyou emperor (as Emperor Xiaozhuang).

As empress

Erzhu Rong was in control of the military at this point, although Emperor Xiaozhuang retained substantial powers, and Erzhu Rong wanted Emperor Xiaozhuang to marry Erzhu Ying'e as empress to cement the relationship. Emperor Xiaozhuang initially hesitated, as pursuant to Confucian regulations he would be committing incest if he did. However, the official Zu Ying (祖瑩) convinced him that the union would be advantageous, and so he agreed. Empress Erzhu was described to be jealous and did not tolerate Emperor Xiaozhuang's other consorts. Emperor Xiaozhuang once asked her father's cousin Erzhu Shilong to persuade her to be less jealous. Instead, she told Erzhu Shilong that Emperor Xiaozhuang depended on the Erzhus for his throne and that things could still change; Erzhu Shilong agreed with her.

Worried about the hold that Erzhu Rong had on the military and how he had been willing to slaughter imperial officials (including Emperor Xiaozhuang's own brothers Yuan Shao (元劭) and Yuan Zizheng (元子正)), Emperor Xiaozhuang, during Empress Erzhu's pregnancy in 530, tricked him into entering the palace with his close associate Yuan Tianmu (元天穆) the Prince of Shangdang and his son Erzhu Puti (爾朱菩提) and killing them by falsely telling them that Empress Erzhu had given birth. This precipitated a war between the imperial forces and the Erzhus' forces, which lasted for two months, during which Empress Erzhu gave birth to a son. Eventually, the Erzhu forces, under the command of Empress Erzhu's cousin Erzhu Zhao, captured Luoyang and deposed (and later killed) Emperor Xiaozhuang, making his distant relative Yuan Ye the Prince of Changguang, and then later his cousin Yuan Gong the Prince of Guangling emperor. Erzhu Zhao also put Emperor Xiaozhuang's and Empress Erzhu's infant son to death.

As Gao Huan's concubine

The Erzhus controlled the empire for a while, but in 531, the general Gao Huan, a former subordinate of Erzhu Rong's, rose against them, and by 532 Gao had defeated the Erzhus, becoming the paramount general for Northern Wei (and for the branch state Eastern Wei after Northern Wei's division into Eastern Wei and Western Wei in 534). Shortly after Gao's defeating of the Erzhus, she became a concubine of Gao's. She and another consort that Gao took, the Princess Ruru (a princess of Rouran), were renowned for their military demonstrations, and Gao once commented that these two concubines of his were capable of defeating bandits. In 535, when Gao Huan was angry with his son Gao Cheng for having had an affair with Gao Huan's concubine Lady Zheng, he considered replacing his wife Lou Zhaojun, Gao Cheng's mother, with Erzhu Ying'e, but ultimately did not do so. Erzhu Ying'e bore him two sons, Gao You (高浟) (later the Prince of Pengcheng) in 533 and Gao Ning (高凝) (later the Prince of Huashan). In spring 545, Erzhu Ying'e's brother Erzhu Wenchang (爾朱文暢) and Zheng Zhongli (鄭仲禮), the brother of Gao Huan's other favorite concubine Zheng Dache (鄭大車), along with Ren Zhou (任冑), conspired to assassinate Gao Huan and support Erzhu Wenchang as leader, but the conspiracy was discovered, and the conspirators were put to death, along with their families. However, because of Gao Huan's favors for Erzhu Ying'e and Zheng Dache, he spared their brothers. However, she later became a Buddhist nun, even while Gao Huan was still alive, for reasons lost to history; Gao Huan built a temple for her.

After Gao Huan's death

After Gao Huan's death in 547 and his son Gao Yang's abolition of Eastern Wei and establishment of Northern Qi as its Emperor Wenxuan, Erzhu Ying'e carried the title of Princess Dowager of Pengcheng. In 556, Emperor Wenxuan, while drunk, wanted to have sexual relations with her, and she refused. He killed her by his own hand.

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