Ayutthaya: Capital of a Kingdom, Part 7
King Prasart Thong (1629-1656)
When a vacuum is created, sometimes the unexpected rushes in to fill the space and this can be especially so with a power vacuum. King Naresuen, The Great, had returned independence, power and respect for Ayutthaya. Next in succession was his brother, King Egatosrot who, through diplomacy, business and trading acumen, had restored wealth to the nation. When King Egatosrot died in 1620, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was both powerful and wealthy and this was a prize some could not resist trying for even if the price was deceit, betrayal and murder.
King Egatosrot was succeeded by his son, King Zongtham but he was not a strong monarch and died after 8 years on the throne. He was survived by two sons and a brother but had not named his successor. There was also a high ranking court official, Phya Sriworawongse (Chao Phya Galahom in charge of the military), who was hovering in the wings and he was a master of ambition. King Songtham's eldest son was eventually nominated as the rightful heir and he took the throne as King Jeta but he was only 14 years of age. The Boy King allowed himself to be persuaded, by none other than Chao Phya Galahom, that his uncle (the late King's brother) was planning a revolt so he had his uncle arrested and taken to Petchburi where he was imprisoned and died from starvation. Having cunningly removed his one adult rival, Chao Phya Galahom and his followers subsequently attacked the Royal Palace, captured young King Jeta and had him executed. King Jeta's younger brother, Prince Atitaya, was next in line of succession but Chao Phya Galahom appointed himself as Regent (Prince Atitaya was 10 years old) and, one month later, had the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Ayutthaya taken out and beaten to death with a sandalwood club. In 1630, Chao Phya Galahom seized the Siamese throne and crowned himself as the new king. He took the title of King Prasart Thong, meaning "King of the Golden Palace"
These were tough times in the world; 10 years earlier the pilgrim fathers, fleeing from religious persecution, had founded New Plymouth after their Atlantic voyage on the Mayflower. In England, just the preceding year, King Charles I had begun his eleven year rule without the benefit of Parliament a decision which was to cost him his head. So the usurping of the Siamese monarchy, by King Prasart Thong, has to be viewed in the light of those violent and intolerant times.
King Prasart Thong's reign was not a huge success; after years of peace, there were problems at every turn. The Japanese refused to support the usurper king as they had given a promise to the late King Zongtham that they would only recognize his bloodline heirs. This was particularly true of Yamada, a powerful and loyal Japanese servant to the rightful Court of Ayutthaya. Some reports say King Prasart Thong had Yamada poisoned while others say he was sent to quell a rebellion in Nakhon Srithamarart in any event, the once powerful Yamada disappeared from Ayutthaya.
Rebellions blossomed like bush-fires; in Pattani, a vassal city of Ayutthaya, the anticipated tributes of gold and silver were withheld and the ruler declared Pattani an independent state. King Prasart Thong led his army to subdue Pattani and, after an initial reversal, the king eventually succeeded in subduing Pattani. A hostile Cambodia was also causing difficulties; during the reigns of King Naresuen, The Great and King Egatosrot, Cambodia was under Siamese control but, with the passing of those great kings, had now declared itself independent. King Prasart Thong dispatched an army to remind Cambodia where its loyalties lay and one result of this was the increase of Cambodian architecture to be seen in Siamese palaces and temples. The northern province and city of Chiangmai had been under Burmese domination but, in 1630, had wrested itself free and declared independence. But not for long; King Prasart Thong sent an army to retake Chiangmai for the Kingdom of Ayutthaya Ayutthaya. In his campaign against Chiangmai and in order to terrorize the populace, King Prasart Thong promised that he would put to death the first four women he met. And this he did smearing their blood on the woodwork of his boat as it lay moored in the River Ping.
Although King Prasart Thong's reign had its domestic upheavals, he did manage to retain European contacts especially with the Dutch whose interests lay with the progress of their East Indies Company. The Dutch referred the kingdom, "Siam was a country rich in natural resources and a land of plenty. A long list of its animals and natural products ends with the words, 'All in all, well supplied with all manner of livestock and animals. Sugar, salt, plants yielding oil seed, green vegetables, fruit and a thousand other products of the soil abound, sufficing for man's subsistence milk and honey are plentiful so that in times of necessity he can supply his needs, indeed lavishly so, without the aid of other countries'." The Dutch goods for which there was a market in Ayutthaya were prints of ships which the King required in large numbers as gifts for his nobility and surpluses from the trading post at Pattani (mainly textiles and glassware). This trade cannot have attained particularly large proportions, for until 1617 the Dutch East India Company merchants constantly complained that the Company was failing to supply them with goods and capital. However, sometimes even these were tenuous. Prince Frederick Henry had sent cordial messages to King Prasart Thong on the King's foreign policy but, in 1639, the Dutch East Indies Company took exception to the way King Prasart Thong was handling trade affairs and threatened to attack Ayutthaya. The Siamese army was called out, the Dutch declared "persona non grata", some Dutch were arrested and tempers flared. Dutch vessels never did appear to attack Ayutthaya and, in 1641, King Prasart Thong received a courteous letter from the Prince of Orange plus a further letter, and gifts, from the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies Company. Such was the commercial value of European trading in South East Asia!
King Prasart Thong died in 1655 another monarch in that great span of Siamese history. In Ayutthaya capital of a Kingdom who will next succeed to the Throne of Siam? Read more in our next issue.