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Ayutthaya: Capital of a Kingdom, Part 13
War & Peace King Taaksin (1768-1782) of Thonburi

1774 A.D. The independent ruler of Nakorn Sritammaraat is brought under the unified rule of Siam. King Raaksin spent the early years of his reign bringing the various territories under one rule, using force when ever necessary.
History remembers him as "The Great," and he has been mostly appreciated for his heroics in war. But popular knowledge of this great savior of Siam often glosses over his accomplishments during peacetime. King Taaksin not only drove the Burmese out of Siam for good, he simultaneously unified the nation and gained control of neighboring kingdoms in present day Cambodia and Laos. Meanwhile, he installed a program of governance, rebuilt the Kingdom's physical infrastructure, and encouraged education, arts and Buddhism.

Thonburi: A Strategic Capital, A New King

King Taaksin and General Chao Phraya Chakri (who would later become the first
King of present day Thailand) were boyhood friends and served as novice monks together.

In the years between the fall of Golden Ayutthaya and the embryonic beginnings of Bangkok, the settlement of Thonburi on the western side of the great River of Kings (Maenam Chao Phraya) was favored as the Capital by the new Siamese leader Phya Taaksin. The city was far enough south of the fallen Ayutthaya for his people to regroup and was also close to the sea for commerce and trade. Trade and administration were not high on Phya Taaksin's list of priorities however he saw his most important aim as the reunification of the nation and, as a warrior, considered himself the leader destined to do so. After ousting the Burmese from Thonburi with a fleet of over 100 vessels up the Gulf of Siam into the Chao Phraya River, Phya Taaksin was crowned King Somdej Phraboromraja IV in 1768. However, most people simply called him King Taaksin. Throughout history he would be known as King Taaksin The Great. The Warrior King!

Reunification of Siam

King Taaksin was shot and wounded when he and his troops conquered Pitsanuloke
In last month's issue, we left off where Siam had almost crumbled after the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese. Effectively, some nobles preferred to be "big fish in little ponds" rather than come together in the common purpose of reunification so there were at least six different "rulers" throughout the land. The Burmese forces were still a problem (Chiangmai was still in Burmese hands) and, still in the north, two independent rulers seized power in Pitsanuloke and Utaradit. At Nakorn Ratchasima (Korat) in the North East, Prince Theppipit, the first of four sons of King Boromagote's consort, returned from exile in Ceylon. While he was held away in the South, the local ruler of Nakorn Sritammaraat extended his "empire" down the length of the peninsula.

The problem was that all of these rulers were either minor royals or nobles indeed one was a revered monk who were well respected by their local people and accustomed to being in power. However, they could not see (or did not want to see) the "big picture" of a reunified Siam. If King Taaksin could not persuade them to join his cause then it would be a case of obliging them to come under his sway.

So King Taaksin's armies slowly, with determination and over several years, managed to conquer and subdue all rebellious parties. As each rebel ruler came under his control, King Taaksin gained more and more respect from the people as they subjugated themselves to him and flocked to join his army. With all of the rival factions now joined in union, if not in harmony, it was time to finally push all Burmese from Siamese soil.

Driving The Burmese From Chiangmai

King Taaksin over threw the 4 year old monarch of Cambodia and installed his son Prince Intrarapitak.
Burma had attacked Siam a total of nine times between 1767 and 1776. As King Taaksin took the throne in Thonburi, Burmese troops continued to occupy most of the Kingdom of Lanna Thai Chiangmai, Lumpoon and Lampang were Burmese strongholds so various military expeditions were led to start squeezing the Burmese.

One of King Taaksin's great Generals was Chao Phraya Chakri (also a boyhood friend as they'd been novice monks together) and he helped plan the strategies to force a Burmese withdrawal. It was not easy, as the fortunes of war did not always favor Chao Phraya Chakri, so many bloody battles were fought. Eventually Pitsanuloke, Lampang and Lumpoon fell to the Siamese armies.

