Monday, May 15, 2006

Was Thammaracha complicit in the Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya (c. 1568-69) ?

Baker, Chris (2003) "Ayutthaya Rising: From land or sea?," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 34(1), pp. 41-62, February.

One plausible reading of the conflicting historical sources for Ayutthaya's early history portrays Ayutthaya’s ruling elites as complicit in the Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya.

This is certainly a controversial version of events, not easily accepted, and there probably is a debate about this version of events that I am not aware of. This certainly the plot details in the Thai version of the epic reconstruction of Ayutthaya’s history, Suriyothai, much more interesting to untangle.

This version of events would, however, offer strong support for a thesis of local power, political fragmention at both the inter and intra-regional level, elite circulation, and shifting elite loyalties.

According to Baker's version of history, the northern provinces of Phitsanulok and Sukhothai were only weakly incorporated into the emerging polity of Ayutthaya and this political fragmentation and local autonomy played a role in the eventual Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya in 1568-69.

In 1548 the Sudachan/Coup, "justified the usurpation of the throne on grounds that 'the northern provinces are in turmoil and cannot be trusted in government matters.' After the seizure orders were sent to remove 'the governors of all seven northern provinces.'"

The Worawong/Sudachan coup provoked a counter-coup by Thammaracha, "a descendent of the Sukhothai family who was holding an official post in Ayutthaya. He was joined by other rulers and by the rulers of Phichai/Sawankhalok; Worawong and Sudachan were ambushed and killed. A royal brother who had fled a year earlier was brought out of the monastery and enthroned as Chakkraphat (r. 1548-1569)."

Thammaracha, the power behind the throne, was given Phitsanulok as an appanage and the daughter of Chakkraphat in marriage and, "the rulers of Phichai and Chaliang/Sawankhalok were promoted to Chao Phraya and presented with heaps of golden regalia" (Baker, 2003, 60). According to Baker:

"The fall of Ayutthaya in 1569 is traditionally portrayed as a conflict between 'Siam' and 'Burma,' but in Van Vliet's chronicle it was Thammaracha who engineered the Burmese involvement from 1563/4 onwards. He fled to Pegu after Chakkraphat tried to kill him and began to beseech the king of Pegu to war with Siam'. The king of Pegu was initially reluctant, but Thammaracha provoked him with the story of Chakkraphat’s seven white elephants."

"In Pegu's attack on Ayutthaya, Thammaracha served as 'field marshal', and Phitsanulok was used as the Pegu army’s base. In the (later) Thai chronicles, Thammaracha was aligned with Ayutthaya but mysteriously remained aloof from the conflict. Then in the 1568-9 attack, according to the Van Vliet version, Thammaracha again 'advised the Peguan king to resume the war', led part of the Peguan army, and used Phitsanulok as a base."

"In the Thai chronicles’ version, Thammaracha started out aligned with Ayutthaya but then defected to the Burmese side because of a desperately complex intrigue. Both accounts agree that Thammaracha secured Ayutthaya's fall by leveraging dissent among the nobility inside Ayutthaya using through his wife’s relatives, and winning over the support of some key nobles inside the city who opened the gates to the Burmese and Phitsanulok attackers…The northern nobles now finally took control. The Peguan king 'invited Prince Thammaracha to ascend the throne..." (60-61)."

The early history of the northern provinces of Ayutthaya between Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya (Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Sawakhalok, Phichai, etc) and their role in the Chiang Mai-Ayutthaya Wars of the mid-1400s is worth looking into. A comparison with the Mon-Burmese wars of Razadarit Ayeidawpon (c. 1385-1421) would also probably be worthwhile.

Pamaree Surakiat's new survey paper reveals the extensive background reading needed to start exploring this area.