29. Sutammaraja (August 8 - October 26, 1656)
30. Narai (October 26, 1656 - July 11, 1688)
On the death of King Prasat Tong, his eldest son, Chao Fa Jai, seized1 the throne, though it would appear that the late King’s younger brother had been appointed Uparat. Chao Fa Jai, however, only reigned for a few days. His younger brother, Prince Narai, joined the party of his uncle, and he was captured and executed.
Prince Sri Sutammaraja, younger brother of King Prasat Tong, now became King, and Prince Narai was made Uparat.
From the little we know about King Sri Sutammaraja, we may conclude that he was as villainous a character as his brother. Fortunately for Siam, he reigned for less than three months. In November 1657 he became enamored of his niece, the sister of Prince Narai, and made overtures to her which she resented. She was smuggled out of the palace hidden in a bookcase,2 and went to complain to her brother of the unseemly treatment to which she had been subjected. Prince Narai decided to dethrone his uncle. Calling his followers round him, he attacked the palace. The King was wounded in the back, but managed to escape. He was captured, and a few days later was executed.1
The new King was aged about twenty-five at the time of his accession. The violent deaths of two monarchs within three months had unsettled the country, and we may suppose that King Narai did not feel, at first, very secure upon his throne. He had, indeed, not been King for long when two of his younger brothers were accused of plotting against his life. They were both executed, and for some time executions of suspects were the order of the day.
In 1659 the Kingdom of Cambodia was disturbed by civil war between the young King, Keo Fa, and his brother, Nak Pratum. The Queen Mother, a Cochin Chinese Princess, asked for the intervention of the King of Cochin China. A Cochin Chinese army then overran and plundered the Kingdom. The King was captured, and died in Cochin China, and Nak Pratum became King. Among the victims of this invasion were several Englishmen, employed in the East India Company’s factory in Cambodia. The factory was looted, and they narrowly escaped with their lives. They fled to Siam, where King Narai treated them with great kindness and generosity. They sent a flowery account of the country to the Council at Batavia, and urged the re-establishment of a factory at Ayutia. By 1661 the East India Company once more possessed an establishment in Siam. The King forgave them an old debt, still owing, and their factors returned once more to “ye olde factory house,” abandoned in 1622. Thomas Cotes was placed in charge.
Burma at this time was in a very disturbed state owing to difficulties with China. The Ming dynasty had been overthrown, and the last Ming Emperor died in 1643, His son, Yunhli, after maintaining himself for some years as a kind of robber chieftain on the frontiers of Yunnan and the Shan States, was driven in 1658 to seek a refuge in Burma. As a consequence of this, the next year a large Chinese force invaded Burma and besieged Ava.1
These events were not without their effect upon the politics of Siam. Pra Sen Muang, the Prince of Chiengmai, became panic-stricken on hearing of the Chinese invasion of Burma, and fearing that his turn would come next, sent an envoy with a letter to King Narai imploring the protection of Siam. King Narai eagerly welcomed the opportunity of reuniting Chiengmai and Ayutia, and in November 1660 marched northwards at the head of a considerable army.
In the meantime, the Prince of Chiengmai received tidings that the Chinese had run short of supplies and had retired from Ava. Thinking that, in his haste, he had laid himself open to the vengeance of the King of Burma, he secretly ordered all his officers and men who were with the Siamese army to return at once to Chiengmai. King Narai, seeing tha the Prince of Chiengmai was playing him false, proceeded on his march, and occupied Nakon Lampang and several smaller towns in the Chiengmai dominions. His force, however, was too weak to deal with a hostile Chiengmai. He therefore returned to Ayutia early in 1661.
In the same year King Bintalé of Burma was overthrown and executed. He had caused great misery by conniving at “profiteering” in food by his wives and courtiers during the siege of Ava. His brother, the Prince of Prome, became King, assuming the title of Maha Pawara Tammaraja.
These events in Burma greatly encouraged King Narai in his design of subduing Chiengmai. He was by no means satisfied with the performance of his Generals on the first expedition, and determined to place a younger and more energetic man in charge of his armies. His choice fell on his foster brother, Pya Kosa Tibodi Kun Lek. Pya Kosa, on assuming command, horrified all the old hands by his merciless severity. He had realized that what was wanting in the Siamese army was strict discipline and obedience. Deserters and slackers got short shrift from him, and he saw to it that his orders were obeyed. On one occasion he gave instructions for the building of a stockade with the narrow ends of the bamboo buried in the earth. A certain officer, observing that this was contrary to the usual method of putting the big ends downwards, assumed that the General had made a mistake, which he took upon himself to set right. He paid for this offence with his head.
