Senhime (千姫, 1597-1666) or Lady Sen was the daughter of the third Tokugawa shōgun Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1579-1632) and the wife of Toyotomi Hideyori (豊臣秀頼, 1593-1615), himself son of the national unifier Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Her mother Tatsuhime and Hideyori’s mother Yodogimi were sisters, while her grandmother Oichi-no-kata (お市の方, 1547–1583) was a sister of Oda Nobunaga.

Senhime was wedded to Hideyori in September 1603, half a year after her grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasu became shōgun. The union between the two children was by the late Hideyoshi’s wishes but was quite obviously an attempt of the Tokugawa at bridging the growing differences between the two families. That political design was bound to fail, as the Toyotomi clan strongly disapproved of Hideyori’s submission to the Tokugawa. Senhime lived the life of a hostage at Ōsaka Castle. The conflict escalated in the Ōsaka campaigns of 1614/15, in which the Tokugawa besieged the castle. It fell on June 3, 1615, and Senhime was sent to her father to plead for her husband’s life but failed. Hideyori subsequently committed suicide.

In 1616, Senhime was remarried to Honda Tadatoki (本多忠刻, 1596-1626), son of the daimyō of Kuwana (later of Himeji) and sponsor of the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Senhime lived in Himeji Castle until Tadatoki’s death in 1626 and spent the rest of her life in Edo (modern-day Tōkyō) as a Buddhist nun – a common tradition for widows in that era – adopting the name Tenjuin (天樹院) and cutting her hair short.

Legend has it that Tokugawa Ieyasu had pledged to wed Senhime to whoever rescued her from the flames of Ōsaka Castle. However, the famous story about her abduction by Sakazaki Naomori (坂崎直盛, 1563-1616), daimyō of the Tsuwano Domain, who is said to have claimed Senhime’s hand as her rescuer and interrupted her bridal procession to Honda’s residence, has recently been questioned. Historians believe Senhime favoured the handsome Tadatoki over the disfigured Naomori who had suffered facial burns in the siege of Ōsaka Castle.

Her life was popularised in countless songs, moralistic kōdan tales, and kabuki plays, often depicting her as an insatiable, men-devouring young widow. Modern jidaigeki (時代劇, “period dramas”), the taiga dorama (大河ドラマ, NHK’s annual, year-long series of historical fiction), and even video games showed her in a different light by focusing on the dramatic events in her life and on the ten-year period she spent in the west wing of Himeji Castle.

References
  • Ball, Jacqueline A.; Himeji Castle: Japan’s Samurai Past, Bearport Publishing 2005
  • Mackey, Patrick; Osaka Insider: A Travel Guide for Osaka Prefecture, CreateSpace 2012
  • Turnbull, Stephen; War in Japan 1467-1615 (Essential Histories), Osprey Publishing 2002
  • Turnbull, Stephen; Toyotomi Hideyoshi: The background, strategies, tactics and battlefield experiences of the greatest commanders of history, Osprey Publishing 2010
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