Siam : The Land of the White Elephant as It Was and Is
Siam : The Land of the White Elephant as It Was and Is
Siam : The Land of the White Elephant as It Was and Is
EARLY INTERCOURSE WITH SIAM – RELATIONS WITH OTHER COUNTRIES
The acquaintance of the Christian world with the kingdom and people of Siam dates from the beginning of the sixteenth century, and is due to the adventurous and enterprising spirit of the Portuguese. It is difficult for us, in these days when Portugal occupies a position so inconsiderable, and plays a part so insignificant, among the peoples of the earth, to realize what great achievements were wrought in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by the peaceful victories of the early navigators and discoverers from that country, or by the military conquests which not seldom followed in the track of their explorations. It was while Alphonso d'Albuquerque was occupied with a military expedition in Malacca, that he seized the occasion to open diplomatic intercourse with Siam. A lieutenant under his command, who was fitted for the service by an experience of captivity during which he had acquired the Malay language, was selected for the mission. He was well received by the king, and came back to his general, bringing royal presents and proposals to assist in the siege of Malacca. So cordial a response to the overtures of the Portuguese led to the more formal establishment of diplomatic and commercial intercourse. And before the middle of the sixteenth century a considerable number of Portuguese had settled, some of them in the neighborhood of the capital (Ayuthia), and some of them in the provinces of the peninsula of Malacca, at that time belonging to the kingdom of Siam. One or two adventurers, such as De Seixas and De Mello, rose to positions of great power and dignity under the Siamese king. And for almost a century the Portuguese maintained, if not an exclusive, certainly a pre-eminent, right to the commercial and diplomatic intercourse which they had inaugurated.
As in other parts of the East Indies, however, the Dutch presently began to dispute the supremacy of their rivals, and, partly by the injudicious and presumptuous arrogance of the Portuguese themselves, succeeded in supplanting them. The cool and mercenary cunning of the greedy Hollanders was more than a match for the proud temper of the hot-blooded Dons. And as, in the case of Japan, the story of Simabara lives in history to witness what shameless and unscrupulous wickedness commercial rivalry could lead to; so in Siam there is for fifty years a story of intrigue and greed, over-reaching itself first on one side, and then on the other. First, the Portuguese were crowded out of their exclusive privileges. And then in turn the Dutch were obliged to surrender theirs. To-day there are still visible in the jungle, near the mouth of the Meinam River, the ruins of the Amsterdam which grew up between the years 1672 and 1725, under the enterprise of the Dutch East India Company, protected and fostered by the Siamese Government. And to-day, also, the descendants of the Portuguese, easy to be recognized, notwithstanding the mixture of blood for many generations, hold insignificant or menial offices about the capital and court.
As a result of Portuguese intercourse with Siam, there came the introduction of the Christian religion by Jesuit missionaries, who, as in China and Japan, were quick to follow in the steps of the first explorers. No hindrance was put in the way of the unmolested exercise of religious rites by the foreign settlers. Two churches were built; and the ecclesiastics in charge of the church at Ayuthia had begun to acquire some of that political influence which is so irresistible a temptation to the Roman Catholic missionary, and so dangerous a possession when he has once acquired it. It is probable enough (although the evidence does not distinctly appear) that this tendency of religious zeal toward political intrigue inflamed the animosity of the Dutch traders, and afforded them a convenient occasion for undermining the supremacy of their rivals. However this may be, the Christian religion did not make any great headway among the Siamese people. And while they conceded to the foreigners religious liberty, they showed no eagerness to receive from them the gift of a new religion.
In the year 1604 the Siamese king sent an ambassador to the Dutch colony at Bantam, in the island of Java. And in 1608 the same ambassador extended his journey to Holland, expressing "much surprise at finding that the Dutch actually possessed a country of their own, and were not a nation of pirates, as the Portuguese had always insinuated." The history of this period of the intercourse between Siam and the European nations, abundantly proves that shrewdness, enterprise, and diplomatic skill were not on one side only.