Pya Kosa was, of course, quite right, and readers who have tried to induce country folk in Siam to do a job on a new system will have every sympathy with him.
At the end of 1661 Pya Kosa left Ayutia for Chiengmai with his army, followed not long afterwards by the King. In all about 100,000 men were engaged on this expedition, a far larger army than had ever before been put into the field for an invasion of Chiengmai. No serious resistance was met with until Nakon Lampang was reached. That city fell after a short engagement. Lampun held out for a week. Chiengmai put up a stout resistance but was taken after the arrival of King Narai in March 1662. The Prince and most of the nobles were captured.
After the fall of Chiengmai a Burmese army appeared on the scene, but was attacked by the Siamese and driven back to Burma.
King Narai remained for fifteen days at Chiengmai. He then returned to Ayutia with a vast amount of booty, including the famous image of Buddha called the Prasingh, which had formerly been at Ayutia.
While the Siamese were invading Chiengmai, a serious rebellion broke out in Pegu. The Peguans had shown evident signs of disaffection during the siege of Ava by the Chinese. After the danger was over, the new King of Burma made ready to chastise them. They revolted, seized the Governor of Martaban and sent him to Ayutia with envoys to beg King Narai to take Pegu under his protection and to defend them against the King of Burma. At the same time large numbers of Peguans emigrated from their country and settled in Siam.
King Narai, seeing that these proceedings could result in war, assembled strong forces at all the principal points on the frontier of Burma. Towards the end of 1662 the expected attack was made, but the Siamese were ready, and drove the Burmese back with heavy losses. Encouraged by this victory to pursue a still more adventurous policy, King Narai now advanced into Pegu. The whole population, wearied of Burmese oppression, rose in his favor. Martaban, Rangoon and other strongholds were quickly occupied, and the Siamese army then marched northwards. How far they got is a matter as to which the most diverse evidence exists. In the end, however, they were forced, owing to shortages of supplies and the existence of a famine in Burma, to retire back to Siam.1
This was the last important invasion of Burmese territory by a Siamese army. The results were of no lasting importance. Pegu fell back almost at once under Burmese rule, but a less harsh policy was adopted towards the Peguans, lest they might again appeal to Siam for aid.
As for Chiengmai, King Narai seems to have made no attempt to maintain his ascendancy there. In 1663 Pya Sen Muang died and the Burmese Prince of Prome was appointed to govern Chiengmai, which remained under the rule of the Burmese Princes until 1727.
It must be admitted that King Narai’s wars were quite devoid of any useful results.
The re-establishment of an English factory at Ayutia was very displeasing to the Dutch, who had had almost the whole trade of Siam in their hands for about forty years. Moreover, the system of Royal monopolies, instituted by King Songtam and consolidated by King Prasat Tong, whereby the King controlled the principal articles of commerce, such as hides, tin and timber, did not suit them at all. Early in 1664 they demanded various special commercial privileges, and on failing to obtain these, they sent a fleet, which blockaded the mouth of the Menam River for a considerable time. Siam had then no fleet capable of trying conclusions with the Dutch. Their demands were therefore granted, and on August 10th (22nd N.S.), 1664, a Treaty was signed whereby the Dutch obtained the sole monopoly of the trade in hides, and Siam undertook not to employ any Chinese on her ships. The term Chinese was defined as including Japanese and Cochin Chinese. As most of the sailors on Siamese ships fell within this definition, this clause rendered it impossible for Siam to compete with Holland in the China trade.
But the most interesting provision of this Treaty is the following: “In case (which God forbid) any of the Company’s residents should commit a serious crime in Siam, the King and the Judges shall not have the right to judge him, but he must be handed over to the Company’s Chief, to be punished according to the Netherlands laws.”
Here we have the germ of the system of extraterritorial jurisdiction, which has occupied so prominent a place in the politics of modern Siam.
King Narai, hoping to curb the arrogance of the Dutch, began to think of cultivating the friendship of other European Powers. The British East India Company were disinclined to interfere in Siamese affairs; there was even a good deal of discussion as to the desirability of closing the factory at Ayutia, which was less profitable than had been expected. Portugal was no longer formidable. There remained France. In 1662 Monsignor de la Motte Lambert, Bishop of Bérythe, had arrived in Siam. He was followed in 1664 by Monsignor Pallu, Bishop of Heliopolis, and other French Jesuit missionaries. The King paid great attention to these French missionaries, particularly when he learned that one of their number, Father Thomas,1 was a skillful architect and engineer. Father Thomas designed and superintended the construction of new forts at Bangkok, Ayutia, Nontaburi, and other places, designed primarily against Dutch aggression. The King, thinking that Ayutia was too easily accessible from the sea, moved his residence to Lopburi, where a new palace, forts, and other buildings were put up, likewise with the help of Father Thomas. A tower was also built at Ayutia, to be used as an observatory.
