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Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom, Part 17
Overview of Period 1783-1824,
Rama I & Rama II

Over this forty one-year period, it can be suggested that the Kingdom of Siam became more conscious of its nationhood and that foundations, both Regal and Governmental, were put down which would endure for many years in the future. Predecessor to King Rama I was King Taaksin of Thonburi and it was he who had fought the battles to conquer internal strife within his fragmented country. Therefore, when Rama I acceded to the throne in 1783, it was as king of a reunified Siam. Of course, external territorial pressures from Burma and, to a lesser degree, Laos and Cambodia still existed, however, Rama I was able to address these with a unified Siam behind him. So if it is thought that King Rama I built and cemented a new order, then his son King Rama II gave it polish with art, sophistication and a civilized, cosmopolitan life-style. The question of aggression from Burma, both real and imagined, would continue over the entire period so the nuisance value of Burma rarely escaped the minds of either monarchs Rama I or Rama II (even in present times, Burma is viewed with suspicion by many Thai minds).


King Rama 1 delegated
responsibilities to his ministers and advisers
When King Rama I acceded the throne, he came as an experienced, battle-hardened commander with an intelligent brain and natural organizing ability. He was well respected by the Noble Families and, importantly, by his senior military officers. Many knew him in an informal capacity as they had fought alongside him during many campaigns, sharing hardships, hopes and aspirations. As became apparent, King Rama I was not a person who distanced himself from his nobles and people (many earlier sovereigns became aloof from those who served) and he carefully rewarded those who had assisted him. Such rewards were shrewdly offered, and only on merit, to those nobles or commanders who could accept heavy responsibility and return total loyalty.


King Rama's Queen and consorts help him
go restore Buddhism. They built and rebuilt many
temples. A complete set of Tripitaka was revised.

Aside from having revitalized the Buddhist hierarchy (mentioned in an earlier article), King Rama I delegated responsibility, for regional running of the country, to six new ministries. In making appointments to head each new ministry, the King was careful to integrate noble, and extremely wealthy, families whose ancestry went beyond Siam. Members of the Brahman family (from India) were responsible for the Ministry of the Palace and Ministry of Lands. The Bunnag family (from Persia) handled the Krom Muang (responsible for the Greater Bangkok region). Whichever position was offered the appointee, Siamese, Chinese, Persian or Indian, had close, personal links to the Monarch which, at later dates, became strongly consolidated by inter-family marriages.


Ladies Mook and Jaan, commanded and defended Phuket from the Burmese invasion during the reign of King Rama 1. The Burmese tried again but King Rama 2 sent the troopsto fight back and well restored the kingdom.
Of Lanna or northern interest is Jao (Prince) Gawila of Lampang whom Rama I came to know as a competent military commander and loyal supporter. During early, major battles with the Burmese, Jao Gawila delayed one of the invading Burmese armies at the city of Lampang and was able to hold out (for months) until Siamese relief arrived. It was in 1776 under King Taaksin's order. The two commander brothers Jao Phraya Chakri and Jao Phraya Surasee came to help Jao Gawila. The three commanders managed to push the Burmese out of Chiangmai. During that time, 33 year old Surasee fell in love and later married Princess Siri Rodja or Sri Anocha the younger sister of Jao Gawila. Six years later she took the big role to crush Phraya Sant who wanted to get rid of King Taaksin as well as her husband's older brother, Jao Phraya Chakri. Jao Gawila was the noble who revitalized the Old Kingdom of Lanna and eventually King Rama I appointed him Viceroy of Lanna Thai. Prince Gawila is remembered today by the Gawila Memorial Park, opposite the Gawila Military Barracks, on the eastern bank of the River Ping. He died in 1803 and his descendants have, to the present day, used the surname of "Na Chiang Mai" (the Ladies Duang Duan Na Chiang Mai and Jao Gor Gaew Na Chiang Mai are present day descendants).


King Rama 1's younger brother and
Jao Gawila's younger sister become the first love
and family bonding between Thonburi, Bangkok and Lanna
King Rama I was to become the country's great patriarch, siring no less than 42 Children (25 girls, 17 boys) from 29 wives. King Rama's queen and consorts contributed their time and energy to build and renovated no less than 23 Buddhist temples in Bangkok and Thonburi.

Rama I passed away peacefully in 1809 and was succeeded by his son, Phrabuddha Lert-Lah, who became King Rama II. The new king was not an aggressive monarch and, during the first year of his reign, he lost part of his kingdom to invading Burmese. The Burmese seized an area of Southern Thailand (Takau-Pa and Thalang in Phuket) and it was not until much later that Rama II restored them to Siam. Politically, and to ensure a personal power base of his own supporters, King Rama II reshuffled or dismissed his father's appointed ministers. Prized government positions were given to those he preferred (especially to royal kin on his mother's side) and thus the platform of strength, on which sat Siam's noble families, was increased in size and importance.


King Rama 2 devoted his time and energy
towards the reconstruction of Siam through
trade, foreign relationship, art and literature.
Rama II was much more comfortable with administrative, scholarly and artistic endeavors. Trade, particularly with China, was expanded under his rule and he arranged to have Chinese ceramics, made to Thai design, imported. In return, the great Siamese rice-basket provided export to China.

Dramatic arts, poetry, sculpture and writing were all encouraged. Rama II personally sculpted many Buddha images and wrote the legend of "Manee Pichai and Sangthong, the Prince in a Conch Shell" (a story still read in Thai schools). Nakorn niello ware takes its name from the time King Rama II introduced niello-ware and sent his craftsmen to Nakorn Sri Thammarat to establish a production unit.

Overall, the reign King Rama II may be regarded as one of relative peace for the Kingdom of Siam. It was a reign of "catching one's breath" between the hectic changes and upheavals of Rama I's reign and the continuing changes which would occur under the rule of Rama III. It was a reign of emphasizing the cultural aspects of life and, perhaps, not facing the hard choices. On his deathbed, Rama II had still not faced the decision to name his successor. As the King had fathered a total of 73 children (from 38 mothers) including 38 sons, many of whom were possible heirs, it was left to the Noble Families to decide who would be their next king. In 1824, gentle as his reign, King Rama II fell into a coma and quietly slipped away. Thus ended the first forty-odd year period in the building of the New Siam!

 

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