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Ayutthaya: Capital of a Kingdom, Part 4

King Naresuan The Great

Last month our magazine addressed the first fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese and the restoration of the Kingdom by King Naresuan. This warrior King, known as "The Great" deserves special mention because his exploits were extraordinary.

Naresuan, as a boy Prince, had been taken to Burma as hostage to ensure the good behavior of his father King Thammaraja. King Thammaraja, when he was Governor of Pitsanuloke, had "sold out" to the Burmese who appointed him as puppet monarch of the now vassal Kingdom of Ayutthaya. Accordingly, Prince Naresuan grew up in Burma and became well acquainted with Burmese ways. When the Prince was 16 years old his father, King Thammaraja, asked that his son be returned to Siam. This was done and, as an exchange hostage, Prince Naresuan's younger sister was sent to Burma. The Prince was appointed Governor of Pitsanuloke. The Burmese King Bayinnaung died in 1581 and was succeeded by his son Nandabayin. At King Nandabayin's coronation all vassal states were ordered to attend and pay homage. Prince Naresuan, with his father's permission, attended as representative of Ayutthaya but he really wanted to keep himself informed as to what was happening in the Burmese capital (Pegu) as the new king took his throne.

As it happened, the town of Moung Kang was in a state of revolt and did not send anyone to the coronation. To put down the uprising, and as punishment, King Nandabayin sent three armies to Moung Kang. The first army was led by the Crown Prince of Burma, the second by Prince Natchinnaung, from the vassal state of Toungoo, and the third by Prince Naresuan. Moung Kang was well defended atop a hill and the two Burmese Princes, successively, made frontal attacks which were dismal failures. Prince Naresuan scouted the rear of the hill and, finding another possible storming point, planned his strategy. A small force of Prince Naresuan's army pretended attack on Moung Kang's frontal slopes making a fiercesome, diversionary noise as they did so. At the same time, Prince Naresuan stealthily led the bulk of his army up the rear of the hill and successfully captured the town.

This victory brought Prince Naresuan nothing but jealousy from the Burmese King Nandabayin and his son the Crown Prince. Aside from making the Burmese look foolish over their lack of success to take Moung Kang, King Nandabayin realized that this Siamese upstart was clever at war tactics and would, therefore, have to be watched. At one point, the Burmese Crown Prince challenged Prince Naresuan to a game of fighting cocks which resulted in the Crown Prince losing his bird and bet. In anger, frustration and jealousy the Crown Prince exclaimed "This vassal of a cock is really impudent". To which Prince Naresuan responded "Not only can this cock bet for money, it can also fight for kingdoms"! The words were not lost on King Nandabayin and the Crown Prince they decided to do away with Prince Naresuan!

King Nandabayin had a dispute with the Kingdom of Ava which involved him summoning armies, including Prince Naresuan's, to his aid. At the Mon town of Muong Krang King Nandabayin had arranged for Prince Naresuan's unsuspecting army to be attacked from the rear and the Prince killed. However, the Mon people had lived under the lash of the Burmese so were more sympathetic towards Prince Naresuan; using the good offices of a revered monk, they forewarned Prince Naresuan of King Nandabayin's planned assassination. The Prince, angered by this treachery, had had enough of the Burmese so, instead of proceeding on to Ava, he called his army and the townsfolk together and, before them, swore he would no longer serve under the Burmese and declared independence for the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. Then he marched on Pegu and, before King Nandabayin could return from Ava, freed the Thai people who had been held hostage. He set off for Ayutthaya, with over 10,000 Thais, but the Burmese Crown Prince's army (under General Surakamma) was hot on his heels and Prince Naresuan just managed to cross the Sittaung River before the Crown Prince's forces arrived on the far bank. Sighting General Surakamma across the river, Prince Naresuan drew his long-gun and fired. The Burmese Commanding General fell dead where upon the Burmese troops gave up the chase and retreated back to Pegu. Prince Naresuan, with his freed Thais, returned to Ayutthaya in peace! This was 1584.

With his father's, King Thammaraja, approval Prince Naresuan immediately began the strengthening of Ayutthaya. He drew people from the northern regions and many people from the Shan States, who had endured suffering under the Burmese, also flocked to his banner. Slowly, slowly Prince Naresuan built his army, taking the fight to the Burmese. During the Burmese King Nandabayin's reign, huge Burmese armies advance five times on Ayutthaya so it was always against massive odds that Prince Naresuan led his men to ensure the preservation of Ayutthaya's independence. In 1590 the Prince's father, King Thammaraja, died and the Prince ascended the Siamese Throne as King Naresuan sometimes known as King Naret, or the Black Prince, by foreigners but always as King Naresuan "The Great" by his people. King Naresuan was 35 years of age when he became King.

During the fifth Burmese advance on Ayutthaya, King Naresuan, with his younger brother Prince Ekatosrost, did not wait until the Burmese reached Ayutthaya instead, King and Brother Prince advanced and, at Nongsarai, set an ambush for the Burmese. A small, expeditionary force of Siamese was sent forward to engage the enemy and lure them into the trap. Of course, upon letting the Burmese sight them, the expeditionary troop retreated and the Burmese followed in hot pursuit straight into the ambush where King Naresuan and his army lay waiting. King Naresuan, from his lofty position astride his battle elephant, sees the Burmese Crown Prince his old enemy from boyhood days and immediately challenges. The fight is spectacular and brief with the Crown Prince being killed by a blow from King Naresuan's fighting lance. The Burmese army, seeing their Crown Prince dead and the array of Siamese Generals and troops under King Naresuan, loose heart and hasten back to Burma.

After five failures to regain Ayutthaya, the Burmese dare not risk against King Naresuan again. So the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was left in peace and King Naresuan, with the enthusiastic support of his armies and people, had the opportunity to deal with other enemies. Cambodia was given a firm lesson as it had tried to steal territory and people from Ayutthaya when King Naresuan was busy sorting out the Burmese. Such opportunists were not tolerated.

Unfortunately for Ayutthaya, King Naresuan did not reign for any great length of time. In 1605 while campaigning against Ava which had annexed two of Ayutthaya's Shan Protectorates the King was taken ill with a boil on his cheek. It had turned septic, causing blood poisoning, from which the King died. King Naresuan The Great, died aged 50 years of age having reigned for only 15 years. Had his rule been longer, he would undoubtably have stabilized the entire region and driven any further thought of aggression from Burmese heads. With the passing of King Naresuan The Great one of Siam's notable warrior Kings the Burmese began planning their next move against Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom!

See related articles (History of Ayutthaya):

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