It is unclear exactly when King Yangwon was born. He was proclaimed as crown prince in the year 533 and became king 12 years later. But the process of ascending the throne was not smooth at all. His father, King Anwon, had three wives. The first queen had no children, and the other two queens struggled fiercely to make their own son the next king. In that process, a bloody military clash erupted between the supporters of Yangwon, the son of the second queen, and those who advocated the son of the third queen. Yangwon’s supporters eventually prevailed over the opponents and put him on the throne. It comes as no surprise that the king’s authority was greatly challenged by his own subjects. This prompted royal power of the Goguryeo Kingdom to weaken even further.
According to a historical record, a Goguryeo Buddhist monk named Hyeryang said that his country was doomed due to political unrest when he met Geochilbu, a minister of the southeastern kingdom of Silla. During the war between the two states, the Buddhist priest followed the Silla minister and defected to the enemy state. This shows that political turmoil continued even after Yangwon became king, as aristocrats were still locked in a bitter rivalry. A major rebellion occurred in the later years of the king’s reign, although he managed to suppress it. But it also indicates internal chaos in the Goguryeo court.
Just like shaky royal power within the nation, Goguryeo’s foreign relations also remained unstable. While Goguryeo was suffering from internal conflict, the two southern kingdoms of Baekje and Silla strengthened their national power and began to attack Goguryeo, which lost several battles with the two states. In 551, the emerging power of Turks from Central Asia invaded Goguryeo. King Yangwon sent his general Go Heul and 10-thousand troops to repel the horse-riding nomadic warriors. Goguryeo was able to beat them, but the war caused the Korean kingdom to consume a significant amount of national resources. In the same year, Silla attacked again and captured ten Goguryeo castles. Goguryeo eventually lost the present-day Seoul region to the Silla-Baekje alliance.
Not much is known about King Yangwon, compared to previous Goguryeo kings. But it is assumed that the kingdom was rather unstable, both internally and externally, throughout the king’s 14-year reign in the mid-6th century.