Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom, Part 16
King Rama II, The Period of 1809-1824
Continuance of Chakri Dynasty
When King Phrabuddha Yordfah (Rama I) died the Siamese Throne passed to his son Phrabuddha Lert-Lah Napalai. With this transference of Royal power by direct bloodline the Chakri Dynasty had begun.
Phrabuddha Lert-Lah was born during 1767 and was the fourth child of his father. This was just around the time of the destruction of Ayutthaya by the Burmese and his father then officially Deputy-Governor of Rajburi had joined with King Taaksin to repel the invaders and reunify the country. Indeed as an eight year old the future prince went with his father to drive the Burmese enemy out of Chiangmai.
When he was sixteen his father succeeded King Taaksin taking the title of King Phrabuddha Yordfah (Rama I) and Phrabuddha Lert-Lah was created a Prince. In 1787 the young prince accompanied his father to attack and take Tavoy which was under the control of Burma. The Siamese army managed to attack and win over several Burmese forts however the king himself had to withdraw the troops back to Bangkok due to the food shortage.
As a matter of fact the father and son along with the troops went back to attack Tavoy second time to claim victory 6 years later. Phrabuddha Lert-Lah knew a lot of the military arts as he had followed his fathers many campaigns. His official residence was that of the late King Taaksin and was on the opposite shore of Bangkok at Thonburi. The Temple of Dawn rose loftily from beside the young Princes palace. Now at the age of forty-three Phrabuddha Lert-Lah had been crowned Monarch of all Siam.
By nature King Lert-Lah was not an aggressive or warlike king but he was determined to safeguard his Throne and Kingdom. Not long after his succession a plot to dethrone him was discovered. It was led by Prince Kasatra (one of King Taaksins children) but the plot was quickly snuffed out and the perpetrators executed. The Burmese too were initially a problem but their resources were not sufficiently strong to attack Bangkok.
Instead they launched a series of naval sorties along the southern coast and after their usual pillaging destruction and the taking of Thai people to Burma as slaves the Burmese took Talang and Phuket. This was to be probably the final invasion Burma made of Thailand but it was some time before the Siamese people were able to wrest Phuket from Burmese aggression.
Further south Siam had lost its vassal state of Kedah (now in Malaysia) when the Sultan declared independence during the reign of King Taaksin. The Sultan of Kedah now decided to lease part of his Sultanate the island of Penang to the British East India Company in return for protection. The British indicated they would protect Penang Island only and in fact dispatched an envoy to the Siamese Court of King Rama II.
The envoy proposed a treaty of friendship and commerce but negotiations proved difficult and confusing due to language barriers. Nevertheless in 1825 a treaty was signed between King Rama II and the British East India Company which permitted British ships and traders to conduct commerce with Thailand. This treaty uniquely in Siamese history was written in Thai English Malay and Portuguese as both King Rama II and the British had to depend upon the interpreters available.
With shipping commerce developing under British Portuguese and Dutch flags King Rama II decided that his own trading vessels and men-of-war should fly a recognized banner. Previously Siamese ships flew a plain red flag when sailing or entering ports but many other traders used similar red flags and this caused a lot of confusion. King Rama II ordered that forthwith all Siamese ships would fly a national flag which has a white elephant against a red background. The Siamese Sovereign was very much a man for establishing foreign relations friendship trade and commerce and he ensured that his Kingdoms participation was very much in evidence.
King Rama II was also a Monarch of culture and learning so a lot of his personal energy was directed towards the arts literature in all forms poetry music plays dramas painting nielloware ceramics woodcarving sculpture casting of Buddha images and temple building. He scripted plays himself that could be set to music and performed. He renovated and reconstructed Wat Jaeng or Aroon The temple of Dawn. He sculptured and cast the Buddha images in Wat Aroon. He continued to build up the 81 meter high pagoda studded with colorful ceramic tiles porcelain and ornate sculptures.
His father moved to live at the Grand Palace meanwhile he was assigned to live at King Taaksins palace and to look after Wat Aroon nearby. For this reason King Lert-Lah naturally had his spirit lived up with Wat Aroon. This was very much following in his fathers footsteps to bring Siam back to a state of artistic grace and culture which the kingdom had not seen since the Burmese dest ruction of Golden Ayutthaya. For religious uplifting King Rama II sent a mission of Buddhist monks to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1815. Upon their return to Bangkok the monks brought back young shoots from a sacred Bodhi tree which in turn had sprung from a shoot of the original Bodhi tree (in India) under which the Buddha had sat and gained enlightenment.
King Rama II can be regarded as a solid dependable and progressive Siamese Monarch who built strongly on foundations established by his father. Diligent in every respect he sired 73 children (38 boys and 35 girls) from 38 mothers. King Rama II departed this world in 1824 after an illness and slipping into a coma from which he never recovered. He left the Kingdom of Siam a better nation than when he ascended the throne and this in itself is worthy of record.
Commemoration of King Taaksin of Thonburi Founders Day 28 December
In 1768 as the first faint rays of day crept across the Jao Phraya River a small fleet of war ships hovered at the steps of Wat Makok (being pronounced as Ma-Gkok. Stepping ashore to pay homage to a Holy Relic within Phra Jao Taaksin surveyed the temple and the surrounding area of Thonburi. It was auspicious. He would build a new temple and make Thonburi the capital of his kingdom. And so it happened. Thonburi became the new Siamese capital after the destruction of Ayutthaya and from the old Wat Makok eventually soared the great chedi of Wat Jaeng or Wat Aroon the Temple of Dawn a reminder of this great Kings stop at dawn to pay homage.
King Taaksin the Great is recognized as the Monarch who successfully battled to reunify his country after the fall of Golden Ayutthaya in 1767. At that time the Kingdom of Siam was in disarray. The Burmese occupied large areas of Siam people fled to other parts of the country and the nation fragmented as petty rulers and princes claimed territory for themselves. King Taaksin determined that he would drive the Burmese from his country and conquer those rulers who were happy to see the nation torn apart. Siam would survive!
Born in 1733 the Thai Chinese boy with the Thai name of Sin given by his adopted parents the young man entered government service and was eventually appointed Governor of Taak Province. In 1765 as Phra Jao Taaksin he helped defend Ayutthaya against the Burmese but when the city was overwhelmed after a 15 month siege he led his fighting troops through Burmese lines and fought his way south to Rayong. After regrouping Phra Jao Taaksin began a series of long campaigns by land and sea to whip the Burmese invaders back across the frontiers.
The Siamese wanted a new king and people flocked to his leadership and the cause of national unity. Phra Jao Taaksin became King Taaksin on 28 December 1768 in his new capital of Thonburi. Although it took many long years King Taaksins leadership and determination did drive the Burmese from Siamese soil and reunify the country as one Kingdom. As the Saviour of Siam this fighting monarch is remembered as King Taaksin the Great .
Thus by government decree every 28 December Thailand officially honors the Sovereign who saved the country. In Taak City where he once was Governor a larger than life statue remembers King Taaksin. He is seated sword across his knees and on the plinth are the engraved words Phra Jao Taaksin of Krung Thonburi. On this day of 28 December let everyone have a respectful thought for one of Thailands most illustrious leaders King Taaksin the Great.