Between Siam and France there was no considerable intercourse until the reign of Louis XIV., when an embassy of a curiously characteristic sort was sent out by the French monarch. The embassy was ostentatiously splendid, and made great profession of a religious purpose no less important than the conversion of the Siamese king to Christianity. The origin of the mission was strangely interesting, and the record of it, even after the lapse of nearly two hundred years, is so lively and instructive that it deserves to be reproduced, in part, in another chapter of this volume. The enterprise was a failure. The king refused to be converted, and was able to give some dignified and substantial reasons for distrusting the religious interest which his "esteemed friend, the king of France," had taken "in an affair which seems to belong to God, and which the Divine Being appears to have left entirely to our discretion." Commercially and diplomatically, also, as well as religiously, the embassy was a failure. The Siamese prime minister (a Greek by birth, a Roman Catholic by religion), at whose instigation the French king had acted, soon after was deposed from his office, and came to his death by violence. The Jesuit priests were put under restraint and detained as hostages, and the military force which accompanied the mission met with an inglorious fate. A scheme which seemed at first to promise the establishment of a great dominion tributary to the throne of France, perished in its very conception.
The Government of Spain had early relations with Siam, through the Spanish colony in the Philippine Islands; and on one or more occasions there was an interchange of courtesies and good offices between Manilla and Ayuthia. But the Spanish never had a foothold in the kingdom, and the occasional and unimportant intercourse referred to ceased almost wholly until, during the last fifty years, and even the last twenty, a new era of commercial activity has brought the nations of Europe and America into close and familiar relations with the Land of the White Elephant.
The relations of the kingdom of Siam with its immediate neighbors have been full of the vicissitudes of peace and war. There still remains some trace of a remote period of partial vassalage to the Chinese Empire, in the custom of sending gifts – which were originally understood, by the recipients at least, if not by the givers, to be tribute to Peking. With Burmah and Pegu on the one side, and with Cambodia and Cochin China on the other, there has existed from time immemorial a state of jealous hostility. The boundaries of Siam, eastward and westward, have fluctuated with the successes or defeats of the Siamese arms. Southward the deep gulf shuts off the country from any neighbors, whether good or bad, and for more than three centuries this has been the highway of a commerce of unequal importance, sometimes very active and remunerative, but never wholly interrupted even in the period of the most complete reactionary seclusion of the kingdom.
The new era in Siam may be properly dated from the year 1854, when the existing treaties between Siam on the one part, and Great Britain and the United States on the other part, were successfully negotiated. But before this time, various influences had been quietly at work to produce a change of such singular interest and importance. The change is indeed a part of that great movement by which the whole Oriental world has been re-discovered in our day; by which China has been started on a new course of development and progress; by which Japan and Corea have been made to lay aside their policy of hostile seclusion. It is hard to fix the precise date of a movement which is the result of tendencies so various and so numerous, and which is evidently, as yet, only at the beginning of its history. But the treaty negotiated by Sir John Bowring, as the ambassador of Great Britain, and that negotiated by the Honorable Townsend Harris, as the ambassador of the United States, served to call public attention in those two countries to a land which was previously almost unheard of except by geographical students. There was no popular narrative of travel and exploration. Indeed, there had been no travel and exploration much beyond the walls of Bangkok or the ruins of Ayuthia. The German, Mandelslohe, is the earliest traveller who has left a record of what he saw and heard. His visit to Ayuthia, to which he gave the name which subsequent travellers have agreed in bestowing on Bangkok, the present capital – "The Venice of the East" – was made in 1537. The Portuguese, Mendez Pinto, whose visit was made in the course of the same century, has also left a record of his travels, which is evidently faithful and trustworthy. We have also the records of various embassies, and the narratives of missionaries (both the Roman Catholic and, during the present century, the American Protestant missionaries), who have found time, amid their arduous and discouraging labors, to furnish to the Christian world much valuable information concerning the people among whom they have chosen to dwell.
Of these missionary records, by far the most complete and the most valuable is the work of Bishop Pallegoix (published in French in the year 1854), entitled "Description du Royaume Thai ou Siam." The long residence of the excellent Bishop in the country of which he wrote, and in which, not many years afterward (in 1862) he died, sincerely lamented and honored, fitted him to speak with intelligent authority; and his book was of especial value at the time when it was published, because the Western Powers were engaged that very year in the successful attempt to renew and to enlarge their treaties with Siam. To Bishop Pallegoix the English envoy, Sir John Bowring, is largely indebted, as he does not fail to confess, for a knowledge of the history, manners, and customs of the realm, which helped to make the work of his embassy more easy, and also for much of the material which gives the work of Bowring himself ("The Kingdom and People of Siam," London, 1857) its value.
