Queen Seondeok, or Sondok, lived from c.606—647 CE in the Korean kingdom of Silla. This was around the end of the Three Kingdoms Period (Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo) of Korea. Seondeok was born Princess Deokman, the daughter of the 26th ruler of Silla, King Jinpyeong. From a young age Princess Deokman displayed superior intelligence and knowledge. As her father had no male heirs, Seondeok was chosen as heiress apparent. As Silla law decreed that only those who were of pure seonggol rank (bone rank, meaning “sacred bone”) could rule, only she, her sisters, and her female cousin (later Queen Jindeok) were eligible. Queen Seondeok would be the 27th ruler of Silla, and the 1st of three queens of Silla.
As queen, Seondeok was a patron of the arts, thought, and literature. Her encouragement of these fields strengthened Silla’s intellectual communities. She also encouraged harmony between different religious groups, and greatly punished religious fighting or persecution. Being an ardent Buddhist, she presided over the completion of temples throughout her kingdom and became a bhikkuni (ordained nun). She was also greatly interested in astronomy and Chinese culture. She introduced Chinese court dress to her nobles, and sent many promising scholars to study in China. This greatly strengthened Silla’s relationship with the Tang Dynasty, which would later help Seondeok in unifying the Korean Peninsula. To strengthen Silla even further, Seondeok encouraged alliances between her great aristocratic families by way of arranged marriages and treatises. This also helped in unifying Korea.
Seondeok did rule during a violent time in the Three Kingdoms Period. The kingdoms warred against each other, making Silla greatly need a Chinese alliance. Tang armies did help Seondeok in expelling foreign forces. At the end of her reign, a rebel uprising was led by one of her own nobles, Lord Bilam. She defeated the rebels, but died soon after of natural causes. Her successor was her cousin, Queen Jindeok, who ruled from 647—654 CE.