Wednesday, November 25, 2009

King Prasat Tong (reigned 1629-1656)

25. Jetta (December 13, 1628 - August 1629)
26. Atityawong (August - September 1629)
27. Prasat Tong (September 1629 - August 7, 1656)

The young King Jetta, aged only fifteen, was a mere puppet in the hands of Pya Sri Worawong. His accession, already unpopular, was rendered more so by a series of brutal murders. Pya Kalahom and all his principal supporters fell victim to the fury of Pya Sri Worawong. An unsuccessful bid for popular favor was made by the pardon of numerous criminals on the occasion of the coronation. Pya Sri Worawong himself assumed the title and office of Pya Kalahom, and made his younger brother Pya Sri Worawong.

The Kalahom had had a very remarkable career. He was born about the year 1600, being a son of Pya Sri Thammatirat, a Royal Chamberlain, whose younger sister was the mother of King Songtam and he was thus the cousin of that monarch. In his youth he was known as Pra-ong Lai.1 From a humble position he rose to be, at the age of eighteen, Chief Page to King Songtam. He was always in trouble and disgrace. On one occasion he was imprisoned for attacking the Mock King at the Plowing Festival.2 Later he was implicated in a plot against King Songtam’s brothers, Prince Sri Sin and Prince Tong. After spending several years in prison, he was released in 1622, and greatly distinguished himself in the unfortunate expedition to Cambodia in that year. A year later he was discovered in an intrigue with one of the ladies of Prince Sri Sin, and went back to jail. On his release he appears to have been tamed to some extent. He was made Pya Sri Worawong, and was high in the favor of King Songtam during the last few years of his reign.

It will be observed that he had good reasons for opposing the accession of Prince Sri Sin to the throne. But the exclusion of the Prince was not enough. The new Kalahom was determined on his destruction. The Prince had taken the precaution of becoming a priest. Yamada undertook the unworthy task of luring him away from his sanctuary. He visited the Prince and persuaded him that the Japanese troops would aid him to seize the throne. Believing this, the Prince discarded the yellow robe. He was at once seized and condemned to die. He was sent to Petchaburi, and there cast into a pit to perish of starvation.

One of the Prince’s adherents, Luang Mongkon, rescued him in a very remarkable manner. He dug another pit, communicating with the one in which the Prince was confined. The corpse of a slave was introduced by night, and dressed in the Prince’s clothes, while the Prince escaped. The guards, thinking their prisoner dead, filled up the pit with earth, and reported to Ayutia that Prince Sri Sin was dead and buried.1

Prince Sri Sin then managed to raise a large force, seized several cities, and was crowned as King of Siam. In the end he was, however, defeated and captured.

Before meeting his death, which was inflicted in the usual way, by beating him to death with a sandalwood club, he solemnly warned the young King against trusting Pya Kalahom.

Luang Mongkon, after making a vain attempt to murder Pya Kalahom, was also executed. He was a man of Herculean strength, and before dying, managed to burst his chains, strangle one executioner, and very nearly accounted for another. He had been offered his life if he would enter the King’s service. “How can I do so?” he asked. “The King is dead.” One is grateful to van Vliet for having preserved the name of this brave man.

After the removal of Prince Sri Sin, King Jetta was encouraged by Pya Kalahom to indulge in all kinds of folly and dissipation until everyone was thoroughly tired of him.

He had been less than two years on the throne when the end came. Pya Kalahom, little by little, had been usurping the external trappings of Royalty. The limit was reached when he cremated the body of his deceased mother2 in a style equal to the usual at a Royal cremation, and caused all the principal functionaries to attend. The young King’s jealousy was at length aroused, and he uttered the most violent threats against Pya Kalahom. The latter, professing to think himself in danger, called together all his supporters and attacked the palace. The King’s partisans were defeated, and he himself fled to a temple. He was captured and executed, together with his mother. Before dying, he bitterly reproached Pya Kalahom, and accused him of having poisoned King Songtam—very probably a true accusation. Pya Kampeng-ram, who was supposed to have designs upon the throne, was also executed not long after.

Having thus got rid of the King and of Pya Kampeng-ram, Pya Kalahom was disgusted to find the steps to the throne barred by his accomplice Yamada. The wily Japanese had supported the claims of Pya Kampeng-ram to the throne, and had displayed great grief when his nominee was executed. He now insisted upon setting up as King the little Prince Atityawong, a younger son of King Songtam, aged only ten.

