Julia Mullock was an American “Empress of Korea” from 1970 to 1982 due to her marriage to the pretender to the Korean throne, Emperor Yi Gu (later referred to as Prince Yi Gu). Her tenure ended with her divorce from Yi Gu in 1982.
Born on 18 March 1928, Julia was born to an Ukranian-American family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Not too much is known about her early life, except that she was a Roman Catholic and worked at IM Pei – an agricultural firm – in New York City.
IM Pei is where her fate would change when Prince Yi Gu began working there after graduating from Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She eventually grew tired of her work at the firm and decided to move to Spain. So, she taped a notice on her office’s notice board advertising her apartment. The Prince saw the advertisement and went to persuade her to remain in the United States. He also spoke a few Ukranian phrases to impress her, and Julia would later say that she was “deeply moved” at his actions.
By the age of 30 in May 1958, Julia and Yi Gu were engaged after she met his parents, Prince Eun and Princess Bangja, earlier in the year. Over a year later, the wedding took place in New York’s St George’s Church on 25 October 1959.
Four years later, the couple moved to Korea into Changdeok Palace’s apartments. From then, Princess Julia took to the typical royal role of charity work. She became the Empress consort on 1 May 1970 in pretence when her husband “ascended” the defunct throne of Korea; she held the title until the divorce was finalised in 1982.
A close friend, Lee Nam-ju, remarked about her charity work, “Mullock fulfilled her duty as the princess of Korea’s last royal family, helping the needy and poor, particularly the handicapped people.
“The orphans and crippled Koreans who she helped highly respected Mullock even calling her as their ‘mother.’ Mullock opened a clothing shop to help finance her charity activities even after her divorce.”
Not everything was perfect in the royal household. The Prince and Princess were unable to have children, so in 1969, the couple adopted a daughter, Eugenia Unsuk Lee, who had been born ten years earlier in Seoul (now in South Korea). Sadly, the Lee Family Council (the royal household’s council), never recognised their adopted child meaning Eugenia’s status as a member of the household has long been disputed.
Unable to provide an heir, the Imperial Family pressured the couple to divorce, and they did in 1982 after separating in 1974. In the process of filing for the divorce in her home country, she found that she had never been listed on the Lee Family Council’s register making her status, like her daughter’s, in the family disputed. However, Julia continued her royal charity work even after the divorce.
Princess Julia returned home to the United States in Hawaii in 1995.
She did return to Korea in 2005 for religious ceremonies at the Royal Ancestors’ Shrine. Julia attended alongside her lady-in-waiting, Gwon Heesun and Princess Lee Haewon, a cousin of her ex-husband. That same year, Prince Yi Gu died of a heart attack. The Lee Family Council didn’t invite her to his funeral.
In 2017, Princess Julia died of natural causes in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the Hale Nani Rehabilitation & Nursing Center on 26 November at the age of 94. It was reported by a close friend that she died alone with that friend telling The Seoul Times, “Mullock died so lonely on the hospital bed. She was so sick and weak that she was not able to use her mobile phone before she died.” She was survived by her daughter who has continued to live in Hawaii following her mother’s death.
Princess Julia was cremated and had her ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean.