A Beautiful Love Story in Vietnamese History: How a Poem Changed Destiny

Throughout the dynasties in Vietnamese history, there have been numerous beautiful love stories. However, this one is considered a legendary love affair that continues to captivate generations.

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Until now, many people still believe that fate is predetermined, meeting each other is destiny. In reality, there are beautiful and incredible love stories that seem to only exist in movies.

The couple Hồ Quý Ly and Nhất Chi Mai (Huy Ninh princess) is one of those extraordinary love stories that everyone at that time dreamed of.

According to legend, during his merchant travels, Hồ Quý Ly often followed his foster father to sail the seas. One day, their ship stopped at the shore and he saw someone writing a poem on the sand that said “Quảng Hàn cung lý nhất chi mai” (meaning there is a branch of apricot blossoms in Quảng Hàn palace). Quý Ly instantly memorized the poem, not realizing that such a trivial incident would change his destiny.

In the future, Hồ Quý Ly became a government official. One time, he accompanied King Trần Nghệ Tông on a outing and sought shade in Thanh Thử Palace. Looking at thousands of cinnamon trees in front of him, the king had an impromptu verse, “Thanh Thử điện tiền thiên thụ quế” (meaning there are thousands of cinnamon trees in front of Thanh Thử Palace).

While the other officials were still hesitant and had yet to respond, Hồ Quý Ly quickly recalled the poem he saw on the beach long ago and replied, “Quảng Hàn cung lý nhất chi mai” (meaning In Quảng Hàn palace, there is a branch of apricot blossoms). The two verses combined to form a harmonious response, which can be roughly translated as: In front of Thanh Thử Palace are thousands of cinnamon trees – Inside Quảng Hàn palace, there is a branch of apricot blossoms.

Everyone who heard it was amazed by Hồ Quý Ly’s literary talent. King Trần was both impressed and intrigued because he had a princess named Nhất Chi Mai (Huy Ninh princess – daughter of King Trần Minh Tông). However, she lived in seclusion inside the palace and rarely went outside, so even the close officials knew very little about her.

The king asked Hồ Quý Ly how he came to know the palace secrets and the fact that the princess lived in Quảng Hàn palace named by the king. Hồ Quý Ly truthfully told the story of the poem he saw on the beach years ago.

This led the king to believe that it was truly Heaven’s will. Due to the destined affinity, the king gave Princess Nhất Chi Mai to Hồ Quý Ly in marriage. Thanks to this arranged marriage, he rose rapidly like a “kite in the wind”.

According to official history, Hồ Quý Ly had two consorts who were court attendants of Trần Minh Tông: Madame Minh Từ Hoàng (mother of Trần Nghệ Tông) and Madame Đôn Từ Hoàng (mother of Trần Duệ Tông). After ascending the throne, King Trần Nghệ Tông trusted Hồ Quý Ly and arranged for his recently widowed sister, Huy Ninh princess, to marry him. Before marrying Hồ Quý Ly, Princess Huy Ninh was in mourning for her deceased husband, Trần Nhân Vinh, a Deputy Governor who was killed.

Both official and unofficial history acknowledge this extraordinary fate as a remarkable love story admired by many generations to come. Because besides the aforementioned fate, it also defied the rule set by Trần Thủ Độ’s regime, which forbade members of the Trần royal family from marrying outside their clan.