Pya Kalahom determined to get Yamada out of the way. The Governor of Nakon Sritammarat was accused of rebellion, and Yamada and his Japanese were sent down to subdue him. Yamada was at the same time authorized to assume the position of Governor of Nakon Sritammarat. He was speedily successful, and, happy in his new position ruler of a semi-independent province, was content, for the time being, to refrain from interfering with the ambitious designs of Pya Kalahom.

The “bottled spider” first caused himself to be crowned as Regent, and compelled the young King to enter a monastery, when he was, however, quickly removed in order to be clubbed to death, after a reign of little more than a month.1 The poor boy piteously denounced the cruelty of the man who had set him on a throne only to deprive him of his life; but there was no mercy to be expected from a monster who knew no law but his own ambition.

Pya Kalahom now became King. He is known in history as King Prasat Tong—the King of the Golden Palace. He was the first monarch since the foundation of Ayutia, with the single exception of Kun Worawongsa, who must frankly be called a usurper, for he had no kind of hereditary claim to the throne.1

The usurper’s position, at the beginning of his reign, was none too secure. He was at war with Portugal, and one of his first acts was to clap every Portuguese in the Kingdom into jail, where they remained for three years. Nakhon Sritammarat was in a disturbed condition. Yamada had been poisoned shortly after becoming Governor, and his son, Oin Yamada, was engaged in hostilities with the party of the ex-Governor. After many vicissitudes, he and most of his Japanese retired to Cambodia. Thence they shortly returned to Ayutia, accompanied by a large number of Japanese who had been expelled from the capital in 1629. The usurper did not at all approve of the presence of all these Japanese, rightly thinking that those who had helped to put him on the throne might as easily put him down again.2 He therefore made up his mind to be rid of the turbulent Japanese once for all. The Japanese quarter of Ayutia was suddenly attacked by night, during the flood season of 1632. Many of the Japanese were ruthlessly butchered, but a large number of them escaped by boat. They were pursued by the Siamese, and a sharp fight was kept up from Ayutia down to the sea, with heavy losses on both sides. The majority of the Japanese made good their escape to Cambodia.

The usurper’s resentment against the Japanese was perhaps further inflamed by the fact that the Shogun of Japan had refused to recognize him, and had declined to receive his envoys. In Japan it had long been the established custom for the Emperors to live in seclusion, while others reigned in their name. Scrupulous respect was, however, shown to their persons. A man who had ruthlessly slain the rightful heirs to the throne, and had usurped the title, as well as the power, of King, was looked upon in Japan as a ruffian devoid of all human decency.

The Queen of Patani shared the opinion of the Shogun of Japan. She refused to send the usual tribute, and declared herself independent of King Prasat Tong, whom she described to a Dutch visitor as a “rascal, murderer and traitor.”

Cambodia was hostile, and was supposed to be waiting for a suitable opportunity to invade Siam, aided by the expelled Japanese.

Chiengmai was under Burmese domination. An attempt at rebellion was made in 1630, when the Prince of Chiengmai2 declared himself independent and captured Chiengsen. But the new King of Burma, Tado Tammaraja,3 once more invaded the northern principality in 1631. After a long siege, Chiengmai was captured by the Burmese in April 1632. The Prince was deposed, and one Pya Luang Tipanet was set up as Burmese Viceroy at Chiengmai.

It will thus be seen that King Prasat Tong occupied, at the outset of his reign, a very isolated position. His only foreign friends were the Dutch,4 who espoused his cause, and promised to assist him against the Portuguese and Cambodians. In 1630 and 1632 several Dutch vessels were sent to Siam for this purpose. Prince Frederick Henry of the Netherlands, brother and successor to Prince Maurice, sent a very flattering letter to King Prasat Tong, congratulating him on his accession, and containing some touching condolences on the death of his predecessor—doubtless well meant, but not very tactful.

The new Governor of Nakhon Sritammarat, following the example of the Queen of Patani, refused to send tribute. The King himself led an expedition against the rebel city in 1632, destroyed it, and removed most of the inhabitants to Ayutia. VanVliet relates that the King, on setting forth to attack Nakon Sritammarat, swore to offer up the first four women he met, as a sacrifice. On leaving Ayutia he met four young girls in a boat, on whom he fulfilled his vow.

