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Born with the name Tokugawa Keiki, he was brought up under strict supervision and tutelage by mostly male educators of his father. Taught in the arts, swordfighting , martial arts, politics and government, Keiki would be discovered as an evidently promising future leader, being highly intelligent with keen leadership skills.
At the instigation of his father, he was adopted by the Hitotsubashi family in order to have a better chance of succeeding to the shogunate. Upon the death of the 13th shogun, Shogun Iesada, in 1858, Tokugawa Keiki, daimyo of Hitotsubashi, was nominated as Shogun. Supporters demonstrated his skill in efficiently managing Hitotsubashi government at young age. But enemies led by Ii Naosuke gained support and put up Tokugawa Iemochi as 14th Shogun. Tokugawa Keiki, his supporters and his family were placed under severe house arrest.
The reign of Tokugawa Iemochi was marked by incompetence and mismanagement. Upon the assassination of Ii Naosuke in 1860, to save the Tokugawa shogunate from self-destruction, Tokugawa Keiki was nominated in 1862 to be a member of the 5-man council of elders (advisers), the Roju. Keiki then took numerous steps to quell the rising rebellion, and gathered allies to counter the rebellious Choshu province and treaties with foreign states. In 1864, Keiki successfully defeated the Choshu forces in their attempt to capture the imperial gates in Hamaguri, allying with forces from Satsuma and others.
Rise to the rank of Shogun (1866)
In 1866, Shogun Iemochi fell ill and died, leaving the Tokugawa bakufu very weak and losing control, with no successor competent enough to save the government. Tokugawa Keiki was strongly supported by all Tokugawas and its allies as the only person with enough skill and experience to save Government. Tokugawa Keiki became the 15th Tokugawa Shogun in 1866, taking the name Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
Immediately upon Yoshinobu's ascension as shogun, major changes were initiated. A massive government overhaul was undertaken to initiate reforms that would strengthen the Tokugawa government. In particular, assistance from France was organized, with the construction of the Yokosuka arsenal under Leonce Verny, and the dispatch of a French military mission to modernize the armies of the Bakufu.
A national army and navy were formed and the outlook was that the Tokugawa shogunate was gaining ground towards renewed strength and power.
Boshin war (1867-1869)
Fearing the renewed strengthening of the Tokugawas under a strong and wise ruler, daimyos from Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa formed an alliance to counter the bakufu. Under the banner of sonnō jōi and the radicals' fear of the new Shogun as the "Rebirth of Ieyasu" who will usurp the power of the Emperor, they waged the Boshin war against the Tokugawa bakufu, successfully gaining strong support from other daimyos. After a number of massive losses on the side of the Tokugawa, still reeling from its past weakness, Yoshinobu agreed that the Tokugawa could not win the civil war, and that Japan needed to be united against more potent and powerful foreigners.
In 1867, Yoshinobu stepped down as shogun, returning all power to the Emperor. He was placed under house arrest, and stripped of all titles, land and power. He was later on released, when he demonstrated no further interest and ambition in national affairs. He retired to Shizuoka, the place to which Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of Tokugawa shogunate, also retired. In 1902, the Meiji Emperor allowed him to reestablish his own house as a Tokugawa branch (bekke) with the highest rank in the peerage, that of prince (kōshaku), for his loyal service to Japan. Prince Tokugawa Yoshinobu [peer] died on January 22, 1913.
- Shiba, Ryōtarō. The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter. New York: Kodansha International, 1998. ISBN 1568362463
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