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King Rama 1

Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom, Part 15
King Rama I (1782-1809)
The Founder of Chakri Dynasty

Jao Phraya Chakri, or Rama I, was the first King of Thailand's current royal dynasty. He was crowned in 1782 after domestic rebellions and illness put an end to the rule of his predecessor and good friend, King Taaksin. The two friends had spent most of their adult lives as warriors, continually fighting off invasions from Burma, forcefully unifying Siam as a kingdom, and trying to keep a hold on various territories in Cambodia and Laos. When Rama I took the throne, his first order of business was to move the capital across the river from Thonburi to the more geographically secure site of Bangkok. There, he built the Grand Palace complex of buildings, which included Wat Phra Kaeo to house the Emerald Buddha he captured from the Lao people in Vientiane. These magnificent buildings and treasures are still standing today.


Wat Phra Kaew
Rama 1 moved the capital from Thonburi to
Bangkok and built the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew.
Since the country's fragmentation after the fall of its glorious former capital at Ayutthaya in 1767, many aspects of law, social order and religious ethics had descended into chaos. While keeping the Burmese at bay, Rama I made several efforts to restore order to the Kingdom.

In 1788 (the same year the first U.S. Federal Congress convened in New York), he called the Buddhist hierarchy to a Council. Disturbed by the Burmese invasion and the mental illness and religious fanaticism of King Taaksin, they had grown lax and were without moral fiber and discipline. Now the new King set them a task: they were to collect all sacred documents that had escaped Burmese burning and revise and update all 45 volumes (at more than 500 pages per volume) of the Tripitaka, the Buddhist Canon. The revisions took more than five months to complete, with the King conducting impromptu, almost daily, inspections. It is recorded that more than 250 monks were fed and provisioned at the Monarch's personal expense as they toiled to recopy the Buddhist scriptures (handwritten in the ancient Pali language).

Exiled Scholars merchants,
traders and even Christian missionaries
were invited back to help rebuild Siam.
Meanwhile, Siamese subjects were reminded of their responsibility to their King, culture and kingdom. The King assembled a team of legal advisors to write a series of new laws and updates to existing laws. When the work was completed, the King affixed three Royal Seals to the documents, which became known as "The Law of the Three Seals" and reflected the King's justice to his subjects. For their part, the Siamese people were to conduct themselves as good citizens and faithful Buddhists.

As a fair and enlightened administrator, Rama I also invited exiled scholars, merchants and traders to return to Siam. Even Christian missionaries were welcomed back in hopes of cultivating better relations with western foreigners King. Rama I dispatched one of his nobles to the Portuguese Governor of Macao to express his wish for the missionaries to return, and to say he looked forward to renewed friendship and trade with foreign merchants.

Rama I was a poet and, with help from his friends, rewrote the two best-known Thai epics the Ramakien and Inao, which had been largely lost with the fall of Ayutthaya.


The Burmese continued to invade
Siam for the next several years, and
the Siamese people continued to drive them out.
With their attention focused on building a new capital, the Siamese became vulnerable once again to Burmese attack. In 1785, nine Burmese armies totaling 144,000 men crossed into Siam at five different points, including the Lanna Kingdom (northern Thailand) city of Lampang. At the time, Lanna's new ruler, King Gawila based at Chiangmai, had been trying to repair the northern capital after 216 years of Burmese stronghold.

King Rama I quickly mobilized three armies totaling only 70,000 and launched a strategic campaign across the land to destroy supply routes, harass Burmese lines and attack them in the field. The Burmese king personally led the main attack through Three Pagodas Pass but found the Siamese army waiting for him at Lardya (near Kanchanaburi). The Siamese troops, with King Rama I's fresh strategies and the spirit of the late King Taaksin firing their blood, besieged and then trounced the invaders.

More than 250 monks were provisioned
at Rama 1's personal expense as they
toiled to recopy destroyed Buddhist Scriptures.
In Lampang, Gawila's own army held them off for about four months, until Siamese troops from Bangkok stepped in yet again to help the northern Kingdom shake off Burmese invaders. Together, the two armies managed to push the Burmese back, and the struggle seemed to bring Rama I and King Gawila closer together as well.

Down in Thalang (modern day Phuket), the late governor's widow, Lady Muk, and her sister, Lady Chan, led an army of both men and women against the Burmese, driving the invaders out within a month.

Similar defeats befell the other Burmese armies in Siam, but Burmese aggression continued over the next several years. King Rama I personally led battles against the Burmese twice and ordered five other battles.

In 1802 the Burmese surrounded the Lanna capital at Chiangmai with seven troops. The siege lasted for two months. Again, Siamese troops marched from Bangkok to help. Again, the Burmese were expelled. This time Rama I, continuing the effort started by Taaksin to unify Siam as one kingdom, promoted Gawila as King of 57 Lanna cities. Like Rama I, Gawila was also the first king of a dynasty the Lanna Kingdom's Tipchang Dynasty, which persisted until 1932, when the military took control of the country.

Siam's troubles with its western neighbor weren't quite finished however. The Burmese still had a hold on Chiangsaen. In 1804, Gawila and Rama I marched their respective Lanna and Siamese armies into the city, but the Burmese fought hard. The Bangkok soldiers grew ill and lacked food and medicine, resulting in their temporary withdrawal. But Gawila's soldiers kept fighting, eventually seizing Chiangsaen along with many, many Burmese captives.

The following year, Rama I bade King Gawila to attack Muang Yong, Chiangroong, Saenwee, Sipaw, Chiangtoong and other northern cities in some cases to drive out Burmese, and in others, simply to continue building a bigger Siam.


The first city pillar in Bangkok was surrounded by stones that Rama 1 predicted his dynasty would last only 150 years. Indeed, the military put an end to the monarchy's direct power, but the Chakri Dynasty lives on today in H.M. King Bumibol (Rama 9).
Rama I continued consolidating Siam as his late friend King Taaksin had begun to do. In the interest of the Kingdom, he also manipulated rulers in Cambodia and Laos, occasionally going to battle to squash coups and rebellions.

During his reign, Rama I proved to be an able warrior and an enlightened administrator and monarch. Tangible evidence of his rule can still be seen the beautiful palaces and temples of Bangkok. He was the founder of Bangkok and the long line of the current Chakri Dynasty.

Shortly after becoming king, he erected the City Pillar to embody the Spirit of the City. Throughout the years a story unfolded that he predicted his dynasty would last 150 years. Rama IV erected a second city pillar to try to dispel that theory, but a military coup and subsequent change to the constitutional monarchy in 1932 was in fact the beginning of the end of the monarchy's direct rule.

Rama I died in 1809 at the age of 58. Our present monarch, H.M. King Bhumipol, is Rama IX of this Chakri Dynasty. Long Live the King!

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