Since Sir John Bowring's time the interior of Siam has been largely explored, and especially by one adventurous traveller, Henry Mouhot, who lost his life in the jungles of Laos while engaged in his work of exploration. With him begins our real knowledge of the interior of Siam, and its partly dependent neighbors Laos and Cambodia. The scientific results of his travel are unfortunately not presented in such orderly completeness as would have been given to them had Mouhot lived to arrange and to supplement the details of his fragmentary and outlined journal. But notwithstanding these necessary defects, Mouhot's book deserves a high place, as giving the most adventurous exploration of a country which appears more interesting the more and better it is known. The great ruins of Angkor (or Angeor) Wat, for example, near the boundary which separates Siam from Cambodia, were by him for the first time examined, measured, and reported with some approach to scientific exactness.
Among more recent and easily accessible works on the country, from some of which we have borrowed, may be mentioned, F. Vincent's, "Land of the White Elephant," 1874, A. Gréhan's, "Royaume de Siam," fourth edition, Paris, 1878, "Siam and Laos, as seen by our American Missionaries," Philadelphia, 1884, Carl Bock's "Temples and Elephants," London, 1884, A. R. Colquhoun's, "Among the Shans," 1885, L. de Carné's, "Travels in Indo-China, etc.," 1872, Miss M. L. Cort's, "Siam, or the Heart of Farther India," 1886, and John Anderson's, "English Intercourse with Siam," 1890. The most authoritative map of Siam is that published in the "Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society," London, 1888, by Mr. J. McCarthy, Superintendent of Surveys in Siam.
GEOGRAPHY OF SIAM
The following description of the country is quoted with some emendations from Mr. Carl Bock's "Temples and Elephants."
The European name for this land has been derived from the Malay word Sayam (or sajam) meaning "brown," but this is a conjecture. The natives call themselves Thai, i. e., "free," and their country Muang Thai, "the kingdom of the free."
Including its dependencies, the Lao states in the north, and the Malay states in the south, Siam extends from latitude 20° 20' N. to exactly 4° S., while, with its Cambodian provinces, its extreme breadth is from longitude 97° E. to about 108° E. The northern frontier of the Lao dependencies has not been defined, but it may be said, roughly, to lie north of the twentieth parallel, beyond the great bend of the Mekong River, the high range to the east of which separates Siam from Annam. To the south lie Cambodia and the Gulf of Siam, stretching a long arm down into the Malay Peninsula. On the west it abuts on Upper and Lower Burma, both now British possessions.
Through Siam and Lao run two great mountain chains, both radiating from Yunnan through the Shan states. The eastern chain stretches in a S.S.E. direction from Kiang Tsen right down to Cambodia, while the western chain extends in a southerly direction through the Malay Peninsula. Their height rises sometimes to 9,000 feet, but it does not often seem to exceed 5,000; limestone, gneiss, and granite appear to form the main composition of the rocks.
Between these two mountain-chains, with their ramifications, lies the great alluvial plain of the Meinam, a magnificent river, of which the Portuguese poet Camoens sings (Lusiad X. cxxv.):
"The Menam now behold, whose waters take
Their sources in the great Chiamai lake,"
in which statement, however, the bard was misinformed, the source being a mountain stream on the border of the Shan states, but within Lao territory, and not, as is generally marked on charts, in Yunnan. Near Rahang the main stream is joined by the Mei Wang, flowing S.W. from Lakon, the larger river being called above this junction the Mei Ping. The other great tributary, the Pak-nam-po, also called the Meinam Yome, joins it in latitude 15° 45', after flowing also in a S.W. direction.
To the annual inundation of the Meinam and its tributaries the fertility of the soil is due. Even as far up as in the Lao states the water rises from eight to ten feet during the rainy season. A failure of these inundations would be fatal to the rice crop, so that Siam is almost as much as Egypt a single river valley, upon whose alluvial deposits the welfare of millions depends. In this broad valley are to be found the forty-one political divisions which make up Siam proper.
