Rank: bushō and head of the Bessho clan
Title: Assistant Vice-Minister of the Treasury, Provincial Governor of Kaga
Bakufu: Muromachi bakufu – Deputy Military Governor of one-half of Harima Province
Father: Bessho Sukenori
Bessho Noriharu served as a bushō in Harima Province during the early Sengoku period.
There is a lack of primary sources of information concerning the first half of Noriharu’s life, the name and death of his father, and other details. Noriharu becomes prominent after the loss of authority by Akamatsu Masanori over his domain following an overwhelming defeat at the hands of an army led by Kakiya 豊遠, a retainer of Yamana Masatoyo, at the Battle of Mayumi Ridge in 1483. After this defeat, Uragami Norimune seized control from Masanori early in 1484, while Masanori retired to Izumi Province. Noriharu had been one of Masanori’s senior retainers in his retirement, accompanying Masanori on travel to Kyōto to meet the shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshihisa. Thereafter, Masanori moved to Kyōto and Noriharu served as an attendant until returning to Harima via Settsu Province at the end of the year. Masanori rewarded Noriharu for his dedication by reducing the authority of Uno Masahide from his position as the shugodai, or deputy military governor, for all of Harima to only the western half of the province, assigning eight districts in the eastern half to Noriharu. However, Noriharu’s role as shugodai was not formally recognized until several years later.
Conflict with the Yamana clan
Upon the completion of preparations, Noriharu accompanied Masanori in a successful counterattack against the Yamana, killing Kakiya 豊遠, Kakiya Munetsugu, and Kakiya Takatomo at the Battle of Kageki Castle, while recapturing the base that had been occupied by the Yamana soldiers stationed in eastern Harima. This outcome served as a vindication of honor following their earlier defeat at Mayumi Ridge. Prior to the battle, Noriharu and other senior retainers of the Akamatsu conscripted laborers in Harima to fight, but Noriharu was the only one who organized the conscripts into an operational unit, while the others only gave the appearance in writing of respecting the wishes of their lord. Early in 1488, the Akamatsu army won an easy victory against the Yamana at the Battle of Aga. Several months later, Noriharu’s name appears with the title of shugodai for the first time in writing. The subsequent expulsion of Yamana Masatoyo from Sakamoto Castle marked the end of the Yamana in Harima, drawing to a closure a conflict that had been waged for six years.
The expansion of influence
In his role as shugodai, Noriharu attained a level of authority commensurate with Uragami Norimune and Uno Masahide, but his sudden rise meant that his authority had not yet permeated at the local level. In 1490, Noriharu aimed to strengthen his local influence by requesting and receiving permission to serve in the role of magistrate for a village in the Akashi District that was owned by the 正法 hermitage of the Shōkoku Temple. This enabled Noriharu to put into practice his role of shugodai.
In 1492, Noriharu built Miki Castle to serve as a new base for the Bessho clan. He retained Kinugasa Castle and other locations to serve as auxiliary bases for the clan, while endeavoring to solidify his governance. Noriharu relied upon retainers including the Inaya and Sassa clans to serve as gundai, or deputy district governors, to manage judicial affairs, tax exemptions for temple landholdings and related matters to reinforce local authority.
In 1493, Noriharu established relations with Hosokawa Masamoto, collaborating with one of Masamoto’s retainers named Uehara Motohide to arrange for a political marriage between Masanori and Masamoto’s younger sister (later known as Tōshōin) who had formerly been in a convent. Following the death of Masanori in 1496, Noriharu carried out the wishes of his lord by requesting the Muromachi bakufu to recognize Masanori’s adopted son, Dōso Matsumaru (later known as Akamatsu Yoshimura), as his successor. Matsumaru came from the Shichijō, a branch family of the Akamatsu.
The East-West conflict
Masanori’s senior retainers supported Yoshimura to become the head of the clan in accordance with his final wishes, but, in 1499, the Akamatsu clan split into three factions over the issue of succession, known as the East-West conflict. One faction supported Yoshimura as originally planned, another group backed Akamatsu Katsunori, while a third faction, including Tōshōin, supported Noriharu. This conflict is also known as Katsunori’s coup d’etat. As the guardian of Yoshimura, Uragami Norimune wielded considerable authority. Uragami Murakuni viewed Norimune as a threat, so Murakuni allied with Katsunori to run him down. Meanwhile, Noriharu concluded that if Yoshimura succeeded Masanori at such a young age, Norimune would act with even more reckless abandon, so it was premature to convey full authority to Yoshimura. Based on support from Hosokawa Masamoto behind the scenes, Noriharu recommended that Tōshōin serve as the provisional head of the clan until Yoshimura matured.
Uno Masahide, together with Akamatsu Norisada and his son, had remained silent during this period of indecision; in the end, these retainers joined those who supported Yoshimura and attacked the faction backing Akamatsu Katsunori. After appeals to the bakufu to mediate the dispute, Katsunori’s attempt to usurp the role as head of the clan failed. In the circumstances, Tōshōin wielded significantly elevated powers as confirmed by letters in her name along with glimpses of Noriharu’s influence.
The later years
After Yoshimura became lord of the clan, Noriharu independently implemented conscripted labor in his territory and strengthened the financial base for the future of the Bessho clan. He appointed Fukuhara Yashirō to serve as the deputy governor of the Katō District and exercised relative autonomy over his domain. In 1512, Noriharu joined Uragami Muramune on a sojourn to Kyōto, consulting with the bakufu in regard to the investiture of Yoshimura as an official. Ordinarily, an individual would make a personal appeal for the role of shugo, and it was highly unusual for the retainers to petition on his behalf. At this time, Noriharu and Muramune, in their roles as guardians of Yoshimura, possessed authority in the Akamatsu clan. Noriharu died in 1513 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Bessho Norisada.