This story is typical of the cruelty and barbarity of this atrocious man. His whole reign was a series of murders. In 1635, one of his daughters having died and been cremated, a part of her flesh, for some reason, remained unconsumed. Attributing this to magic (for he was as credulous as he was cruel) he indulged in a perfect orgy of murder and torture. It is needless to disgust the reader with the detailed description of these scenes. Over three thousand persons lost their lives, as the tyrant saw in the death of his daughter a good excuse for ridding himself of those whom he suspected of disapproving of his usurpation of the crown. One of the daughters and two of the sons of King Songtam were sacrificed among the rest.

The usurper had early determined to extirpate all the scions of the Royal Family. In 1633 he had caused three infant Princes to be executed. In 1635 a blind Prince who had for some time previously been an object of suspicion, was inveigled into a dispute with a soldier, and punished with death.

An expedition which was undertaken in 1632 against rebellious Patani was unsuccessful. The Patanese repulsed the Siamese and inflicted several severe defeats upon them. According to Dutch witnesses this was due to the bungling methods of the Siamese General, but the blame was thrown on the Dutch, who had been expected to assist with two ships, which never turned up.

In 1634 a more serious attempt was made to subdue Patani. An army of over 30,000 men was raised at Ayutia, and was sent under the command of Pya Praklang to Nakon Sritammarat, accompanied by a great many elephants, ponies, guns and ammunition. There they were to be joined by other troops, sent by sea, and by armies to be raised in the Peninsula. The total force available was estimated at between 50,000 and 60,000 men. The Dutch again promised to assist with six large vessels. The few Japanese remaining at Ayutia were also ordered to take part in this expedition.

Owing to gross mismanagement, this campaign, like the first, was an utter failure. Instead of waiting for the Dutch fleet, the Siamese attacked Patani, and were repulsed with severe losses. Their provisions then ran short, and they returned to Singora. The Dutch fleet, on reaching Patani, found that the Siamese had departed.

The King of Siam had one General beheaded and several others severely punished. He appears to have been satisfied with the action of the Dutch, and returned to them five thousand florins, being half of the duty paid by them that year for the right to trade with Siam.

On January 1st, 1636, Pya Pitsanulok, one of the most influential men in the Kingdom, was arrested for having falsely accused the King’s brother of plotting to gain the crown. On January 22nd he was publicly cut in two by the executioner.

In the same year (1636) extensive preparations were made to subdue Patani, but an embassy was first sent to urge the Queen of Patani to submit. By the advice of the Dutch, the embassy was well received, and Patanese envoys were sent in April to Ayutia to beg forgiveness, and to present the customary gold and silver trees in token of submission.

Although the King outwardly professed to be satisfied with the assistance given by the Dutch against the rebellious Patani, he now regarded them with less favor. His irritation was increased by the receipt of some very stiffly worded letters from the Dutch Governor-General at Batavia, who complained that he had been misled about some consignments of rice which had been promised him. On December 10th, 1636, two of the Dutchmen employed by the Dutch Company had an altercation with some priests, and they and their friends were later attacked and roughly handled by a large crowd of Siamese. The next day they were charged with attacking the house of the King’s brother, and two of their number were sentenced to be trampled to death by elephants. Van Vliet, by distributing presents to the King and principal officials, managed to obtain their release, after they had been exposed all day in public, bound hand and foot. He was forced to sign an undertaking that all Dutch in the Kingdom pledged themselves absolutely to obey all the orders of the Pra Klang.

It may be remarked that the King was drunk on this occasion. It was, in fact, his usual custom to be under the influence of drink thrice daily. “This drunkenness,” says van Vliet, “which occurs very often, and often reaches dangerous limit, has caused many evils during his reign and is frequently he reason why innocent blood has been shed.”

In March 1638 occurred the beginning of the year 1000 of the Chulasakarat Era. King Prasat Tong became obsessed with the idea some frightful calamity would overwhelm the world to mark the thousandth year of the Era. He therefore determined, if possible, to aver the calamity by altering the name of the year. The Old Siamese Calendar was run on a triple system; firstly, there was the Chulasakarat number of the year, secondly, each year bore the name of an animal, of which there were twelve, recurring in regular order;1 and thirdly, it was numbered from one to ten. The combined cycles of twelve animal and ten numbers completed themselves every sixty years, when the first animal (the Rat) coincided with the number One. The year 1000 (A.D. 1638-9) was the year of the Tiger, numbered Ten. The King’s plan was to “camouflage” the year by calling it the year of the Pig, while retaining the number Ten. This meant leaving out the names of nine of the animals, and thereby disorganizing the combined cycles of sixty years.