The French missionaries were given land and houses and were encouraged to build churches. The great favors thus showered on them by King Narai misled them into supposing that he had a personal leaning towards the Catholic faith, and they began to form the design of converting him, and through him the whole Kingdom.
In 1665 the Bishop of Heliopolis returned to Europe. He regaled the Pope, Alexander VII, and King Louis XIV of France, with wonderful accounts of the advance of the faith in Siam. The Pope promised to take steps to push forward the good work, and Louis sent several architects and craftsmen to assist Father Thomas with his more worldly tasks.
The Bishop of Bérythe and his followers had their first personal interview with King Narai about the time of the departure of Bishop Pallu for Europe. They seized the opportunity of expounding to His Majesty the principles of Christianity. He appeared to be impressed and their hopes of success were raised by further grants of land.
A couple of years elapsed, during which a good many converts were gained, but the King remained a Buddhist. In 1668 Mohammedan missionaries arrived from Acheen, a State which had for long been in friendly communication with Siam, and urged King Narai to embrace the tenets of Islam. The French missionaries were greatly perturbed, but the King was not much impressed by the merits of Mohammedanism, and at a later date stated that if he were ever to change his religion he would certainly never become a Mohammedan. It is worthy of note that though Christianity has never made a very general appeal to the Siamese, particularly the upper classes, Mohammedanism has attracted them even less.
In February 1669 Monsieur des Bourges, Secretary to the Bishop of Bérythe, who had returned to France in 1663, appeared again in Siam, accompanied by six more priests, and bearing a Bull from the new Pope, Clement IX, whereby Siam and some of the neighboring States were placed under the jurisdiction of the Church of Ayutia, thus recognizing French ecclesiastical ascendancy in Indochina. Monsignor Lanneau was later (1664) consecrated Bishop of Metallopolis, to reside in Siam, with power to establish missions throughout the East, with the exception of the possessions of Spain and Portugal.
By 1676 there was a Catholic seminary at Ayutia, attended by over a hundred pupils. Siamese youths were being prepared for holy orders, and a female community, known as Votaries of the Cross, was established. No means were neglected of gaining adherents for the Church of Rome.
On May 27th, 1673, the Bishop of Heliopolis returned to Ayutia, after a long and very adventurous journey. He bore with him letters from Pope Clement IX and King Louis XIV to King Narai. The Siamese monarch was anxious to receive the letters in solemn public audience. The Bishops stipulated that they must be received in a manner becoming to their dignity, and must be spared the humiliation of appearing in their stockinged soles and prostrating themselves before His Majesty. After some delay these conditions were accepted, and the Siamese nobles were scandalized by the sight of the Bishop and priests remaining seated at a royal audience. The letters were duly presented, but certain valuable presents, sent by the Pope and the French King, had perforce been left behind at Bantam.
Not long afterwards, the Bishops were conducted in almost Royal state to Lopburi, and were given a private grant of land for the mission; the King further promised to build them a fine church at his own expense.
The presents from the Pope and the French King never arrived. A Siamese vessel was sent to bring them from Bantam, but the vessel, with its cargo, was captured by the Dutch after it had left that port.
The year 1675 was a memorable one, for in that year the Phoenix, a ship belonging to Captain George White, arrived at Ayutia. Captain White’s factor was none other than the celebrated Constant or Constantine Phaulkon,1 whose romantic and dazzling career in Siam has been so often related.
Phaulkon was born in the Greek Island of Cephalonia, about the year 1650. His father was a small innkeeper named Yeraki (meaning falcon). Young Yeraki ran away from home when about ten years old, and joined an English ship. He lived in London until about 1669, when he went to sea again as Captain White’s cabin boy. He had anglicized his name to Falcon, and his shipmates re-hellenized it again to Phaulkon. He rose to be mate of a ship belonging to the East India Company which, in 1678, brought Captain Richard Burnaby to Siam, and when first in the country was used by Captains White and Burnaby in their trading operations at Singora. In 1680 he joined the service of Pya Kosa Tibodi, who had then lately become Pra Klang, and before long was promoted to be Superintendant of Foreign Trade, with the title of Luang Wijaiyen.1
The appointment of Phaulkon to this position did not at all suit the East India Company. The one thing which they regarded with special hatred and detestation was what they called an “interloper,” meaning thereby an English trader who carried business in the Far East independently of the Company. Captain George White and his brother Samuel were noted “interlopers.” Phaulkon had perhaps imbibed from the Whites sentiments none too friendly to the East India Company, and to the end of his career paid no attention to the Company’s claims to monopolize the English trade in Siam, but encouraged many of the detested “interlopers” to come and do business at Ayutia.
