Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom Part 8
King Narai The Great 1656 - 1688
Prince Narai succeeded to the Throne of Siam in 1656 at the age of twenty seven. In later years it was noted by a visiting missionary, Father Tachard, that "The King is below average height, but very straight and well set up. His demeanor is attractive and his manners full of gentleness and kindness. He is lively and active and an enemy of sloth. He is always in the forest hunting elephants or in his palace attending to State Affairs. He is not fond of war but when forced to take up the sword, no Eastern monarch has a stronger passion for glory."
This was a time of great affluence for the Siamese Nation and its Capital City was referred to as "Golden Ayutthaya". Contact and trade with neighboring nations, such as Malay Sultans and, especially, Japan plus the growth of European trading and diplomatic missions brought wealth to Ayutthaya as never before. However, such exposure also brought the risk of unwanted influences in particular from the empire building European countries. King Narai often walked the tightrope of dilemma in balancing pressures from Europe against, more importantly, the protection of his Kingdom of Ayutthaya, his Nobility and Thai subjects.
It was not long into King Narai's reign when, in 1660, Chinese forces invaded and captured the Burmese Kingdom of Ava. Conscious that this could upset the delicate balance of regional power in his northern vassal states, King Narai worried about his northern provinces especially Chiangmai because he wasn't convinced he could trust the ruler of that Lanna Thai kingdom. The King marched north taking Lampang and many of the smaller towns in the Chiangmai region, however, his force was not strong enough to attack Chiangmai and he returned to Ayutthaya in 1661.
Soon after, King Narai marched again on Chiangmai and, aided by his competent military commander Chao Phya Kosathibordi, quelled Chiangmai and brought the city back under his direct influence. During his time in Chiangmai, King Narai married the daughter of the ruler of the city and, later, they had a son Prince Laung Sorasak (who eventually will become Siam's infamous "Tiger King"). With his northern problem taken care of, King Narai was free to address the matter of foreign relationships.
Since the days of King Zongtham and King Prasart Thong, the Dutch had enjoyed an almost "most favored nation" status with Ayutthaya but they were becoming more greedy for trade and bullying in their tactics. King Narai permitted English merchants to open bases in Ayutthaya but the Dutch, very angry at this concession to England, demanded a monopoly for the trading in hides and, until it was obtained, the Dutch East India Company sent a fleet to blockade the entrance to Ayutthaya from the Chao Phraya River.
In the interests of peace, they got their monopoly and also, in 1664 , the signing of a treaty between Ayutthaya and the Netherlands. Perhaps the Dutch were upset at just having lost their settlement of New Amsterdam to the British (who promptly renamed it "New York") because The Dutch East India Company's imperialist style may be noted from one proviso in the treaty which read "In case (God forbid) any of the company's servants shall commit a serious crime in Siam, the King and the judges shall not have the right to judge him, but he must be handed over to the company's Chief, to be punished according to the Netherlands' Law".
Such interference in Ayutthaya's domestic affairs did not impress King Narai, indeed, they caused him great dissatisfaction. As a counterbalance to Dutch pressures, the King welcomed embassies and traders from other European nations England, Portugal and France. Over the years Ayutthaya had sent three Ambassadorial delegations to France; regrettably, the first was presumably shipwrecked off the coast of Africa because it was never heard from again.
The second delegation was chased by Algerian pirates but, on nearing the English Channel, two English warships appeared and escorted the Siamese emissaries to Margate. Whereupon, England Customs and Excise officers seized the gifts for the King of France which they were carrying. King James II of England had his officers release the gifts and, indeed, sent the Ayutthaya delegation on its way to France aboard the English Royal yacht. The French, in turn, sent three embassies to Ayutthaya in 1685, 1686 and 1688. With the French delegations came those not in search of diplomacy or trade but in the harvest of souls they were the Jesuits of Loyola!
It should be mentioned that in 1678 a certain Greek cabin boy, aboard one of the English East India Company vessels, arrived in Siam. He was Constantine Phaulcon and he rose to great importance in the Royal Court of Ayutthaya. Accordingly, when the French emissaries arrived, accompanied by the Jesuit missionaries, Constantine Phaulcon was there to assist and interpret for them.
King Narai welcomed the French ambassadors and, likewise, the Jesuits because among their number were men of skills and mathematics. Men like Father Thomas who, aside from missionary intentions, was also an engineer and architect. In fact, Father Thomas assisted King Narai in construction projects at Ayutthaya, Bangkok and Thonburi. The King trusted these missionaries and gave them land on which to build their own homes and sacred places. A hidden agenda was never thought of.
The French missionaries, delighted by the great favors betstowed upon them by the King of Ayutthaya, began to think that their harvest was ripe and that King Narai had leanings towards the Church of Rome. This was also to the political plans of France's King Louis XIV who, by converting King Nara to Christianity, would gain favor with His Holiness The Pope. They could not have been more wrong in interpreting kindnesses shown as a conversion made!
The King's Nobles were becoming very agitated by the apparent foreign influence in Ayutthaya. There were forts garrisoned by French troops, Europeans were housed in splendid style, Catholic missionaries were preaching to the Siamese people and the most eminent Advisor to the King was Greek! It was all most distasteful to the Siamese people and their Nobility and considered a great risk to state security. In 1687, an "Anti-Foreign Party" was formed and it was headed by Phra Phetraja who was a longtime favorite of King Narai's. Sadly, King Narai was gravely ill at this time but, before passing away, appointed Phra Phetraja to be his successor.
King Narai, The Great died from dropsy the following year in 1688. He further opened his Kingdom to trade, commerce and diplomacy Golden Ayutthaya blossomed. But he also took risks in permitting Europeans to have too great an influence at his Royal Court. Despite those European pressures, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya survived intact and foreign influence was brought under control. Read how it happened in our next chapter of "Ayutthaya Capital of a Kingdom" with the story of "King Narai and the Falcon of Siam".