Delighted with this ingenious scheme, the King wrote to Tado Tammaraja of Burma,1 suggesting that it should be adopted in Burma as well. The Burmese monarch probably felt little interest in the matter, as the “animal cycle” was not in general use in Burma. Moreover, he had already averted all danger of ill luck by holding a huge ordination ceremony, at which 1,000 youths, one for each year of the Era, were initiated into the Buddhist priesthood. He therefore sent an embassy to Ayutia, with a letter returning an unfavorable reply. King Prasat Tong flew into a passion, and dismissed the Burmese envoys, after heaping insults upon them.

The alteration in the “animal cycle” was never generally adopted, even in Siam.

In 1639, the usurper indulged in another outburst of fury against the Dutch. The Dutch Company had put forward a certain claim against the Siamese Government, which the King, after first promising to meet, later repudiated. Annoyed at the King’s fickleness, van Vliet used much stronger language than was wise, and it was reported that he had uttered a threat to bring a Dutch fleet to attack Ayutia. The King, who was, as usual, drunk when this report was made to him, at first ordered the immediate execution of every Dutchman in Siam. He was induced to grant them one day’s grace in which to leave the country, failing which they were to be trampled to death by elephants, and the factory given up to plunder. The whole capital was thrown into confusion. Troops were called out, cannon pointed at the Dutch factory, and all the Dutchmen were arrested and kept in confinement for some time. The King, however, changed his mind about having them trampled to death, and in the end released them, and bestowed various marks of favor upon van Vliet. For some time, however, a number of troops were kept under arms, and all kinds of warlike preparations were made with the object of showing the Dutch that the King was ready and able to capture Batavia.

In November 1641 a letter was received from the Prince of Orange, and also one from the Governor-General of the Dutch Indies, accompanied by many rare gifts. The King received the Prince’s letter in an unusually ceremonious manner, and said that he had never before been favored with so pleasing a missive. But the Dutch probably knew better by this time than to be impressed with these changes of face. Van Vliet, writing several years later, said that real friendship between Siam and the Netherlands was impossible “unless the disgrace which we have suffered has been washed away by the sword, in which may God Almighty help.”

In 1648 Singora became troublesome, and an expedition was sent to subdue it. The Dutch Council at Batavia gave orders that some Dutch vessels were to be sent to help the Siamese fleet, in the hope of placating the fickle King. No record remains of the result of this expedition, but it would appear that Singora was not subdued until much later. In 1654 we find the Dutch once more at loggerheads with King Prasat Tong on account of their negligence in not having sent twenty ships to assist in attacking Singora. Their Agent, Westerwolt, the successor of van Vliet, was treated with great indignity, and when he threatened to leave Siam he was informed that any attempt to do so would result in his being trampled to death by elephants, together with all his compatriots.

Finally the King had to be told that owing to the rupture of relations with England the Dutch could not spare any ships.1 This unpleasing news was conveyed together with many valuable presents. The latter apparently placated the capricious tyrant, for he treated the Dutch with greater courtesy, though is expedition to Singora had to be put off. The army, which had been waiting at Nakon Sritammarat, was recalled, and the General in command was thrown into irons.
In 1655 another attempt was made to subdue Singora, but “the Admiral who had undertaken to overcome the place with the naval force ran away, so that they returned to Siam with shame.”

King Prasat Tong was responsible, during his reign, for a considerable amount of legislation. One is unwilling to admire any of the measures of this execrable man, but it must be admitted that his legislative activities were not unsuccessful.

The most interesting of the Laws associated with this King’s name are the following:

