Tokugawa Ieyasu

31/01/1543View on timeline

Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康, January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which effectively ruled Japan from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shōgun in 1603, and abdicated from office in 1605, but remained in power until his death in 1616. His given name is sometimes spelled Iyeyasu, ccording to the historical pronunciation of the kana character he. Ieyasu was posthumously enshrined at Nikkō Tōshō-gū with the name Tōshō Daigongen (東照大権現). He was one of the three unifiers of Japan, along with his former lord Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Shōgun

Background

During the Muromachi period, the Matsudaira clan controlled a portion of Mikawa Province (the eastern half of modern Aichi Prefecture). Ieyasu's father, Matsudaira Hirotada, was a minor local warlord based at Okazaki Castle who controlled a portion of the Tōkaidō highway linking Kyoto with the eastern provinces. His territory was sandwiched between stronger and predatory neighbors, including the Imagawa clan based in Suruga Province to the east and the Oda clan to the west. Hirotada's main enemy was Oda Nobuhide, the father of Oda Nobunaga.

Early life (1542–1556)

Tokugawa Ieyasu was born in Okazaki Castle on the 26th day of the twelfth month of the eleventh year of Tenbun, according to the Japanese calendar. Originally named Matsudaira Takechiyo (松平 竹千代), he was the son of Matsudaira Hirotada (松平 広忠), the daimyō of Mikawa of the Matsudaira clan, and Odai-no-kata (於大の方, Lady Odai), the daughter of a neighbouring samurai lord, Mizuno Tadamasa (水野 忠政). His mother and father were step-siblings. They were just 17 and 15 years old, respectively, when Ieyasu was born.

In the year of Ieyasu's birth, the Matsudaira clan was split. In 1543, Hirotada's uncle, Matsudaira Nobutaka defected to the Oda clan. This gave Oda Nobuhide the confidence to attack Okazaki. Soon afterwards, Hirotada's father-in-law died, and his son Mizuno Nobumoto revived the clan's traditional enmity against the Matsudaira and declared for Oda Nobuhide as well. As a result, Hirotada divorced Odai-no-kata and sent her back to her family. As both husband and wife remarried and both went on to have further children, Ieyasu eventually had 11 half-brothers and sisters.

As Oda Nobuhide continued to attack Okazaki, in 1548 Hirotada turned to his powerful eastern neighbor, Imagawa Yoshimoto for assistance. Yoshimoto agreed to an alliance under the condition that Hirotada send his young heir to Sunpu Domain as a hostage.

Oda Nobuhide, learned of this arrangement and had Ieyasu abducted from his entourage en route to Sunpu.[4] Ieyasu was just five years old at the time.

Nobuhide threatened to execute Ieyasu unless his father severed all ties with the Imagawa clan; however, Hirotada refused, stating that sacrificing his own son would show his seriousness in his pact with the Imagawa. Despite this refusal, Nobuhide chose not to kill Ieyasu, but instead held him as a hostage for the next three years at the Mansho-ji Temple in Nagoya.

In 1549, when Ieyasu was 6, his father Hirotada was murdered by his own vassals, who had been bribed by the Oda clan. At about the same time, Oda Nobuhide died during an epidemic. Nobuhide's death dealt a heavy blow to the Oda clan. An army under the command of Imagawa Sessai laid siege to the castle where Oda Nobuhiro, Nobuhide's eldest son and the new head of the Oda, was living. With the castle about to fall, Sessai offered a deal to Oda Nobunaga, Nobuhide's second son. Sessai offered to give up the siege if Ieyasu was handed over to the Imagawa. Nobunaga agreed, and so Ieyasu (now nine) was taken as a hostage to Sumpu. At Sumpu, he remained a hostage, but was treated fairly well as a potentially useful future ally of the Imagawa clan until 1556 when he was 15 years old.

The Tokugawa clan crest

Rise to power (1556–1584)

n 1556 Ieyasu officially came of age, with Imagawa Yoshimoto presiding over his genpuku ceremony. Following tradition, he changed his name from Matsudaira Takechiyo to Matsudaira Jirōsaburō Motonobu (松平 次郎三郎 元信). He was also briefly allowed to visit Okazaki to pay his respects to the tomb of his father, and receive the homage of his nominal retainers, led by the karō Torii Tadayoshi.

One year later, at the age of 13 (according to East Asian age reckoning), he married his first wife, Lady Tsukiyama, a relative of Imagawa Yoshitmoto, and changed his name again to Matsudaira Kurandonosuke Motoyasu (松平 蔵人佐 元康). Allowed to return to his native Mikawa, the Imagawa then ordered him to fight the Oda clan in a series of battles.