Phaulkon’s policy of encouraging “interlopers” led to constant ill-feeling between him and the servants of the East India Company, and this tended, as time went on, to throw him more and more in the arms of the French.
In 1674 the Bishop of Heliopolis had left Siam, but several new priests arrived in 1676. In 1676 M. Cherboneau, the first Medical Missionary to Siam, arrived. He was installed in a hospital established by the King, but was before long persuaded to accept the Governorship of the island of Puket. This appointment was, without doubt, inspired by the French missionaries, and marks the first step in their design to gain for their country complete political control over Siam. A few years later, M. Cherboneau was succeeded at Puket by another Frenchman, M. Billi.
In 1679 the worthy Bishop of Bérythe died, and after his death the political side of the activities of the French missionaries became more evident.
Colbert, the famous Minister of Louis XIV, had in 1664 granted a charter to a Company called the “Compagnie Royale des Indes Orientales,” which was intended to rival the English Company, and which had been established at Surat since 1668. In 1680 this French Company sent a vessel to Ayutia, with a number of officers, to start a factory there. The King received them well and granted them all kinds of privileges.
On Christmas Day 1680 the first Siamese embassy to Europe left Ayutia. There were three ambassadors, all of high rank, with thirty followers. They took with them a letter to the King of France, written on a sheet of gold, together with many rare and curious presents, including young elephants and rhinoceroses. The letter offered to ceded Singora to France. Singora, as has been seen, had been in a state of rebellion at the time of the death of King Prasat Tong, and it would seem as though it was still unsubdued in 1680.
The ship bearing this embassy, which must have been a regular Noah’s Ark, never reached Europe. It got as far as the east coast of Madagascar, where it was wrecked, and all the passengers, humans and animals alike, went to the bottom of the sea.
While showering favors upon the French, King Narai was not badly disposed towards the English. The latter had not, however, the advantage of possessing a force of missionaries, and King Charles II was not a man to whom the prospect of ousting French influence in a far distant land was likely to appeal. It appears, however, that in 1678 King Narai offered to cede Patani to the East India Company, with the same privileges as they enjoyed at Fort St. George. Samuel Potts, one of the Company’s factors, actually went to Patani, but finding it in a state of rebellion, he went on to Singora.
With regard to these rebellions of Patani and Singora, it is difficult to trace very clearly what happened. Patani appears to have submitted to Siam in 1679, but Singora, which had been more or less in a state or rebellion for over twenty years, was reported by Potts, in January 1679, to be preparing for a siege. According to Dutch reports, Potts assisted the rebellious Governor of Singora to put up earthworks against the Siamese, which brought the East India Company into great disfavor. In March 1679 Singora was still holding out, but was probably subdued during that year. La Loubère states that the siege came to an end in a curious manner. A Frenchman, named Cyprien, tired of the dilatory methods of the Siamese General, crept into Singora by night, captured the Governor, brought him, singlehanded, into the Siamese camp.
Potts returned to Ayutia after the fall of Singora, and began to indulge in a series of quarrels with Richard Burnaby, who had been in charge of the British factory there since 1768. Burnaby was dismissed in 1681, and Potts and Thomas Ivatt became joint chiefs of the factory. Burnaby had let Phaulkon run up a big debt. Potts demanded payment, and commenced a most violent correspondence with Phaulkon, whom he called ungrateful and impudent, and whose replies he stigmatized as “nonsensical stuff.” Ivatt took Phaulkon’s side and was dismissed. He followed Burnaby into the Siamese Service. On the night of December 6th, 1682, the house and factory of the East India Company were utterly destroyed by fire. Potts accused Phaulkon of having caused the fire in order to destroy the evidence of his debt. Phaulkon alleged that Potts himself had burnt the factory down, so as to conceal the defalcations of which he had been guilty.
These disputes only served to make Phaulkon more and more pro-French. At about this time he was converted to the Roman faith, and from now on became more or less definitely a supporter of French interests.
