Bảo Đại (Vietnamese: [ɓa᷉ːw ɗâːjˀ], Chinese: 保大, lit. "keeper of greatness", 22 October 1913 – 30 July 1997), born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, was the 13th and final emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, which was the last ruling family of Vietnam. From 1926 to 1945, he was emperor of Annam. During this period, Annam was a protectorate within French Indochina, covering the central two-thirds of the present-day Vietnam. Bảo Đại ascended the throne in 1932.
The Japanese ousted the Vichy-French administration in March 1945 and then ruled through Bảo Đại. At this time, he renamed his country "Vietnam". He abdicated in August 1945 when Japan surrendered. From 1949 until 1955, Bảo Đại was the chief of state of the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Bảo Đại was criticized for being too closely associated with France and spending much of his time outside Vietnam. Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm eventually ousted him in a fraudulent referendum vote in 1955.
Bảo Đại was born in 22 October 1913 and given the name of Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy in the Palace of Doan-Trang-Vien, part of the compound of the Purple Forbidden City in Huế, the capital of Vietnam. He was later given the name Nguyễn Vĩnh Thụy. His father was Emperor Khải Định of Annam. His mother was the Emperor's second wife, Tu Cung, who was renamed 'Doan Huy' upon her 1913 marriage. She held various titles over the years that indicated her advancing rank as a favored consort until she eventually became Empress Dowager in 1933. Vietnam had been ruled from Huế by the Nguyễn Dynasty since 1802. The French government, which took control of the region in the late 19th century, split Vietnam into three areas: the protectorates of Annam and Tonkin and the colony of Cochinchina. The Nguyễn Dynasty was given nominal rule of Annam.
At the age of nine, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy was sent to France to be educated at the Lycée Condorcet and, later, the Paris Institute of Political Studies. In 1926 he was made the emperor after his father's death and took the name Bảo Đại ("Protector of Grandeur" or "Keeper of Greatness"). He did not ascend to the throne given his age and returned to France to continue his studies.
|Vietnamese alphabet||Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy|
On 20 March 1934, age 20, at the imperial city of Huế, Bảo Đại married Marie-Thérèse Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan (died 15 September 1963, Chabrignac, France), a commoner from a wealthy Vietnamese Roman Catholic family. She was subsequently given the name Nam Phương (Direction of South). The couple had five children: Crown Prince Bảo Long (4 January 1936 – 28 July 2007), Princess Phương Mai (born 1 August 1937), Princess Phương Liên (born 3 November 1938), Princess Phuong Dung (born 5 February 1942), and Prince Bảo Thắng (9 December 1943 – 15 March 2017). She was granted the title of Empress in 1945.
Bảo Đại had five other wives, three of whom he wed during his marriage to Nam Phương:
One of his concubines was a dancer from Hanoi, Lý Lệ Hà.
In 1940, during the second World War, coinciding with their ally Nazi Germany's invasion of France, Imperial Japan took over French Indochina. While they did not eject the French colonial administration, the occupation authorities directed policy from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France.
The Japanese promised not to interfere with the court at Huế, but in 1945, after ousting the French, coerced Bảo Đại into declaring Vietnamese independence from France as a member of Japan's "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere"; the country then became the Empire of Vietnam. The Japanese had a Vietnamese pretender, Prince Cường Để, waiting to take power in case the new emperor's "elimination" was required. Japan surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, and the Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh aimed to take power in a free Vietnam. Due to his popular political stand against the French and the 1945 famine, Hồ was able to persuade Bảo Đại to abdicate on 25 August 1945, handing power over to the Việt Minh — an event which greatly enhanced Hồ's legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Bảo Đại was appointed the "supreme advisor" to Hồ's Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi, which asserted its independence on 2 September 1945, but was ousted by the French in November 1946.
As Vietnam descended into armed conflict — rival factions clashed with each other and also with the remaining French — Bảo Đại left Vietnam after a year in his "advisory" role, living in both Hong Kong and China. The French persuaded him to return in 1949 to serve as "head of state" (quốc trưởng), not as "emperor" (Hoàng Đế). He soon returned to France, however, and showed little interest in the affairs of his own country when his own personal interests were not directly involved.
