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Ayutthaya: Capital of a Kingdom, Part 6

Ayutthaya Hero : King Egatosrot 1605-1620

King Naresuan "The Great" was dead, having died from something as simple as a boil on his cheek which turned septic and caused blood poisoning. Through all of his adventures as a Boy Prince, the Burmese as he restored independence, dignity and Monarchy to his Kingdom of Ayutthaya, he remained unscathed. As king, King Naresuan was given the title "The Great" by his people and now he was dead from the unworthy malady of blood poisoning! The two brothers together went to fight the battles for 18 years away from the capital. They spent only 2 years together in the capital.

The Kingdom passed to King Naresuan's younger brother, Prince Egatosrot who, as the new Monarch, proved himself to be an able administrator and builder of commercial enterprise. As much as his late brother had been a Warrior King, King Egatosrot was a "Business King". As he took over the reins of monarchy, the economy of Ayutthaya was in a sorry state as constant warring had bled the royal coffers to a very low level. However, thanks to his late brother, the Kingdom was secure and peaceful which allowed King Egatosrot to look at the vital matter of the kingdom's wealth.

For some time, the Kingdom had been in contact with the Portuguese and, in fact, had employed many Portuguese mercenary soldiers to assist in the defense of the realm. The Portuguese were established at Malacca (Malaysia) and the Court of Ayutthaya had exchanged emissaries with them. However, that was as far as it went King Egatosrot was determined to change all that by exchanging accredited ambassadors and leading his Kingdom into the financial world of international trade.

The first Siamese ambassador was sent to Holland. In fact, the Portuguese and Dutch were at war at the time and Portuguese contacts had suggested that the Dutch were of no consequence "being only sea rovers with no country of their own". As it happened, the Dutch had recently developed the telescope a wondrous device with which one could see the enemy without being seen oneself so King Egatosrot recognized that his first embassy should be to the homeland of this useful, new gadget. When the embassy eventually arrived in Holland, the members were taken to pay respect to the Prince of Orange at the Hague. They were assisted by a young, Dutch man who had spent many years in South East Asia and who acted as their interpreter. Exquisite gifts from King Egatosrot were offered to the Dutch Prince including a letter from King Egatosrot which was engraved on a sheet of gold within a box of solid ivory and the Dutch were told of the power of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in the Asian region. The Siamese ambassadors reported, "King Egatosrot can immediately call 300,000 men, as well as 2,000 war elephant, into battle and he's on friendly terms with the King of China who is the most powerful of all monarchs. If someone disobeys, the King would have him sent to be roasted in a hot cauldron in which he would have suffered a month before dying". Perhaps the Dutch were impressed they certainly wanted King Egatosrot and the Kingdom of Ayutthaya to further the Dutch cause of establishing relationships with China so the embassy was well received by the Prince of Orange.

As commerce began to flourish between the Kingdom of Ayutthaya and the trading outposts of European powers, King Egatosrot placed a levy on all outgoing and incoming goods. The Royal Court of Ayutthaya controlled the export of all merchandise hardwood timber, elephants, precious gemstones, ivory, ceramics and spices it was easy for the King to apply a system of excise and taxation. Even local shop owners and market stall traders were not immune from paying a monetary tax to their Monarch. This was the first monetary tax (rather than taxation "in kind") levied in Thailand and the Royal Exchequer swelled handsomely.

The power and wealth of Ayutthaya was already well known throughout South East Asia and the Orient. Now that the Kingdom was at peace and under the benign rule of King Egatosrot, many foreign nationals came to reside in Ayutthaya. Scholars, merchants, holy monks and artisans came to live, study, work and trade. Portuguese and Dutch were already well represented but there was also a large contingent of Japanese and other orientals. Leading the Japanese was a certain Nagamasa Yamada and, as it happened, Yamada-Sang had the ear of both King Egatosrot and the Japanese Shogun Ieyasu. Accordingly, an exchange of friendly letters was conveyed, by Yamada Sang, between the King and Shogun. This distant relationship continued until, in September 1606, the Shogun of Japan sent his personal envoys to King Egatosrot and the Court of Ayutthaya.

They were bearing gifts of the finest Samurai swords and armor. As the Japanese emissaries paid homage to King Egatosrot, and presented their credentials and gifts, they told the Siamese Monarch that their Shogun suggested it would be good if the Kingdom of Ayutthaya and Shogunate of Japan were to become close friends. At that time, the Kingdom was already mining its own iron ore from which fire arms and cannon were cast. The Shogun earnestly desired to trade in weaponry and raw ore as Japan had very few natural resources and he thought the quality of Siamese gunpowder was surprisingly good! The Shogun also asked if King Egatosrot might send him some sweet smelling, aromatic incense wood! And so it happened another friendly, commercial link was forged for Ayutthaya's trading network.

King Egatosrot reigned until 1620 during which he promoted foreign relationships and commerce. He also fathered two sons, the Princes Sutat and Srisaovapak. Prince Sutat was Crown Prince and, as a conscientious heir apparent, once told the King that he would like to dismiss some nobles who were rising above their station. The elevation, or dismissal, of nobles was entirely the prerogative of the Monarch so the King asked the Crown Prince "Would you also like to take my throne"? The Crown Prince was dismayed, and disturbed, by this answer so under the guilt of disrespect to his Monarch, he took poison and died. Accordingly, when King Egatosrot passed away in 1620, it was his younger son, Prince Srisaovapak who took the throne.

King Egatosrot left his kingdom in a much better economic condition than that which he inherited. Thanks to the two brothers King Naresuan "The Great" and King Egatosrot the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was both strong and wealthy. But would it last? Read our next issues to know more of Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom!

See related articles (History of Ayutthaya):


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