Motoyasu fought his first battle in 1558 at the Siege of Terabe. The castellan of Terabe in western Mikawa, Suzuki Shigeteru, betrayed the Imagawa by defecting to Oda Nobunaga. This was nominally within Matsudaira territory, so Imagawa Yoshimoto entrusted the campaign to Ieyasu and his retainers from Okazaki. Ieyasu led the attack in person, but after taking the outer defences, grew fearful of a counterattack to the rear, so he burned the main castle and withdrew. As anticipated, the Oda forces attacked his rear lines, but Motoyasu was prepared and drove off the Oda army.

He then succeeded in delivering supplies in the 1559 Siege of Odaka. Odaka was the only one of five disputed frontier forts under attack by the Oda which remained in Imagawa hands. Motoyasu launched diversionary attacks against the two neighboring forts, and when the garrisons of the other forts went to their assistance, Ieyasu’s supply column was able to reach Odaka.

By 1560 the leadership of the Oda clan had passed to the brilliant leader Oda Nobunaga. Imagawa Yoshimoto, leading a large army (perhaps 25,000 strong) invaded Oda clan territory. Motoyasu was assigned a separate mission to capture the stronghold of Marune. As a result, he and his men were not present at the Battle of Okehazama where Yoshimoto was killed in Nobunaga's surprise assault.

Alliance with Oda

With Yoshimoto dead, and the Imagawa clan in a state of confusion, Motoyasu used the opportunity to assert his independence and marched his men back into the abandoned Okazaki Castle and reclaimed his ancestral seat.

Motoyasu then decided to ally with the Oda clan. A secret deal was needed because Motoyasu's wife, Lady Tsukiyama, and infant son, Nobuyasu, were held hostage in Sumpu by Imagawa Ujizane, Yoshimoto’s heir.

In 1561, Motoyasu openly broke with the Imagawa and captured the fortress of Kaminogō. Kaminogō was held by Udono Nagamochi. Resorting to stealth, Motoyasu attacked under cover of darkness, setting fire to the castle, and capturing two of Udono’s sons, whom he used as hostages to exchange for his wife and son.

In 1563 Nobuyasu was married to Nobunaga's daughter Tokuhime.

For the next few years Motoyasu was occupied with reforming the Matsudaira clan and pacifying Mikawa. He also strengthened his key vassals by awarding them land and castles. These vassals included: Honda Tadakatsu, Ishikawa Kazumasa, Kōriki Kiyonaga, Hattori Hanzō, Sakai Tadatsugu, and Sakakibara Yasumasa.

During this period, the Matsudaira clan also faced a threat from a different source. Mikawa was a major center for the Ikkō-ikki movement, where peasants banded together with militant monks under the Jōdo Shinshū sect, and rejected the traditional feudal social order. Motoyasu undertook several battles to suppress this movement in his territories, including the Battle of Azukizaka. In one engagement, he was nearly killed when struck by two bullets which did not penetrate his armour. Both sides were using the new gunpowder weapons which the Portuguese had introduced to Japan just 20 years earlier.

An ukiyo-e print depicting the Battle of Azukizaka. In his early days as daimyō of Mikawa Ieyasu had...

Growing Political Influence

In 1567, he changed his name yet again, this time to Tokugawa Ieyasu. By so doing, he claimed descent from the Minamoto clan. No proof has actually been found for this alleged descent from Emperor Seiwa. Yet, his family name was changed with the permission of the Imperial Court, after writing a petition, and he was bestowed the courtesy title Mikawa-no-kami and the court rank of Junior 5th Rank, Lower Grade (従五位下). Ieyasu remained an ally of Nobunaga and his Mikawa soldiers were part of Nobunaga's army which captured Kyoto in 1568. At the same time Ieyasu was expanding his own territory. Ieyasu and Takeda Shingen, the head of the Takeda clan in Kai Province made an alliance for the purpose of conquering all the Imagawa territory. In 1570, Ieyasu's troops captured Yoshida Castle (modern Toyohashi), which made him master of all of Mikawa Province, and he penetrated into Tōtōmi Province. Meanwhile, Shingen's troops captured Suruga Province (including the Imagawa capital of Sunpu). Imagawa Ujizane fled to Kakegawa Castle, which Ieyasu placed under siege. Ieyasu then negotiated with Ujizane, promising that if he should surrender himself and the remainder of Tōtōmi, he would assist Ujizane in regaining Suruga. Ujizane had nothing left to lose, and Ieyasu immediately ended his alliance with Takeda, instead making a new alliance with Takeda’s enemy to the north, Uesugi Kenshin of the Uesugi clan. Through these political manipulations, Ieyasu gained the support of the samurai of Tōtōmi Province.