In 1683 William Strangh and Thomas Yale were sent from England to investigate the Company’s affairs in Siam. They were well received by the new Pra Klang, Pya Sritammarat, the successor of Chao Pya Kosa Tibodi, who had died early in that year. Strangh and Yale did more harm than good. They collected none of the debts due, and failed to elicit the truth about the loss of the factory. Yale was more or less reasonable, but Strangh had the most violent quarrels with Phaulkon who had now become Chao Pya Wijayen, and left in a fury at the end of the same year. Strangh wrote Phaulkon a parting letter, in which he spoke of “your impolite weak understanding, jumbled by your sudden and surprising elevation to a sovereign Lordship or a heathenish Grace,” and accused him of firing the factory and of being at the bottom of all the Company’s troubles and losses at Ayutia. Not very diplomatic.
Phaulkon, whom Strangh saw fit to insult so grossly, was now one of the most powerful men in Siam. The new Pra Klang, to quote Phaulkon himself, was a “fool,” and the Greek was to all intents and purposes the Pra Klang. Whilst Strangh was irritating this dangerous enemy, King Narai was arranging to make fresh overtures to France. In January 1684 the second Siamese embassy set sail for Europe. This embassy was headed by two Siamese, and accompanied by a French priest. They landed first in England, at Margate, and it is said that a Treaty was concluded by them with Charles II, but no trace of it has been found. They then went to France, where they were well received. The members of this mission were, however, men of inferior rank, and their behavior did not make a good impression in Europe.
These Siamese ambassadors, who had doubtless been informed that Christians were monogamous, must have been rather puzzled by what they saw at the Courts of Charles II and Louis XIV.
Relations between Phaulkon and the East India Company did not improve. Not long after the departure of the second Siamese embassy to Europe, Phaulkon seized and imprisoned Peter Crouch and John Thomas, the Company’s factors, on their ship the Delight, for refusing to deliver to him a quantity of nails consigned to Japan. The East India Company had by this time decided that the trade of Siam caused more trouble than it was worth, and that Phaulkon was a “naughty man” and a “wicked fellow.” However, in 1685 the Council at Fort St. George sent a Commerical Mission to Ayutia to make a final attempt to set matters on a more satisfactory footing. This mission arrived at Ayutia in September 1685. The first sight that met their eyes was two French men-of-war, which had just arrived, conveying the first embassy of Louis XIV to Siam. The English mission was more or less ignored, and seems to have been entirely without results.
The French embassy was equipped on a most magnificent scale. At its head was the Chevalier de Chaumont, and he was accompanied by a numerous suite, in which the Jesuit element largely predominated. The principal task set by King Louis for the Chevalier de Chaumont was the conversion of King Narai to Christianity, and the Abbé Choisy, who accompanied him, was instructed to remain behind to baptize the King in the event of his conversion.
The French embassy obtained, by virtue of a convention signed on December 19th, 1685, very important religious and commercial concessions. The French East India Company gained complete liberty of commerce, with the exception of import and export duties, and with the important restriction that all goods had to be bought from the Royal warehouses. The manager of the Company was given extraterritorial jurisdiction over their servants. The Company further obtained a monopoly of the tin in the island of Puket, and Singora was ceded to them, with full power to fortify it.
In return, what did Siam gain? Nothing at all! There must, however, have been a tacit understanding that France was to assist, if necessary, against the Dutch, whose steadily increasing influence in the Peninsula was regarded by King Narai with some misgiving.
The Chevalier de Chaumont, however, failed in what was regarded as the main object of his mission, namely the conversion of the King. Poor King Narai must have had a very trying time of it, for not only was he being pestered by de Chaumont and the Jesuits to become a Catholic, but there was at the same time a Persian ambassador at his Court, who lost no opportunity of impressing upon His Majesty the virtues of the Koran.
In the end, de Chaumont asked for a definite reply, and the King is then supposed to have made a speech which has since become famous, in the course of which he said: “It is natural to believe that the True God takes as much pleasure in being worshipped in different ways as by being glorified by a vast number of creatures who praise Him after one fashion. We admire the beauty and variety of natural things. Are that beauty and that variety less to be admired in the supernatural sphere, or are they less worthy of God’s wisdom? However, as we know that God is the supreme Ruler of the world, and believe that nothing can be done against His will, I resign my person and my realm to His mercy and His Divine Providence, and I implore Him, in His eternal wisdom, so to dispose of them as shall seem best to Him.1
While the French embassy was being feted at Lopburi, relations between Siam and the East India Company were becoming less and less friendly. The King of Siam had a claim against the King of Golconda, and an Englishman in the Siamese service, Captain John Coates, was sent, in command of a Siamese ship called the Prosperous, to enforce a settlement. Coates seized several ships belonging to the King of Golconda, captured a fort, and committed other hostile acts. There was a factory of the East India Company at Madapollam, in Golconda territory, and the chief and governor of the factory were blamed by the King of Golconda for the action of Coates, an Englishman, though, as a matter of fact, they had done their best to hinder him.
