Emperor Go-Saga (1220–1272), whose reign name literally means "Emperor Craggy High Mountain the Second," was the 88th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional chronology, reigning from 1242 to 1246.
Born Prince Kunihito, Go-Saga was the second son of Emperor Tsuchimikado, and second cousin of his immediate predecessor Emperor Shijō.
Go-Saga's reign began in chaos after Emperor Shijō died suddenly at age 10 after taking a nasty fall while running around in the palace (he was just a boy, after all). The nobles in the Imperial court favored another candidate to replace him, a certain Prince Tadanari. However, Prince Tadanari was unacceptable to the Hojo Shogunate because his father was Emperor Juntoku, who along with his father Emperor Go-Toba, had attempted to overthrow the Shogunate in the ill-fated Jokyu War of 1221, and was currently still in exile on Sado island for his crimes. At a time when sitting emperors were basically just puppets and real power fell to their retired fathers, putting Tadanari on the throne ran the real danger of Juntoku returning from exile unilaterally and taking power as retired emperor.
In the face of the Shogunates opposition to Prince Tadanari, the courtiers produced Go-Saga as a compromise candidate, which the Shogunate decided was acceptable, since Go-Saga's father Tsuchimikado had renounced all ties to politics and fled to the provinces. As a result of these negotiations the throne was actually empty for 11 days - an unusually long gap.
At first all went well for everyone, as Go-Saga turned out to be just as disinterested in political machinations as his father had been, reigning peacefully and causing no trouble. However, Go-Saga wound up creating a massive schism in the Imperial court that would eventually bring down the Hojo Shogunate in his decisions over Imperial succession.
In 1246, Go-Saga had abdicated the throne to his second son, Go-Fukakusa, in order to exercise greater power as a retired emperor. However, later on Go-Saga decided that he wanted the throne passed to his favorite, seventh son, Kameyama, and therefore forced Go-Fukakusa to abdicate after a reign of 12 years, in favor of Kameyama. Then, when Go-Saga died in 1272, he left instructions in his will that future emperors should come only from Kameyama's line.
This caused huge problems due to a lack of clear rules for Imperial succession. Traditionally, this decision was the prerogative of the oldest living male in the main Imperial line, but once Go-Saga died, the oldest male was Go-Fukakusa, who promptly called on this traditional prerogative to demand that one of his own sons be named Kameyama's heir, in defiance of Go-Saga's will. However, Kameyama was able to point to Go-Saga's will as reason for insisting that his sons become the next emperors. The resulting schism would ultimately bring down the Shogunate and lead to decades of civil war and rival "Northern" and "Southern" emperors with two competing versions of the Imperial Court.
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