David Lan Pham

Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan (?- 1300)

Painting of Tran Quoc Tuan (1228 - 1300) in Nguyễn dynasty (Photo: Wikipedia)

Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan was the national hero. He was Tran Lieu’s son. His grand father was Chancellor Tran Thua under the reign of Ly Hue Ton (1211- 1224). His mother’s name and his birth year were unclear. We try to clarify them all.

It was written in history that his birth year varied from 1228 to 1231, and that his mother was Princess Tran Thi Nguyet (Thien Dao Quoc Mau).

Who was Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan’s mother?

  1.  Princess Thuan Thien born Ly Ngoc Oanh (1216- 1248), daughter of King Ly Hue Ton and Queen Tran Thi Dung (Linh Tu Quoc Mau), younger sister of Tran Quoc Tuan’s grand father, Chancellor Tran Thua (1184- 1234)?
  2. Princess Tran Thi Nguyet (Thien Dao Quoc Mau) whose biography was dim?

When was Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan born?

1228? 1229? 1230? 1231?


Prince Sam was enthroned in 1211. It was King Ly Hue Ton, who was surrounded by the members of the Tran family:

  1. Queen Tran Thi Dung (Linh Tu Quoc Mau), Tran Ly’s daughter
  2. To Trung Tu, Queen Tran’s uncle (Generalissimo)
  3. Tran Thua, Trần Lý’s eldest son (Chancellor). Tran Thua was Tran Lieu’s father I.e Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan’s grand father.
  4. Tran Tu Khanh, Tran Ly’s son (Generalissimo)
  5. Tran Thu Do, Tran Ly’s nephew (Generalissimo)

King Ly Hue Ton was physically and mentally weak for addicting to rice wine. He had two princesses:

  1.  Princess Thuan Thien (Ly Ngoc Oanh 1216- 1248)
  2. Princess Chieu Thanh (Ly Phat Kim 1218- 1278)

In 1224 King Ly Hue Ton resigned. He chose Princess Chieu Thanh as his successor. It was Empress Ly Chieu Hoang, who was enthroned at the age of 7.

It was certain that Tran Lieu (1211- 1251), Tran Thua’s son, married Princess Thuan Thien, King Ly Hue Ton’s daughter before the king’s abdication I.e before 1224.

At that time Tran Lieu was about 11 or 12 years old.

Tran Canh (1218- 1277), his younger brother, married Princess Chieu Thanh some time in 1224, of course, with the agreement of King Ly Hue Ton and his wife, Queen Tran Thi Dung (Linh Tu Quoc Mau). In reality these premature marriages came from Tran Thu Do and Queen Tran Thi Dung’s maneuver in order to steal the throne from the Ly to transfer it to the Tran. Tran Thu Do committed adultery with Queen Tran Thi Dung (Linh Tu Quoc Mau) when King Ly Hue Ton was on the throne.

Princess Thuan Thien was born in 1216. She was 6 or 7 years old when marrying Tran Lieu, who was 11 or 12 years old.

Princess Chieu Thanh was born in 1218. She became Empress in 1225 at the age of 7. She ceded the throne to her husband Tran Canh in 1225 when the latter was 7 years old. It was King Tran Thai Ton.

In 1237, at the age of 21, Thuan Thien was forced by Chancellor Tran Thu Do to live with King Tran Thai Ton, her husband’s younger brother, when she was in pregnancy. Queen Chieu Thanh, Thuan Thien’s younger sister, was demoted for not having a son to succeed to the throne.

If Tran Quoc Tuan was born in 1228, 1229, 1230, 1231 his mother should be Princess Thuan Thien born Ly Ngoc Oanh (1216- 1248).

In 1228 Thuan Thien was 12 years old. It’s difficult for a12 years old girl to bear a healthy baby. But it’s possible for a 13 or 14 years old lady to give birth to a healthy one. In feudal time the legal marriage age was 13 for the females and 16 for the males.  Probably Tran Quoc Tuan was born in 1229, 1230 or 1231.

Tran Lieu lost his lovely wife Thuan Thien in 1237 to his own younger brother, King Tran Thai Ton, in accordance with Chancellor Tran Thu Do’s arrangement for Queen Chieu Thanh had no child with King Tran Thai Ton. We don’t know when Tran Lieu married Tran Thi Nguyet. The title Thien Dao Quoc Mau showed she belonged to the royal family. The Tran Dynasty was born in 1225. Endogamy was encouraged and legalized by Chancellor Tran Thu Do in order to strengthen the Tran Dynasty.