The proceedings of Coates, and of another Englishman in the Siamese service, Alexander Leslie, were denounced by the East India Company as piratical, and the relations between the Company and the Government of Siam became extremely strained.
French influence, on the other hand, gained in strength every day. The Chevalier de Chaumont and his Mission left Siam on the 22nd of December, 1685, taking with them the members of King Narai’s third embassy to France. This embassy was headed by Pra Wisut Suntorn (Nai Pan), a younger brother of Choa Pya Kosa Tibodi, the deceased Pra Klang. Pra Wisut was an able and intelligent man. He and his colleagues created a very good impression on King Louis, the more so as they had come to ask, as a favor, for something which he was only too ready to grant, namely French troops to garrison some of the forts in Siam.
During the early part of 1686 the war between Siam and Golconda continued, and was the cause of so many incidents to which the East India Company took exception that finally they determined to make on Siam. They had been trying since 1684 to get the permission of James II to declare ware, but James was reluctant to sanction a course which might lead to trouble with France. On March 21t 1685 he wrote a personal letter to Phaulkon, in which he addressed him as “Our well-beloved friend,” and informed him that certain presents sent by him to the late King Charles II had been well received, thanked him for his kindness to English subjects, and assured him of “our friendship upon all occasions which may offer.” This letter was delivered in August 1686, by Captain Henry Udall, Commander of the English ship Herbert.
Captain Udall never left Siam. While he was at Ayutia, a serious rebellion was raised by the natives of Macassar, who had a large settlement in the capital. They were only subdued after several very severe engagements. During the final action Captain Coates was drowned in a marsh, and Captain Udall fell, fighting bravely. Four Frenchmen were also killed. Phaulkon, who was no coward, also took a personal part in this action, and would have lost his life had not a “strong black Cafer flung him into the river and swam with him to a boat.” In the end, the Macassars were subdued, but not till most of them were dead. Those who were captured were buried alive.
The East India Company had fully determined on war against Siam, or rather, one might almost say, against Phaulkon, the “naughty fellow” whom they blamed for all their misfortunes. Their principal aims were threefold: to capture and hold the port of Mergui; to capture as many Siamese ships as possible; to arrest and court-martial every Englishman in the Siamese service. A certain Captain Lake, who was sent to Ayutia, more or less as a spy, was foolish enough to boast of these warlike designs of the Company. He was consequently arrested on his ship, the Prudent Mary, by Count de Forbin, the French Commandant of the fort of Bangkok, and imprisoned at Lopburi, where he died in 1687.
Mergui was at the time governed by two Englishmen, Richard Burnaby, the former Chief of the Company’s factory at Ayutia, and Samuel White, brother of George White, Phaulkon’s early patron. Burnaby, who bore the title of Pra Marit, was Governor, and White was Shahbandar, or Port Officer. A personal letter from James II was obtained, ordering Burnaby and White to betray their trust by handing over Mergui to the Company’s men-of-war. James was never too proud to ask any of his subjects to do a dirty action.
On the 28th of April, 1687, the Company forwarded to the King of Siam a detailed claim of £65,000, for damaged suffered by British subjects as a result of the war between Siam and Golconda, and also for advances made to the Persian ambassador to Siam. The claim was accompanied by a very friendly letter to the King, coupled, however, with a threat to take any of His Majesty’s subjects and ships by way of reprisals, and to blockade the port of Mergui until full satisfaction was given.
The letter was not delivered until after the arrival at Mergui of two English frigates, the Curtana and the James. Captain Anthony Weltden, of the Curtana, landed, and a proclamation by King James II was read, ordering all Englishmen in the Siamese service to leave at once. The Englishmen at Mergui, numbering at least fifty, prepared to obey, and a truce for sixty days was proclaimed, to allow the letter to King Narai being sent to Ayutia. After the proclamation of the truce some preparations were, very naturally, made to defend the port. Weltden objected to this, and on July 9th he caused some piles, which had been driven into the river bed, to be taken out; and on the same day seized Captain White’s ship, the Resolution, which was sailing under the Siamese flag.