  1. The Law of Appeal, promulgated in A.D. 1633.
    The underlying principle of this Law was not to provide, as in modern times, for Appeals concerning the facts of Law on which the original judgment was based, but an Appeal was considered rather in the nature of an Appeal against the Judge, for injustice, favoritism, or slackness. A great many grounds for appealing against a Judge were admitted, and the Judge hearing the Appeal was empowered to fine the Judge of the Court below if the complaints brought by the parties were found correct. On the other hand, groundless Appeals might result in the punishment of the Appellant. This last provision might perhaps be useful in modern Siam, where Appeals are often made on very frivolous grounds.
  2. The Law on Debt Slavery, A.D. 1637.
    Slavery, though unknown in the golden days of King Ramkamhaeng and his successors at Sukotai, had always been a feature of the Siamese social system under the Kings of Ayutia. Slavery in any country must always be inseparable from cruelty and abuses, but once the system is admitted, the Siamese Law on the subject does not appear unreasonable, and does not by any means ignore the interests of the slaves. There were provisions in the Law for the punishment of masters who killed or injured their slaves, and many means were provided to permit of slaves regaining their liberty. Unfortunately, as was inevitable, the more merciful provisions of this Law were too often disregarded, and the lot of a debt-slave in Siam was often a very miserable one, even in modern times, until the year 1905, when King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) performed the most noble act in his long and memorable reign, by finally abolishing once and for all the last remaining traces of slavery in his Kingdom.
  3. The Law of Inheritance, issued by King Prasat Tong in A.D. 1635, is still in force at the present time. This Law professes to be based on the Dhammathat, but in fact it is a great improvement on Manu’s hoary and anachronistic code. It is interesting to note that King Prasat Tong provided for the making of Wills. Moreover, a Will is not spoken of as something new, but appears to have been, even before 1635, a recognized legal instrument in Siam. Burmese Buddhists, even in the present year of grace, are still precluded from making Wills.
    The provisions of the Siamese Law as to the witnessing of a Will are most interesting, and in the opinion of the author are superior to the English law on the subject. The witnesses must be respectable persons, their number varying according to the rank of the Testator. Moreover, they are not, as in England, merely witnesses to the signature of the Will, but also to its contents, and to the competence of the Testator. These provisions render it difficult for a man to make a hasty or eccentric Will, since it may not be easy to find the requisite number of respectable persons to witness it. It is thus practically impossible for a Siamese, on his death-bed, to disinherit his wife and children and leave his money to a home for lost dogs.
  4. The Law of Debt, which came into force in A.D. 1648, is another ingenious piece of legislation. This Law set forth very clearly the respective liability of wives and husbands, parents and children, and brothers and sisters for one another’s debts.
    A curious provision of the Law of Debt is that a person who denies before a Court of Law liability for his debt, but is proved in fact to be liable, may be made to pay double “so as to keep him from getting into the way of denying his debts.” Similarly, an unsuccessful Plaintiff may be mulcted in twice the amount of his claim, so as to teach him not to bring false claims. These provisions are not enforced at the present day. In former times, one must suppose that none but litigants with cast iron cases ever ventured into Court.
    The Law of Debt was ill adapted to modern requirements; it was superseded by the new Civil Code introduced in 1926.
  5. The most curious specimen of King Prasat Tong’s legislative efforts has been kept to the last. This is his addition to the Law of Offenses against the Government of A.D. 1351. It was issued in 1657 (probably after the King had had a particularly trying time with van Vliet) and runs as follows: “If any subjects of the Realm, Tai or Mon, male or female, fearless of the Royal displeasure and Laws and seeing the wealth and prosperity of merchants from foreign lands, shall give their daughters and granddaughters to be the wives of foreigners, English or Dutch, Japanese or Malays, followers of other religions, and allow them to become converted to foreign religions, those persons are held to be thorns in the side of the State and enemies of the Realm. They may be punished by confiscation of their property, imprisonment for life, degradation, being made to cut grass for the Royal elephants, or fines of various grades. This is for an example to others. Why is this? Because the (foreign) father will sow seed and beget future progeny, and the father and son will report the affairs of the Realm in foreign lands, and when they became known, the foreigners will assail the Realm on every side, and the Buddhist religion will decline and fall into disrepute.”

Dutch writers refer more than once to preparations made by King Prasat Tong, during his reign, to subdue Cambodia, which, as has been seen, had been more or less independent since 1618. No record can be fond of an invastion of Cambodia having been actually undertaken during this reign, but there is some reason to suppose that the show of force was sufficient, and that Cambodia renewed her allegiance to Siam. It was probably to celebrate this event that King Prasat Tong erected a temple on the road from Ayutia to Prabat, the design of which was copied from the celebrated Angkor Tom temple in Cambodia.

King Prasat Tong died on 8th of August, 1656. It seems strange that this man, who had obtained the throne of Siam through intrigue and murder, and had retained it by methods of terrorism, was allowed to die quietly in his bed. Not only this, but he even seems to have been regarded by some contemporary and later writers with a certain degree of admiration. Van Schouten speaks of him as “ruling with great reputation and honor,” and the compilers of the Siamese Pongsawadan apparently had rather a high opinion of him. He was evidently one of those successful upstarts who succeed, by sheer force of audacity, in impressing upon others a false opinion of their merits. If there was anything really great about the man, it certainly is not evident in the accounts of contemporary observers.

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