Tokugawa Ietsugu (徳川家継)

Ietsugu's stone pagoda located at his grave in the Zojo-ji Temple

Ietsugu TOKUGAWA was the seventh seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) (he was in office from 1713 to 1716).

Family line

The fourth son of Ienobu TOKUGAWA and the sixth shogun. His mother was Gekkoin (Okiyo), a concubine and a daughter of the chief priest of the Yuinen-ji Temple in Asakusa. Temporarily he used the previous family name of the Tokugawa clan, Serada. His another name was Nabematsu SERADA. His fiance was Imperial Princess Yoshiko, the princess of Emperor Reigen. He was the youngest to become the shogun among the 15 shogun of the Tokugawa clan.

Before becoming the shogun

On July 3, 1709 (the old calendar), he was born as the fourth son of the sixth shogun Ienobu TOKUGAWA. Ienobu was not blessed with children. Toyohime, the daughter with his lawful wife Hiroko KONOE, died young in 1681; Iechiyo, the son with his concubine Hoshinin, died only 2 month after his birth in 1707; Daigoro, who was born in 1708, died in August 1710. Torakichi, the son with Osumenokata, who was born in 1711, also died young and only Ietsugu survived.

When Ienobu fell sick in 1712, Ienobu called over Hakuseki ARAI and Akifusa MANABE on September 23.
According to "Oritakushibanoki," Ienobu left his will which said, 'make Yoshimichi TOKUGAWA from the Owari-Tokugawa family be the next shogun and let him decide the treatment of Ietsugu' and ' make Ietsugu shogun and let Yoshimichi handle the government affairs as Ietsugu's heir.'
And Ienobu died. Then Hakuseki said, 'if Yoshimichi becomes the shogun, his vassals from Owari will fight with the vassals of the shogun in Edo, which might engulf the entire country in war, but if we choose Lord Nabematsu (Ietsugu) as our shogun and support him, at the very least there will not be any battle,' and Hakuseki proceeded to back Ietsugu, ignoring Ienobu's will.
On the other hand, there were some cabinet officials of the Shogunate who were against this, claiming 'Nabematsu is still young and what will happen if he dies without the heir?'
However, Hakuseki persuaded them by saying 'then we will welcome Yoshimichi from gosanke (three privileged branches) as our shogun.'
A theory says that Ienobu left a will which said 'if Ietsugu could not grow into an adult, adopt either Gorota TOKUGAWA, a son of Yoshimichi, or Chofuku-maru (Ieshige TOKUGAWA), the heir of Yoshimune TOKUGAWA, and have Yoshimichi or Yoshimune back up.'
This is how Nabematsu changed his name into Ietsugu, received an appointment as shogun, and became the seventh shogun on April 2, 1713, after Ienobu's death.

Politics by close advisors

Along with Akifusa MANABE and Hakuseki, Ietsugu continued Shotoku no chi (political reforms), following Ienobu's will. During this period, the shogunate government was led by Ietsugu's real mother Gekkoin, sobayonin (lord chamberlain) Akifusa MANABE, and advisor Hakuseki ARAI, instead of young Ietsugu. Although the truth is unknown, the relationship between Gekkoin, a young and beautiful widow, and Akifusa, a single man, was scandalous. In 1714, Ejima Ikujima Incident occurred at O-oku.

Ietsugu himself received education to become an emperor by Hakuseki and Hakuseki regarded Ietsugu highly for being smart and reasonable. However, Hakuseki, Akifusa and other roju (member of shogun's council of elders) dominated the shogunate government and he could not exert his capabilities.

In March 1716, he fell sick and died on April 30. The cause of death was catching a cold. He was at the age of eight.

Due to the death of Ietsugu, the family line of the second shogun Hidetada TOKUGAWA became extinct and Yoshimune TOKUGAWA from the Kishu Tokugawa Family was installed in the eighth shogun. Yoshimune was his relative.

Personality and anecdotes

According to Tokugawa Jikki (collection of official records of the Edo bakufu), Ietsugu was born smart and caring like his father Ienobu and his behavior was elegant.

Akifusa told Ietsugu, 'Ue-sama (honorific title for emperors or shoguns), let me take care of everything,' and so he conducted the government administrations as he was told by Akifusa and Hakuseki.

According to "Hone wa kataru tokugawa shogun daimyo-ke no hitobito" (bones tell stories; the people of the Tokugawa clan and the daimyo family), written by Hisashi SUZUKI who attended the refurbishment of the Tokugawa Shogun family's graves at Zojo-ji Temple where Ietsugu was buried to examine the cremains of the buried, when Ietsugu's coffin was opened, the rain water for many years were in the coffin and his bones were not in it; there were just his hair, nails, and articles such as his swords. Ietsugu's blood type was ABO, same as his mother Gekkoin.

For Ietsugu whose father died early and became the shogun when he was only four, the sobayonin Akifusa MANABE was like his father. When Akifusa went out for some business and came back, Ietsugu said 'let's go out and welcome Echizen back (Akifusa)' and waited for him outside. When Akifusa came back, Ietsugu was so happy and hugged Akifusa. Moreover, Akifusa scolded Ietsugu even when other vassals could not with constraint. It is said that Akifusa was very strict to Ietsugu and when Ietsugu was being selfish or grizzled, someone would say 'Echizen-dono (Akifusa) is coming' and Ietsugu soon became well-behaved.

When Rinojinomiya from Nikko came to the Edo-jo Castle, Rinojinomiya bowed deeply but young Ietsugu gave him just a light nod. The way he acted there was like that of an adult.

In later years, in a TV show "Sekaiichi uketai jugyo" (the lecture everyone wants to attend), Ietsugu was introduced as 'a shogun who was engaged at the age of seven and died at the age of eight.'

Record of offices and ranks held
* Date according to old lunar calendar

On December 28, 1712, he was granted the position of Shonii (Senior Second Rank) Gon Dainagon (a provisional chief councilor of state).


On March 26, Ietsugu celebrated his attainment of manhood and began to use the name Ietsugu.

On April 2, he was granted the positions of Minister of the Interior and Ukone no daisho (Major Captain of the Right Division of Inner Palace Guards). Also he was given the imperial proclamation of seii taishogun and Genji no choja (chief of the Minamoto clan).


Died on April 30.

On May 12, he was granted the positions of zo shoichii (Senior First Rank, posthumously conferred) and Daijo-daijin (Grand Minister).

[Original Japanese]