On the night of the 14th of July the Siamese Governor of Mergui, exasperated by the proceedings of Captain Weltden, and fearing that all Englishmen at Mergui were about to make common cause with their compatriots, suddenly opened fire on the James, and succeeded in sinking her. During the same night an attempt was made to massacre every Englishman in Mergui. Weltden, who was ashore, had a narrow escape, being left for dead. White got away, but Burnaby fell a victim, together with about fifty other Englishmen.
This incident, it must be admitted, was not very creditable either to the English or the Siamese.
Weltden retired, and not long after he had left, another English ship, the Pearl, arrived at Mergui, having on board William Hodges and John Hill, who had been appointed to administer Mergui after its expected capture. They found a French Governor and some French troops stationed at Mergui, and ere reluctantly forced by the French and Siamese to proceed to Lopburi. They were the first imprisoned, together with many other Englishmen, but were later released by the King, who does not seen to have been at all anxious for war, and hoped to use them as intermediaries for arranging a peace. They remained in Siam for almost two years.
On August 11th, 1687, King Narai issued a declaration of war against the East India Company. In it he accused White and Burnaby of treacherously assisting Weltden, and threw on Weltden the sole responsibility for the massacre at Mergui. His Majesty carefully explained that he did not consider himself to be at war with the English Government. Many Englishmen, unconnected with the East India Company, remained in Siam, and do not appear to have been badly treated.
The King was at that time preparing to receive the second embassy of Louis XIV, which arrived at Ayutia on September 27th, 1687. This embassy was far more imposing than that of de Chaumont. The envoys, de la Loubère and Céberet, were accompanied by three men-of-war and four other ships, conveying 600 French soldiers and 300 artificers commanded by Monsieur Des Farges, a General of France. The religious and commercial elements were also fully represented.
It is not clear whether King Narai expected so large a force, but his difficulties with the East India Company made him more disposed to welcome them than might otherwise have been the case. To us, at the present day, it seems like an act of madness on his part to admit so many foreign troops into his Kingdom. It was not, however, until after the world had beheld with amazement the exploits of Dupleix and Clive in India that it was understood with what comparative ease a clever and capable man, backed by a few well-disciplined European troops, could overcome an Oriental Kingdom.1 in 1687 the idea that France could do any serious harm to Siam with 600 men would probably have appeared grotesque to King Narai. A hundred years later the feat would have seemed far more possible.
The French envoys brought with them a French patent of nobility for Phaulkon. He became a Count and a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St. Peter. Many valuable gifts were also sent to him by King Louis and Pope Innocent XI.
The French troops were not, wisely, all kept together. They were sent to man various forts, for instance Bangkok, and, as we have seen, Mergui.
On December 1st, 1687, a new Treaty was signed, grating even greater privileges to the French East India Company than that of 1685.
Céberet left Ayutia immediately after the Treaty was signed, and La Loubère in January 1688, taking with him the fourth Siamese Embassy to Europe.1 The French troops remained, and seem to have had a most wretched time. Many of the soldiers died of fever, and the survivors made themselves very unpopular by their insolence; in particular, they paid far more attention to the fair sex than was thought at all becoming.
A strong anti-foreign party had by this time sprung up and had gained general popular support. The King’s policy was distasteful both to the nobility and to the common people. The whole realm was filled with Europeans, the forts were garrisoned by foreign troops. The most powerful Minister was a Greek. To add to their troubles the country was at war with the East India Company, a war for which Phaulkon was supposed to be responsible.
Moreover, the religious prejudices of the people were aroused. Catholic priests were in high favor and held valuable privileges. The King was suspected of Christian tendencies. He had no son, but had adopted a young man named Mom Pi2 whom he hoped to make his successor. Mom Pi was a Catholic. Phaulkon did all he could to encourage the spread of Catholicism, and became daily more and more unpopular.
At the head of the anti-foreign party, if it can be so called, was Pra Petraja, a General who was in command of the elephants, and who had greatly distinguished himself in the Burmese war and won more laurels in a later expedition against Cambodia.1 Pra Petraja was a man of humble origins.2 He had, however, always been a favorite of King Narai. They had always been together, for Pra Petraja, like Pya Kosa, was one of the King’s foster-brothers.
Pra Petraja was a man of small stature, but he was known to be brave and energetic. He had a commanding presence, and was well fitted to take command of the popular party. He hated Phaulkon, and his son, Nai Dua, who had recently been appointed Luang Sorasak, a violent and aggressive young man, is said to have on one occasion assaulted the Greek and knocked out two of his teeth.
