Lifespan: Bunmei 18 (1486) to 12/24 of Tenbun 11 (1543)
Rank: sengoku daimyō
Title: Junior Fifth Rank (Lower); Governor of Shinano
Father: Nagao Yoshikage
Mother: Daughter of the Shinano-Takanashi clan
Siblings: Sister (wife of Iinuma Masakiyo, Tamekage, sister (second wife of Uesugi Sadazane), sister (formal wife of Takanashi Sumiyori), Tameshige, Kagetada
Wives: [Formal] Daughter of Jōjō-Uesugi Danjō-shōsuke; [Consort] Toragozen – Daughter of Nagao clan (Nagao Fusakage, lord of Suyoshi Castle)
Children: Harukage, Sentōin (formal wife of Nagao Masakage), Kagetora (Uesugi Kenshin), other daughters (節参照）
Nagao Tamekage served as a sengoku daimyō in Echigo Province. Tamekage was the deputy military governor of Echigo and the district deputy military governor of the Niikawa District of Etchū Province. He was the father of Uesugi Kenshin. Uesugi Kagekatsu, the first head of the Yonezawa domain in the Edo period, was his grandchild from a daughter married into another family.
Tamekage was born as the son of Nagao Yoshikage, the deputy military governor of Echigo. His mother came from the Takanashi clan of Shinano. In 1506, after Yoshikage was killed in action at the Battle of Hannyano, the Igarashi and Ishida clans of the Chūetsu area (central portion of Echigo) rebelled, but this was pacified before long by Tamekage who had succeeded his father as head of the Echigo-Nagao clan.
Around the spring of 1507, Uesugi Fusayoshi, the military governor of Echigo, made preparations to subdue Tamekage on the basis that Tamekage appeared to be planning a rebellion. In the eighth month, Tamekage acted first by attacking the residence of Fusayoshi. In the midst of fleeing, Fusayoshi killed himself, after which Tamekage backed his adopted son, Uesugi Sadazane, to serve as a puppet of Tamekage in the role of military governor. Honjō Tokinaga, Irobe Masanaga, and Takenomata Kiyotsuna from the Agakita area of northern Echigo were opposed to the new military governor, and, in the ninth month, rebelled together against Tamekage. Tamekage received news of the rebellion from Nakajō Fujisuke via the Yamayoshi clan who served as the gundai, or official representative of the Muromachi bakufu, for the Kanbara District.
Tamekage requested the cooperation of the Ashina and Date clans. In the tenth month, supporters of Tamekage launched a successful attack against the base of the Honjō clan at Honjō Castle. In the fifth month of 1508, the base of the Irobe clan at Hirabayashi Castle fell, and, in the sixth month, the Takenomata clan holed-up in Iwatani Castle surrendered. The remaining members of the opposition fled to Aizu and, later, with the support of Nakajō Fujisuke and the Ashina clan, reconciled with Tamekage. In the eighth month, Tamekage donated eighty kan mon to the Muromachi bakufu, and, on 11/6, the bakufu formally recognized Uesugi Sadazane as the military governor of Echigo while Tamekage was ordered to support him.
However, on 7/28 of 1509, Fusayoshi’s older brother, Uesugi Akisada (the deputy shōgun of Kantō) and his son, Uesugi Norifusa, raised an army to exact revenge against Tamekage for the ouster of Fusayoshi, and invaded Echigo. Akisada’s army established a base at the Ueda manor in Echigo. These forces captured the city of Funai and subdued the Chūetsu (central) and Jōetsu (southwest) areas of Echigo. Outnumbered, Tamekage joined Sadazane to flee to Etchū Province. From Etchū, Tamekage requested reinforcements from Date Hisamune and maintained communications with commanders in Echigo, Mutsu, Shinano, Noto, and Hida provinces along with the bakufu while awaiting an opportunity to recover Echigo.
In 1510, after reconstituting his army, including with soldiers from Sado Province, Tamekage planned for a counterattack. On 4/20, the troops advanced by sea route to Kanbara-no-tsu, a harbor in Echigo. On 5/20, a supporter of Tamekage named Murayama Naoyoshi defeated the forces of Usegui Akisada at Imai-Kuroiwa while reinforcements led by Takanashi Masamori rushed from Shinano Province. On 6/12, the Jōjō clan switched their allegiance from Akisada to Tamekage, and, on 6/20, Tamekage recovered Funai. Finally, at the Battle of Nagamorihara, Tamekage’s forces pursued Akisada’s army in retreat, killing Akisada.
In the fifth month of 1512, the Ayukawa clan of the Agakita Group rebelled, but this was quelled after Tamekage sent bushō from the Yamayoshi and Tsukiji clans. In the second month of 1521, Tamekage issued an order prohibiting worship of the Ikkō sect.
The usurpation by Tamekage of the role of military governor is illustrative of the phenomenon during the Sengoku period known as gekokujō whereby individuals of lower rank usurped the authority of those above them. Tamekage respected the authority of the Imperial court and the Muromachi bakufu, making frequent donations to support expenses for coronations and other events. As a result, he was conferred the honorary title of Governor of Shinano. He was also permitted to display the 白傘袋, royal dress for his horse, and lacquered palanquin commensurate with members of the otomoshū, a group of high-ranking individuals who accompanied the shōgun. Similar treatment was given to others from the Asakura and Uragami clans who rose from the status of deputy military governors to sengoku daimyō. By promoting the family rank through direct connection with the shōgun in Kyōto, and establishing the Nagao familiy separately from the Uesugi clan who served as military governors of Echigo, Tamekage aimed to become independent of the authority of the Uesugi.
Thereafter, Tamekage engaged in battles in Etchū and Kaga provinces, destroying, among others, Jinbō Yoshimune and Shiina Yoshitane. He expanded his influence, such as when delegated to be the deputy military governor for the Niikawa District in Etchū, but in his latter years, Sadazane’s younger brother, Jōjō Sadanori struggled with rebellions by the kokujin landowners in Echigo, and, in 1536, Tamekage was forced into retirement. However, in this year, Tamekage received a written commendation from the Imperial Court for setting the internal rebellion. Further, having prevailed at the Battle of Sanbun-ichigahara, he retired under favorable conditions so this may have been to enable a focus on subduing the rebellion.
Previously, Tamekage was considered to have died on 12/24 of 1537, but historical records indicate he was living after that date, and may have been two years later on 12/24 of 1539. Certain records indicate that he continued to wield authority even after headship of the family was transferred to Harukage.
There is a theory that Tamekage and Nakajō Fujisuke endeavored to have Tokimunemaru (the son of Date Tanemune later known as Date Sanemoto) become the adopted son of Uesugi Sadazane. However, in addition to a lot of resistance to the plan within Echigo,
Tamekage sought to have Tokimunemaru become the successor to Sadazane as a puppet military governor to stabilize the governance of the Nagao family in Echigo, whereas Tanemune viewed Tokimunemaru as an agent by which to bring Echigo Province into the sphere of influence of the Date clan. Based on these differences in expectations and, in 1540, direct military intervention by Tanemune against the faction in Echigo opposed to the adoption, Tamekage decided to cease further negotiations so the adoption plans were at once discarded. Following the demise of Tamekage, the proposal was revived but growing opposition within the Date family led to a division that escalated into a dispute between Tanemune and his son and heir, Date Harumune, known as the Tenbun Conflict.
Tamekage could not bring the kokujin, or provincial landowners, in the Agakita Group of northern Echigo under control. While he could not exercise the public authority to rule over this group, the issue was taken over to be addressed by his sons, Harukage and Kagetora (later known as Uesugi Kenshin).