In 1570, Ieyasu established Hamamatsu as the capital of his territory, placing his son Nobuyasu in charge of Okazaki.

The same year, he led 5,000 of his men to support Nobunaga at the Battle of Anegawa against the Azai and Asakura clans.

Conflict with Takeda

In October 1571, Takeda Shingen, now allied with the Odawara Hōjō clan, attacked the Tokugawa lands in Tōtōmi. Ieyasu asked for help from Nobunaga, who sent him some 3,000 troops. Early in 1572 the two armies met at the Battle of Mikatagahara. The considerably larger Takeda army, under the expert direction of Shingen, overwhelmed Ieyasu's troops and caused heavy casualties. Despite his initial reticence, Ieyasu was convinced by one of his generals to retreat. The battle was a major defeat, but in the interests of maintaining the appearance of dignified withdrawal, Ieyasu brazenly ordered the men at his castle to light torches, sound drums, and leave the gates open, to properly receive the returning warriors. To the surprise and relief of the Tokugawa army, this spectacle made the Takeda generals suspicious of being led into a trap, so they did not besiege the castle and instead made camp for the night. This error would allow a band of Tokugawa ninja to raid the camp in the ensuing hours, further upsetting the already disoriented Takeda army, and ultimately resulting in Shingen's decision to call off the offensive altogether. Incidentally, Takeda Shingen would not get another chance to advance on Hamamatsu, much less Kyoto, since he would perish shortly after the Siege of Noda Castle a year later in 1573.

Shingen was succeeded by his less capable son Takeda Katsuyori. In 1575, the Takeda attacked Nagashino Castle in Mikawa Province. Ieyasu appealed to Nobunaga for help and the result was that Nobunaga personally came at the head of a very large army (about 30,000 strong). The Oda-Tokugawa force of 38,000 won a great victory on June 28, 1575, at the Battle of Nagashino, though Takeda Katsuyori survived the battle and retreated back to Kai Province.

For the next seven years, Ieyasu and Katsuyori fought a series of small battles, as the result of which Ieyasu's troops managed to wrest control of Suruga Province away from the Takeda clan.

In 1579, Ieyasu's wife, and his heir Nobuyasu, were accused by Nobunaga of conspiring with Takeda Katsuyori to assassinate Nobunaga, whose daughter Tokuhime (1559–1636) was married to Nobuyasu. For this Ieyasu ordered his wife to be executed and forced his oldest son by her, Nobuyasu, to commit seppuku. Ieyasu then named his third son, Tokugawa Hidetada, as heir, since his second son was adopted by another rising power: the trusted Oda clan general Toyotomi Hideyoshi, soon to be the most powerful daimyō in Japan.

The end of the war with Takeda came in 1582 when a combined Oda-Tokugawa force attacked and conquered Kai Province. Takeda Katsuyori was defeated at the Battle of Tenmokuzan and then committed seppuku.

Death of Nobunaga

In late June 1582, Ieyasu was near Osaka and far from his own territory when he learned that Nobunaga had been assassinated by Akechi Mitsuhide. Ieyasu managed the dangerous journey back to Mikawa. Ieyasu was mobilizing his army when he learned Hideyoshi had defeated Akechi Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki.

The death of Nobunaga meant that some provinces, ruled by Nobunaga's vassals, were ripe for conquest. The leader of Kai province made the mistake of killing one of Ieyasu's aides. Ieyasu promptly invaded Kai and took control. Hōjō Ujimasa, leader of the Hōjō clan responded by sending his much larger army into Shinano and then into Kai Province. No battles were fought between Ieyasu's forces and the large Hōjō army and, after some negotiation, Ieyasu and the Hōjō agreed to a settlement which left Ieyasu in control of both Kai and Shinano Provinces, while the Hōjō took control of Kazusa Province (as well as bits of both Kai and Shinano Provinces).

At the same time (1583) a war for rule over Japan was fought between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Shibata Katsuie. Ieyasu did not take a side in this conflict, building on his reputation for both caution and wisdom. Hideyoshi defeated Katsuie at Battle of Shizugatake. With this victory, Hideyoshi became the single most powerful daimyō in Japan.

Tokugawa Ieyasu: The Cautious & Wise (Japanese History Explained)

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Published in 4/10/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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