The communist victory in China in 1949 led to a revival of the fortunes of the Việt Minh. The United States extended diplomatic recognition to Bảo Đại's government in March 1950, soon after communist nations recognized Hồ's government. The outbreak of the Korean War in June led to U.S. military aid and active support of the French war effort in Indochina, now seen as anti-communist rather than colonialist.
But the war between the French colonial forces and the Việt Minh continued, ending in 1954 shortly after a major victory for the Việt Minh at Điện Biên Phủ. The 1954 peace deal between the French and the Việt Minh, known as the Geneva Accords, involved a partition of the country into northern and southern zones. Bảo Đại moved to Paris, but remained "Head of State" of South Vietnam, appointing Ngô Đình Diệm as his prime minister.
In 1955, Diệm called for a referendum to remove Bảo Đại and establish a republic with Diệm as president. The campaign leading up to the referendum was punctuated by personal attacks against the former emperor. His supporters had no way to refute them, as campaigning for Bảo Đại was forbidden. The October 23 referendum was widely reckoned as fraudulent, showing an implausible 98% in favor of a republic. As it turned out, the official results showed that the total number of votes for a republic exceeded the total number of registered voters by some 380,000—an obvious sign of fraud.
In 1957, during his visit to Alsace region, he met Christiane Bloch-Carcenac with whom he had an affair for several years. This relationship gave birth to his last child, Patrick Edward Bloch, who still lives in Alsace in France.
In 1972, Bảo Đại issued a public statement from exile, appealing to the Vietnamese people for national reconciliation, stating, "The time has come to put an end to the fratricidal war and to recover at last peace and accord". At times, Bảo Đại maintained residence in southern France, and in particular, in Monaco, where he sailed often on his private yacht, one of the largest in Monte Carlo harbor. He still reportedly held great influence among local political figures in the Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên provinces of Huế. The Communist government of North Vietnam sent representatives to France hoping that Bảo Đại would become a member of a coalition government which might reunite Vietnam, in the hope of attracting his supporters in the regions wherein he still held influence.
As a result of these meetings, Bảo Đại publicly spoke out against the presence of American troops on the territory of South Vietnam, and he criticized President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu's regime in South Vietnam. He called for all political factions to create a free, neutral, peace-loving government which would resolve the tense situation that had taken form in the country.
In 1982, Bảo Đại, his wife Monique, and other members of the former imperial family of Vietnam visited the United States. His agenda was to oversee and bless Buddhist and Caodaiist religious ceremonies, in the Californian and Texan Vietnamese-American communities.
Throughout Bảo Đại's life in both Vietnam and in France, he remained unpopular among the Vietnamese populace as he was considered a political puppet for the French colonialist regime, for lacking any form of political power, and for his cooperation with the French and for his pro-French ideals. The former emperor clarified, however, that his reign was always a constant battle and a balance between preserving the monarchy and the integrity of the nation versus fealty to the French authorities. Ultimately, power devolved away from his person and into ideological camps and in the face of Diem's underestimated influences on factions within the empire.
Bảo Đại died in a military hospital in Paris, France, on 30 July 1997. He was interred in the Cimetière de Passy. After his death, his eldest son, Crown Prince Bảo Long, inherited the position of head of the Nguyễn Dynasty. Crown Prince Bao Long died on July 28, 2007 and his younger brother Bảo Thắng succeeded him as head of the Nguyen dynasty.
The last cash coin ever produced in the world bears the name of Bảo Đại in Chinese characters.There are three types of this coin. Large cast piece with 10 văn inscription on the reverse, medium cast piece with no reverse inscription, and small struck piece. All were issued in 1933.
|Ancestors of Bảo Đại|
Bảo Đại's memoirs have been published in French and in Vietnamese; the Vietnamese version appears considerably longer.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Emperor Bảo Đại.|
Bảo ĐạiBorn: 22 October 1913 Died: 30 July 1997
|Emperor of Vietnam
8 January 1926 – 25 August 1945
Nguyễn Văn Xuân
|Head of State
13 June 1949 – 30 April 1955
Ngô Đình Diệm
|Titles in pretence|
|Loss of title
|— TITULAR —
Emperor of Vietnam
25 August 1945 – 30 July 1997