In my opinion Tran Thi Nguyet (Thien Dao Quoc Mau) wasn’t Tran Quoc Tuan’s mother but Princess Thuan Thien Ly Ngoc Oanh was. Here are my arguments:

  1.  Tran Lieu married Princess Thuan Thien when he was 11 years old, and Princess Thuan Thien was 6 years old. Their marriage took place before King Ly Hue Ton’ s abdication i.e before 1224. The Tran carried out endogamy after the birth of the Tran Dynasty i.e after 1225.
  2. Polygamy was in vogue in Confucian society. But it’s impossible for an 11 or 12 years old child to have many wives! Tran Lieu lost Thuan Thien in 1237 when he was 26 years old. Maybe he re-married Tran Thi Nguyet some time after 1237.
  3. In 1237 Tran Quoc Tuan was 7 or 8 years old (if he was born in 1229 or 1230). He had no mother to take care of him. Princess Thuy Ba, his aunt, became his foster- mother. Suppose Princess Tran Thi Nguyet was Tran Quoc Tuan’s mother. Why didn’t she take care of her son but his aunt, Thuy Ba, did? Princess Thuy Ba played an important role in the romantic love story between Tran Quoc Tuan and Princess Thien Thanh, daughter of King Tran Thai Ton and Thuan Thien (1251).
  4. All the members of the Tran had their birth year. But Tran Quoc Tuan, a national hero, didn’t have it. It’s bizarre. It seems historians kept Tran Quoc Tuan’s birth year floating to hide his mother’s identity so that he didn’t nurture revenge by staging a coup against King Tran Thai Ton, his own uncle.

Tran Lieu died in 1251. His wife Tran Thi Nguyet (Thien Dao Quoc Mau) became a Buddhist nun.


Tran Quoc Tuan was a handsome, strong, brave and intelligent child. He was good at Chinese characters and martial arts. His father, Tran Lieu, hated Chancellor Tran Thu Do, who forced his pregnant wife Thuan Thien to leave him to live with his younger brother, King Tran Thai Ton. Tran Quoc Tuan loved his father and understood his father’s dolorous state of mind. He seemed not to hate Tran Thu Do. He did know the Chancellor did anything abnormal, amoral and cruel just to consolidate the Tran Dynasty, and to ensure the country’s security, integrity and prosperity.

Tran Hung Dao (Tran Quoc Tuan) statue in central Saigon (Photo: Wikiwand)

The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan (Thanh Cat Tu Han 1162- 1227) in 1206. His grand son Kublai Khan (Hot Toc Liet 1215- 1294) conquered China and founded the Great Yuan Dynasty (Dai Nguyen 1279- 1368). It was the first foreign dynasty in China. The Mongol Empire consisted of:

Mongolia + China + part of Russia + part of India + part of Burma + Korea.

The Great Khan took control of 12 million km2 of Eurasian territories with 85 million people by the end of the 13th century.

In 1257 the Mongols invaded Dai Viet from Yunnan. Tran Quoc Tuan was in his twenties. He was married. He was General appointed by King Tran Thai Ton. But he failed to stop the Mongol troops from entering Dai Viet. He wasn’t well known in the first invasion of the Mongol troops commanded by Wouleanggotai (Ngot Luong Hop Thai).

What a surprise! The Mongols entered Dai Viet without difficulty but they failed quickly. They were in a hurry to withdraw their troops from Dai Viet. Chancellor Tran Thu Do’s firmness of fighting the invaders, tropical climate and food shortage contributed to the victory of Dai Viet. The same thing occurred in Russia 6 centuries later. The Russians used the ‘no-man-land tactics’ (cold winter, food shortage, lack of shelters, ‘rapoutiza’ in the Spring) to defeat the French troops.

Great Khan Kublai’s pride was damaged by the unsuccessful military campaign in Dai Viet in 1257. Relations between Dai Viet and the Great Yuan got sour. Great Khan Kublai tried to humiliate Kings Tran Thanh Ton (King: 1258- 1278) and Tran Nhan Ton (King: 1279- 1293) by asking them to travel to Khanbaliq (Beijing: Bac Kinh) to pay respect and submission to the Mongol Emperor. The Viet Kings had a series of reasons to stay in Thang Long. Their defiance angered Kublai Khan.

In 1282 King Tran Nhan Ton sent his uncle Tran Di Ai to Khanbaliq (Beijing) as his especial envoy. Kublai Khan was very angry at King Tran Nhan Ton’s absence. He gave blessing to Tran Di Ai as King of An Nam (Dai Viet) and ordered Shai Shuan (Sai Thung) to escort Tran Di Ai back to Thang Long. Arriving at the Nam Quan Gate Sai Shuan’s troops were attacked by the Viet troops. An arrow hit one of Sai Shuan’s eyes. Tran Di Ai was captured (1282). Shai Shuan and his soldiers ran back to China. It was a serious diplomatic and military wound for the Great Yuan.

Kublai Khan ordered his son, Prince Toghan (That Hoan), to command 5000,000 troops to invade Dai Viet.

King Tran Nhan Ton appointed Tran Quoc Tuan Commander in chief (1283).

The invaders were numerous and battle- tested. Their strength was incredible. The Viet troops couldn’t stop them. They occupied Thang Long. Prince Toghan commanded the ground forces while Omar (O Ma Nhi) and Sogeto (Toa Do) and their troops went South by sea, claiming to attack Champa.