The second great river of importance is the Bang-Pa Kong, which has its source in a barrier range of irregular mountains, separating the elevated plateau of Korat from the alluvial plains extending to the head of the Gulf of Siam. The river meanders through the extensive paddy-lands and richly cultivated districts of the northeast provinces, and falls into the sea twenty miles east of the Meinam. Another considerable river is the Meklong, which falls into the sea about the same distance to the west of Bangkok; at its mouth is a large and thriving village of the same name. This is the great rice district, and from Meklong all up the river to Kanburi a large number of the population are Chinese. In this valley are salt-pits, on which the whole kingdom depends for its supply. The Meklong is connected with the Meinam by means of a canal, which affords a short cut to Bangkok, avoiding the sea passage.
A third river system, that of the Mekong, much the largest of all the rivers in Indo-China, drains the extreme north and east of Siam. This huge stream, which is also mentioned in Camoens' Lusiad, takes its rise near the sources of the Yangtse Kiang in Eastern Thibet, and belongs in nearly half its course to China. It was partly explored by M. Mouhot, and later (in 1868) by Lagrée's expedition, who found it, in spite of the great body of water, impracticable for navigation. M. de Carné, one of the exploration party, thus sums up the results of the search for a new trade route into Southern China: "The difficulties the river offers begin at first, starting from the Cambodian frontier, and they are very serious, if not insurmountable. If it were attempted to use steam on this part of the Mekong the return would be most dangerous. At Khong an absolutely impassable barrier, as things are, stands in the way. Between Khong and Bassac the waters are unbroken and deep, but the channel is again obstructed a short distance from the latter. From the mouth of the river Ubone the Mekong is nothing more than an impetuous torrent, whose waters rush along a channel more than a hundred yards deep by hardly sixty across. Steamers can never plough the Mekong as they do the Amazon or the Mississippi, and Saigon can never be united to the western provinces of China by this immense waterway, whose waters make it mighty indeed, but which seems after all to be a work unfinished."
Of the tributary states, the Laos, who occupy the Mekong valley and spread themselves among the wilds between Tongking, China, and Siam, are probably the least known. In physique and speech they are akin to the Siamese, and are regarded by some writers as being the primitive stock of that race. They have some claims as a people of historical importance, constituting an ancient and powerful kingdom whose capital Vein-shan, was destroyed by Siam in 1828. Since then they have remained subject to Siam, being governed partly by native hereditary princes, duly invested with gold dish, betel-box, spittoon, and teapot sent from Bangkok, and partly by officers appointed by the Siamese government. Their besetting sin is slave-hunting, which was until recently pursued with the acquiescence of the Siam authorities, to the terror of the hill-tribes within their reach and to their own demoralization. Apart from the passions associated with this infamous trade the Laos are for the most part an inoffensive, unwarlike race, fond of music, and living chiefly on a diet of rice, vegetables, fruits, fish, and poultry. Pure and mixed, they number altogether perhaps some one million five hundred thousand.
The most important of the Malay states is Quedha, in Siamese Muang Sai. Its population of half a million Malays is increased by some twenty thousand Chinese and perhaps five thousand of other races. The country is level land covered with fine forests, where elephants, tigers, and rhinoceroses abound. A high range of mountains separates Quedha from the provinces of Patani (noted for its production of rice and tin) and Songkhla. These again are divided from the province of Kalantan by the Banara River, and from Tringann by the Batut River. In Ligor province, called in Siamese Lakhon, three-fourths of the population are Siamese. The gold and silver-smiths of Ligor have a considerable reputation for their vessels of the precious metals inlaid with a black enamel.
As to the Cambodian provinces under Siamese rule the following particulars are extracted from a paper by M. Victor Berthier:
The most important provinces are those lying to the west, Battambang and Korat. The former of these is situated on the west of the Grand Lake (Tonle Sap), and supports a population of about seventy thousand, producing salt, fish, rice, wax, and cardamoms, besides animals found in the forests. Two days' march from Battambang is the village of Angkor Borey (the royal town), the great centre of the beeswax industry, of which 24,000 pounds are sent yearly to Siam. Thirty miles from this place is situated the auriferous country of Tu'k Cho, where two Chinese companies have bought the monopoly of the mines. The metal is obtained by washing the sand extracted from wells about twenty feet deep, at which depth auriferous quartz is usually met, but working as they do the miners have no means of getting ore from the hard stone.
