4. Han Huidi – Mother Knows Best

Han HuidiHan Gouzu Reign Card

With the much loved emperor Gaozu dead in 195 BCE, his son Huidi was thrust into power at age 15. As is tradition, the underage emperor served under the strict control of an elder; in this case his mother, Empress Dowager Lu Hou. Huidi was a reluctant choice by his father, after concerns he was too soft and polite to rule and these suspicions quickly proved themselves to be correct with Huidi quickly devolving into nothing more than a puppet of his mother. What followed was a reign dominated by stories of conspiracies and intrigue that shook the kingdom… almost none of which even involved the emperor directly.

With her obedient son safely under her thumb; Lu Hou wasted no time using her absolute power for revenge on her rivals and opponents. The freshest wound to her pride, and the people at the top of Lu Hou’s hit-list were her husband’s former concubines and their children, after the part they played in the doubts around naming Huidi as the next emperor.

Whether it be shaving their heads and sentencing them to a life of hard labour or forcing poison down their throat when they were sleeping, Lu Hou dispatched her former rivals with brutal efficiency. Huidi remained oblivious to these events, until one day he saw his brother’s mother covered in pig excrement under his mother’s orders. The shock was too much for the soft-hearted emperor and in fear of his own mother retreated to a life of privacy; in the process handing over yet more of his responsibilities to the one he feared.

Huidi’s trust in his mother had eroded to such an extent, that when his brother (from a rival concubine) committed a minor faux pas over dinner, Huidi took his brother’s next cup of wine to drink it himself; acting as an impromptu bodyguard for any poison that might have been slipped in between refills. To even Huidi’s surprise, Lu Hou shrieked, jumped up and knocked the cup out of his hand, confirming to the shaken Huidi that he had indeed narrowly rescued his own brother from certain death.

After a life of stress of solitude, Huidi died of an unknown illness at age 22. Over his time as emperor Huidi had failed to produce any heirs to the throne, so with no children to pass the dynasty on to… who could possibly step up and take power? Take a wild guess.

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