Leaving the capital King Tran Nhan Ton fled to Thanh Hoa. Sometimes he moved to Quang Yen. He was always escorted by Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan. Some members of the royal family such as Tran Ich Tac, Tran Kien, Tran Tu Vien bowed to Toghan. King Tran Nhan Ton looked demoralized. Like Tran Thu Do before King Tran Thai Ton facing the first Mongol invasion in 1257, Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan restored the King’s optimism, saying: “Your Majesty, behead me first if you would like to surrender to the invaders.”

Tran Quoc Tuan Temple in Saigon (Photo: https://vi.m.wikipedia.org/)

In 1285 Tran Nhat Duat defeated Sogeto’s troops at the Ham Tu Wharf, Hung Yen province. Tran Quang Khai, Pham Ngu Lao, Tran Quoc Toan expelled the enemies from the Chuong Duong Wharf. The Viet troops liberated Thang Long. Sogeto was killed in the battle of Tay Ket. Omar tried to return to China by boat.

The remnant of Toghan’s defeated troops suffered heavy casualties in Van Kiep. Toghan ran for his life back to China.

The huge plan of conquering Dai Viet was smoky.

After victory King Tran Nhan Ton predicted military retaliation from the Great Yuan. He asked Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan if he was afraid of the next retaliatory invasion. Tran Quoc Tuan was self- confident. He believed in Dai Viet’s military superiority.

First: Dai Viet just won the war.

Second: the war losers’ morale was very low.

Third: the enemies weren’t enthusiastic to fight in a tropical country. They were tired when moving from China to Dai Viet. Physically they felt sick because of the tropical climate characterized by humidity, insects, tropical diseases. Psychologically they were homesick due to nostalgia and anti- bellum syndromes after two bitter defeats in 1282 and 1285.

In 1287, once again Toghan commanded 300,000 troops to invade Dai Viet by land and by sea under the pretext of escorting Tran Ich Tac back to Thang Long to be enthroned.

The capital, border cities and seaports were well defended. However, the Viet troops couldn’t stop the invaders. Thang Long was threatened. King Tran Nhan Ton left it temporarily.

Tran Khanh Du was defeated by Omar in Van Don, Quang Yen province. Shortly after that the fleet of food supply commanded by Zhang Wen Hu (Truong Van Ho) was attacked by the Viet troops under the command of Tran Khanh Du in an ambush at the estuary of Luc Thuy Duong. The invaders lost a fleet of food with many weapons. Many of them were captured by the Viet troops. Escaping death Zhang Wen Hu returned to China by boat.

Toghan was in hopelessness. The Viet troops’ counter- attack was terrible. The invaders were in shortage of food. Their morale was too low. On the Bach Dang River Omar’s troops faced a bitter defeat without either fighting or seeing the enemies. Many of them were drowned. Omar and his Generals were captured. The invaders fought in retreat. Many of them were killed on the Sino- Viet border.

Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan defeated the Great Yuan thrice to safeguard Dai Viet’s independence. His brilliant success came from:

  1. his military genius.
  2. his popularity, bravery, modesty, firmness, loyalty. The King respected and trusted him. His soldiers loved and respected him. The Vietnamese admired his bravery, modesty and military genius. Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan taught his soldiers: No pride when winning. No discouragement when losing.  He was surrounded by good Generals and assistants such as Tran Khanh Du, Tran Quang Khai, Pham Ngu Lao, Nguyen Khoai, Yet Kieu, Da Tuong, Tran Quoc Toan, Tran Nhat Duat etc.
  3. his choice of talented men based on their true talents but not based on their social cast. He put right men in right places. Pham Ngu Lao, Yet Kieu, Da Tuong played important roles in the anti- Mongol Wars. Pham Ngu Lao was a basket weaver. Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan turned him into a General with good military records in history. Pham Ngu Lao married Princess Anh Nguyen, Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan’ s adoptive daughter. Yet Kieu (1) and Da Tuong (2) were two loyal servants of Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan. They were born into poor families in the littoral areas. For that reason they were good swimmers and divers. They were heroes in the anti- Mongol Wars.
  4. his impartial and accurate evaluation of the balance of force from both sides. The Mongols have lived in the deserts and steppes. They weren’t good in the naval battles. The ancestors of the Tran were fishermen. Their maritime experiences were undeniably immense.
  5. his right concept of invincible strength: national union.

The Vietnamese called Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan Duc Thanh Tran (St Tran), Tran Hung Dao, Hung Dao Vuong.

Generalissimo Tran Quoc Tuan died in 1300 in Van Kiep, Hai Duong province, in his seventies.


David Lan Pham, F.A.B.I.


(1) Yet Kieu isn’t a name but a nickname. In Sino-Vietnamese Yet has two meanings: 1. Yet: goat 2. Yet: a scorpion. Kieu itself has two meanings: a. Strong horse b. An owl.

(2) Da Tuong (nickname). Da: wild; Tuong: elephant.


Direct link: https://caidinh.com/Archiefpagina/Cultuurmaatschappij/generalissimotranquoctuan.htm

Cái Đình - 2022