Siam (Thailand) History Part II

By | December 17, 2021

The war with Burma lasted almost uninterrupted for fifty years, with alternating events; meanwhile other Europeans set foot in Siam to trade: the Spaniards in 1598, the Dutch in 1604, the English in 1612, the Danes in 1621; on the contrary, the Dutch East India Company soon replaced the Portuguese, in the monopoly of Siam’s foreign trade, especially with Japan and China.

At this moment in the history of Siam an adventurer appears, who was then the cause of the kingdom’s withdrawal on itself and the exclusion of foreigners: Costanzo Faulcon. Born in Kefalonia around 1648, his surname or origin is not known with certainty: it is not certain whether his name was Gerace and was of Venetian origin and son of a governor of the island, or Costantino Gerákēs, and was the son of a host, who had Italianized his surname into that of Falcone. At the age of 12 he boarded an English ship that was trading in the Indies. Having managed to save a certain sum, he armed a ship on his own and was lucky enough to save and bring back to his country an ambassador sent by the king of Siam to Persia, who had been shipwrecked. Introduced to the prime minister, he was able to reach the king, Phra Narai. Some tasks carried out to a good end earned him royal favor, so much so that, having died the prime minister, he was entrusted with his functions, without having the title (1657). Having reached such a high place, he was able to affirm there, both by successfully administering the king’s finances, and by not retreating from the most cruel means of silencing the great ones and the mandarins who murmured of the favor given to a foreigner. Having become very powerful, he realized that he could not have survived without external help. Converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism, he turned to France, the latest arrival in Siam. The first French who arrived there were two missionaries: F. Pallu and P. de la Motte-Lambert (1662). The welcome they received at Siam, which was very tolerant in matters of religion, gave them the greatest hopes. Louis XIV, to whom they wrote, he already dreamed of conquering the new country for Catholicism and France. La Motte-Lambert was received by the king of Siam and tried to convert him. In 1673 Pallu, who had returned to Europe, came to Siam for the second time with letters from Louis XIV and the pope and under the guise of ambassador. Taking advantage of this situation, the French East India Company sent its agent Deslandes-Boureau in September 1680 to obtain permission to trade; Faulcon made an understanding with Deslandes and the French missionaries; he granted the former the monopoly of the spice trade, made the latter believe that the king was willing to convert; and to invoke the support of the king of France on 25 January 1684 a Siamese embassy left for Paris. In exchange, on March 3, 1685, a French embassy, ​​headed by the Chevalier de Chaumont, who included among others Claude Forbin, the abbot F.-T. de Choisy and the Jesuit G. Tachard, with secret instructions. For Thailand political system, please check politicsezine.com.

In fact, he managed to get a new Siamese embassy to go and ask for a French garrison for the fortress of Bangkok; Forbin, who had penetrated Faulcon’s game and disapproved of it, was left in Siam to command the army and build a Vauban-like fort. The garrison was enthusiastically agreed and on 1 March 1687 the expedition, commanded by S. de la Loubère embarked in Brest, transporting 1400 soldiers under the command of Desfarges with orders to occupy Bangkok and Mergui also by force. But the Siamese finally opened their eyes; the great ones and the mandarins, taking advantage of the old age and the king’s illness, rebelled, led by Phra Pejraja, and executed Faulcon (1688). Meanwhile, Phra Narai having died, the leader of the revolt married his daughter and ascended the throne. The French soldiers and Desfarges, besieged in Bangkok, had to surrender and were embarked for Pondichéry; Mergui also capitulated; a wave of xenophobia swept through the country, and only the Dutch were spared; indeed Phra Pejraja favored them excessively. His death in 1703 was a liberation for the people over whom he had reigned in terror. In 1764 a new period of wars began with Burma; in 1767 the Burmese, after a very long siege, take and destroy Ayudhya. The governor of Tak, a general of Chinese origin, then proclaimed himself king of Siam taking the name of Phra Chao Tak and after having expelled the Burmese from the country, he founded a new capital, Thonaburi, on the site of the fortress of Bangkok, on the right of the Menam. However, in 1782 the new king, who in the meantime had gone mad, was killed by General Phya Chakri, who was returning from a victorious expedition against Cambodia, which had reconstituted itself. Phya Chakri (Rama I, 1702-1809) proclaimed himself king and transported the capital to the left of the river, where it still stands now. Under his successor Rama II (1809-1824) there was a new partition of Cambodia between Annam and Siam. In 1844 the king of Siam, Phra Nang Klao (Rama III, 1824-1851), to affirm his preponderance, helped Prince Norodom to proclaim himself king of Cambodia, but in 1863 he accepted the French protectorate. Meanwhile, King Mongkut (1851-68) had ascended the throne, who in his youth, as a Buddhist monk, had studied a lot and had come in the conviction that the only way to save the country’s independence was to adopt Western civilization. The difficulties that had opposed relations with foreign countries were removed by him; in 1854 a treaty was negotiated by Sir J. Bowring with Great Britain, followed by others with other powers, and in 1868 also with Italy: all included the clause whereby foreigners would be judged by their respective consuls.

Siam (Thailand) History Part II