Ayutthaya: Capital of a Kingdom, Part 11
The Trembling, The Shaking and the FALL !
The last Sovereign of Golden Ayutthaya was King Egatat. The fact that he was an incompetent and a coward capped the previous fifty years of internal struggle and feuding at the Royal Court of Siam. During his day, King Narai the Great had consolidated the power, influence and wealth of Ayutthaya, but this was dissipated by his successors. Since the murderous reign of King (Tiger) Luang Sorasak ended in 1709, the country was torn apart by civil war and divided loyalties.
In order to protect power bases, intelligent and competent leaders were killed off whether they were Princes, Politicians, Military Commanders or Scholars. Most of the nation's best brains and organizers were removed in these domestic struggles. For more than fifty years, the great city of Ayutthaya and the glorious Kingdom of Siam hemorrhaged and lost vitality. It was now 1758, and the ultimate crisis was about to begin.
King Boromgot had been on the Throne from 1732; he had three sons the Princes Thamathibeth, Egatat and Uthoomporn. However, Prince Thamathibeth had been flogged to death for adultery leaving Prince Egatat as next in line to the throne. But his father, King Boromgot, thought Egatat was an idiot, and therefore appointed his youngest son Prince Uthoomporn as heir. Further internal rivalry developed between the two Royal Princes and Ayutthaya continued to weaken. To the north and west of Siam, a revitalized and aggressive Burma, under the strong leadership of King Alongpaya, was ignored.
King Boromgot died in 1758 and was succeeded by his youngest son Uthoomporn. Uthoomporn, however, relinquished the crown to the claims of his elder brother Egatat and retired to Wat Pradoo Zongtham (still existing in Ayutthaya Province). Perhaps Uthoomporn did this to avoid further internal bloodshed, but in any event, a monastery was the safest place for any claimant to the throne.
In 1759, on the other side of the world, the troops of General Wolfe scaled the Heights of Abraham to stifle the French and take the city of Quebec, and Canada, for the British Crown. In the same year, Burmese King Alongpaya moved against Ayutthaya with heavy forces. Siam offered little resistance, and towns and villages fell to the enemy soldiers. Soon the Burmese were within 40 miles of Ayutthaya. King Egatat was in a panic and recalled his brother, Uthoomporn, from the monastery to take over the throne.
Rallying his supporters, Prince Uthoomporn organized defenses and put up a stiff resistance against the invaders. Ayutthaya was surrounded and bombarded, but did not crack. Villages around the city were burned, as was the Dutch Settlement and many Dutch and Chinese trading ships. Bodies choked the canals, cannon balls hit the Grand Palace, and many buildings were ablaze but still the citizens held strong.
Under the popular and competent leadership of Prince Uthoomporn, the Siamese people defended their capital city and made the enemy realize that a long campaign would be unavoidable. For a month the siege continued, until Burmese King Alongpaya was seriously injured when one of his own canons exploded prematurely. The Burmese retreated after this mishap to their King and Alongpaya died from the injury as his army moved back to Burma. But now they knew of Ayutthaya's weaknesses and the disarray within the Siamese Royal Court. The death of Alongpaya was only a temporary reprieve for Ayutthaya, for his successors had not abandoned their desire to take the Golden City.
With the retreat of the Burmese and immediate danger passed, King Egatat returned to claim the Royal Palace and Prince Uthoomporn retired, once again, to the monastery. As a scholarly and intelligent man, he'd had enough and would never again return to aid his elder brother, the King.
In 1764, under the sovereign rule of King Hsinbyushin, the Burmese began to move two great armies towards Ayutthaya. One army, from the north, retook Chiangmai, and after the rainy season of 1766, continued south burning and killing as it advanced. Likewise, the second army marched from the west until both armies were ready to converge on Ayutthaya. Everything had fallen before them except for one impediment the simple, but brave, peasant folk of Bang Rajan Village (Singhburi Province).
About 5,000 Bang Rajan villagers formed themselves into guerrilla groups to delay the Burmese advance. Seven times the courageous villagers stopped the Burmese onslaught on their capital city but, ultimately, it was like a mosquito attacking an elephant. They were beaten down, destroyed and enslaved but today they are still remembered for their bravery and tenacity.
Ayutthaya was in a siege stranglehold with heavy cannons lobbing fire and ball into the heart of the Golden City. King Egatat offered surrender, saying that the great city would become a vassal state to Burma. The Burmese refused the surrender replying that nothing but the unconditional submission of the entire Siamese army would be considered. So it went on great palaces, noble mansions, temples, storage godowns and thousands of houses were ablaze.
The heat was so intense; rivulets of melting gold trickled from beautiful Buddha images and chedis. Finally, such was the chaos within Ayutthaya, the Burmese were able to storm the city gates and force an entry. Heavy hand-to-hand fighting saw horrendous butchery of the civilian population men, women, children, monks, foreign priests and traders were slaughtered without regard. Burmese troops set fire to any buildings which weren't already ablaze, raping and plundering as they moved through the inner city streets and canals.
Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom the Golden City finally fell on the 8th April 1767. Due to continuous Siamese counterattack, the Burmese armies only held the city for approximately one week, but the massive, wanton destruction and devastation was such that it would never recover. Thus Ayutthaya, one of the fairest and most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia, ended its history of 417 years as Capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Over 20,000 ordinary people perished within the flames and horror.
As for King Egatat, one report suggests he fled the scene and eventually died from starvation. However, Burmese annals record that he was killed during the general melee and his body found at the West Gate of the city. Prince Uthoomporn (who should have been king) was taken as a captive to the Burmese city of Pegu, where he wrote his famous historical thesis "The Statement of Khun Luang Hawat" (The Priest Monarch).
In next month's issue, our final chapter of Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom we will look at the aftermath of the fall of this great city and how the Siamese people found heart to save their nation.