Finally, the ruler of Chiangmai sent a message requesting assistance to free his city from the Burmese. King Taaksin responded eagerly. After several attempts between 1774 and 1776, Taaksin personally led the final siege that successfully liberated Chiangmai. As King Taaksin entered the city through walls devastated by cannon fire, he received a hero's welcome from the beleaguered citizens. It was a joyous event because the city, having been "deeded" (i.e. occupied by the Burmese) for many, many years, was now ushering in the return of the Lanna Thai Kingdom to the Siamese fold.

Domestic Rebellion & Invasion of Cambodia

King Taaksin conquers Nakorn Ratchasima (Korat). He personally led many of the battles to unify Siam during his reign as King
As one problem was solved another sprang up. Nakorn Ratchasima (Korat) Province, in the Northeast, saw its city of Nangrong rise in rebellion during 1777. A certain Prince O decided to go his own way so King Taaksin sent General Chao Phraya Chakri to teach him otherwise. Prince O was taken prisoner and summarily executed, thus giving Siam additional territory along the Maekhong River.

Then Cambodia had an uprising and its monarch, King Raam Raja, was executed. The new Cambodian king was a four year old boy so King Taaksin, seeking to extend Siamese influence to the east, again sent General Chao Phraya Chakri on a military mission in 1781. Chao Phraya Chakri, leading an army 20,000 strong, was accompanied by the son of King Taaksin Prince Intrarapitak who was subsequently crowned King of Cambodia after the Cambodian Regent fled to Vietnam.

A Time of Peace & Rebuilding

After the dust settled from internal and external fighting, Taaksin put his energies into rebuilding the Kingdom. During this time. shipbuilding and trade with Chian flourished.

Although history views King Taaksin as more of a warrior than a ruler, he did manage to make some important repairs to Siam. He began by transferring the favored system of governing from the days of Ayuthaya to Thonburi and attempted to establish order and fairness amongst his subjects. Within 7 months, be laid the foundations for repairing several aspects of Siam that were damaged during the last twenty years of war.

Buddhist temples were repaired and men were encouraged to become monks. The monks looked after the temples and set about restoring the Tripitaka (book of Buddhist teachings). As a Chinese-Thai, King Taaksin had connections that helped to increase trade with China. Shipbuilding and trade in general actually flourished during his 15-year reign and roads and canals were built for both commercial and defense purposes.

He encouraged the revival of performing arts such as dance and theater, and imported literature such as the story of Ramayana from India. Craftsmanship in building construction became just as important as using good materials, and builders were encouraged to create decorative trims, painted murals and attractive building designs. Education was reinstated in the Buddhist temples, and King Taaksin ordered libraries to be installed, as they were in the days of Ayuthaya.

Taaksin Crumbles Under Strain

Ayutthaya was so badly ruined after the
Burmese left that Taaksin established a new capital at Thonburi. This land mark temple was constructed during that time.

It was about this time that King Taaksin, wearied by stress and all of his efforts, had a nervous breakdown. This great monarch retreated into himself, became paranoid, treated friends and family abominably and, in his illness, was totally unfit to govern. His Ministers grew increasingly alarmed and summoned Chao Phraya Chakri back from Cambodia to assist. King Taaksin, having lost the support of his family, nobles and ministers, fell from grace in the throes of his illness. Some reports suggest he was executed in 1782 while others, more generous, hint that he was spirited away to the south to live in Nakorn Srithammaraat as a monk until he died in 1825.

Whichever way King Taaksin left this mortal world, he was one of the greatest Siamese leaders. King Taaksin The Great was to Thailand what Winston Churchill was to Britain during her dark years. During the time of Siam's great need, this magnificent leader was the man for the moment. He reunified the country, and gave heart to the people for successors to build upon. Like Churchill, he was abandoned as soon as he had fulfilled his purpose but history has honored him. He was King Taaksin the Great!4


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