In March 1688 King Narai became seriously ill with dropsy. His symptoms were such as to render it unlikely that he would live for more than a few months. Immediately there began the usual intrigues as to the succession. The King had two brothers and a sister living. The elder of his brothers was called Chao Fa Apai Tot, and the younger is known to us by the nickname of Chao Fa Noi. Both of them were greatly out of favor. He had also a daughter , Princess Yota Tep. Phaulkon had some time before advised King Narai to proclaim his daughter as his heir, but the King had refused. The Greek now urged the King to appoint his adopted son, Mom Pi, as his successor. Pra Petraja supported, or professed to support, the claims of Prince Apai Tot.
The King was induced, at the request of all the leading officials, to appoint Pra Petraja to act as
Regent during his illness. Pra Petraja at once assumed control over the palace guards, and as he had the army at his back he was able to do exactly as he wished.
Mom Pi was first got out of the way. He was enticed out of the King’s apartments and ruthlessly murdered. This deed opened the eyes of the dying monarch to the treachery around him, but he was helpless; the reproaches with which he assailed Pra Petraja and Luang Sorasak were not likely to turn them from their purpose.
Phaulkon now sent to Bangkok begging Des Farges to bring up the French troops there to his assistance. Des Farges set out, but was told that the King was dead, and was persuaded to return to Bangkok.
Phaulkon was arrested on a charge of treason, and after being treated for several days with great cruelty, was executed on June 5th, 1688. He died bravely, protesting his innocent, and that his whole policy had been directed by three motives—the glory of God, the service of the King, and the interests of the State.
Thus ended the earthly career of one of the most remarkable of European adventurers in the East. In his short life of only forty years, Phaulkon rose, from the position of cabin boy on a small ship, to be a Chao Pya of Siam, a Count of France, addressed as friend by Kings and Popes, and entrusted with the destinies of a powerful Kingdom. True to his name, he soared high, and it must be admitted that he was a great man, and may have had noble aims. It was has never been proved that he intended to bring Siam under French dominion, though doubtless his policy was one which might, in time, have had such a result.
Phaulkon left a widow, a Japanese by birth, and a son. The widow, after many vicissitudes, became superintendent of the kitchen to King Tai Sra, and was still living in 1717. The son died young, leaving several children. It is on record that Phaulkon’s grandson, John Phaulkon, and one of his granddaughters, were among the prisoners taken by the Burmese on the capture of Ayutia in 1767. They returned to Siam, and were still living in 1771. It is more than possible that there may be descendents of Phaulkon living in Siam at the present day.
After the death of Phaulkon, Pra Petraja, in the name of the King, ordered Des Farges to bring up his troops to Lopburi. Des Farges refused, and an attack was consequently begun against the fort at Bangkok. At the same time a persecution of the native Christians was commenced.
Pra Petraja had himself no desire to usurp the throne. His sole object was to get rid of Phaulkon and compel the French to leave the Kingdom. His son, Luang Sorasak, however, was more ambitious. In order to force his father’s hand, he caused the King’s two brothers to be arrested, and had them both executed in the usual way, by sewing them up in a velvet sack and clubbing them to death. This step rendered it impossible for Pra Petraja to draw back.
Two days later, on July 11th, 1688, King Narai died, and Pra Petraja was at once proclaimed King.1
King Narai is more familiar to us than any other of the Kings of Ayutia. The following description of him is adapted from Father Tachard, who met and spoke with him several times: “The King is below the average height, but very straight and well set up. His demeanor is attractive, and his manners full of gentleness and kindness. He is lively and active,and an enemy to sloth. He is always either in the forest hunting elephants, or in his palace, attending to State affairs. He is not fond of war, but when forced to take up the sword, no Eastern monarch has a stronger passion for glory.”
King Narai was, without doubt, a remarkable man, and it is pitiable that such a man should have ended his days so miserably. The glamour with which his name has been surrounded by contemporary French writers must not, however, blind us to the fact that his foreign policy was a very unwise one, and must, had he lived longer, have brought his Kingdom into serious danger.
King Narai was not responsible for any great amount of legislation during his long reign. Most of the Laws attributed to him are mere Regulations as to procedure. The most interesting of his Laws is one of the Articles of Law known as the “Law of Thirty-six Clauses.” This article, dating from the year 1687, provides for the punishment of offences similar to Champerty and Maintenance. Any many who prosecuted or defended a case under the pretence that he was a relative of one of the parties rendered himself liable to very severe penalties.