Empress Teishi

Teishi (976-1000) was Regent Michitaka's daughter. Married to Emperor Ichijô when he was ten and she fourteen, she was given the position of empress almost immediately. During the years of her father's regency, Teishi's salon was known for its literary verve, and included among its members Sei Shônagon, author of the famous Pillow Book. Shônagon's evocative descriptions of court life are all based on the people and happenings in Teishi's court. The story about Teishi's mania for cats in my novel comes directly from an incident in the Pillow Book.Teishi's luck began to run out after her brothers Korechika and Taka'ie, her only backers at court, were disgraced and sent into exile. It did not help that Emperor Ichijô was so afraid of displeasing Michinaga that he did not visit Teishi after the birth of their first child, a daughter, in 996. Ichijô managed to get Teishi back to the palace the following year, but two years later, when she was pregnant again and preparing for her formal departure, Michinaga humiliated her by mounting his own expedition to Uji on the same day, sweeping all the royal courtiers into his own entourage.

   On the very day that Teishi gave birth to a baby prince, Michinaga overshadowed the birth celebrations by bringing his own daughter Shôshi to court as Ichijô's Junior Consort, and within two months, Michinaga came up with a clever scheme to give Shôshi the position of empress. For the first time in Japanese history, there were two empresses. Michinaga had Ichijô give the title kôgô to Teishi, and move his daughter into the original position of chûgû. (Both titles mean "empress" but originally they were held by the same person.)

    In my novel, Murasaki hears the gossip about this political manoevering from her husband, Nobutaka. Like her brother Korechika, Teishi became a tragic figure on the losing side of history. Although she bore Ichijô his first son, Atsuyasu, that young prince was twice eclipsed by his half-brothers and never became emperor. Teishi herself died giving birth to her third child in the winter of 1000.

   (Some English works render her name in its pure Japanese form, as Sadako. See names.)