Korat is the largest province and is peopled almost entirely by Cambodians. Besides its chief town of the same name it contains a great number of villages with more than eleven district centres, and contains a population estimated at fifty thousand or sixty thousand. Angkor, the most noted of the Cambodian provinces, is now of little importance, being thinly populated and chiefly renowned for the splendor of its ancient capital, whose remarkable ruins are the silent witnesses of a glorious past. The present capital is Siem Rap, a few miles south of which is the hill called Phnom Krom (Inferior Mount), which becomes an island during the annual inundation. The other Cambodian provinces now ruled by Siam are almost totally unknown by Europeans.
The population of Siam has never been officially counted, but is approximately estimated by Europeans at from six to twelve millions. According to Mr. Archibald Colquhoun, however, this is based upon an entirely erroneous calculation. "Prince Prisdang assured me," he says,[1 - Amongst the Shans. London, 1885.] "that Sir John Bowring had made a great mistake in taking the list of those who were liable to be called out for military service as the gross population of the kingdom; and that if that list were multiplied by five, it would give a nearer approximation to the population. M. Mouhot says that a few years before 1862 the native registers showed for the male sex (those who were inscribed), 2,000,000 Siamese, 1,000,000 Laotians (or Shans), 1,000,000 Malays, 1,500,00 °Chinese, 350,00 °Cambodians, 50,000 Peguans, and a like number composed of various tribes inhabiting the mountain-ranges. Taking these statistics and multiplying them by five, which Bishop Pallegoix allows is a fair way of computing from them, we should have a population of 29,950,000. To this would have to be added the Chinese and Peguans who had not been born in the country, and were therefore not among the inscribed; also the hill tribes that were merely tributary and therefore merely paid by the village, as well as about one-seventh of the above total for the ruling classes, their families and slaves. This total would give at least 35,000,000 inhabitants for Siam Proper, to which would have to be added about 3,000,000 for its dependencies, Zimmé (Cheung Mai), Luang Prabang, and Kiang Tsen, – a gross population, therefore, of about 38,000,000 for the year 1860." On the other hand, Mr. McCarthy, a competent judge, considers the government estimate of ten million too high.
OLD SIAM – ITS HISTORY
The date at which any coherent and trustworthy history of Siam must commence is the founding of the sacred city of Ayuthia (the former capital of the kingdom), in the year 1350 of the Christian era. Tradition, more or less obscure and fabulous, does indeed reach back into the remote past so far as the fifth century, B.C. According to the carefully arranged chronology of Bishop Pallegoix, gathered from the Siamese annals, which annals, however, are declared by His Majesty the late King to be "all full of fable, and are not in satisfaction for believe," the origin of the nation can be traced back, if not into indefinite space of time, at least into the vague and uncertain "woods," and ran on this wise:
"There were two Brahminical recluses dwelling in the woods, named Sătxănalăi and Sîtthĭongkŏn, coeval with Plua Khôdŏm (the Buddha), and one hundred and fifty years of age, who having called their numerous posterity together, counselled them to build a city having seven walls, and then departed to the woods to pass their lives as hermits.
"But their posterity, under the leadership of Bathămăràt, erected the city Săvănthe vălôk, or Sangkhălôk, about the year 300 of the era of Phra Khôdŏm (B.C. about 243).
"Bathămăràt founded three other cities, over which he placed his three sons. The first he appointed ruler in the city of Hărĭpunxăi, the second in Kamphôxă năkhon, the third in Phětxăbun. These four sovereignties enjoyed, for five hundred years or more, the uttermost peace and harmony under the rule of the monarchs of this dynasty."
The places named in this chronicle are all in the valley of the upper Meinam, in the "north country," and the fact of most historical value which the chronicle indicates is that the Siamese came from the north and from the west, bringing with them the government and the religion which they still possess. The most conspicuous personage in these ancient annals is one Phra Ruàng, "whose advent and glorious reign had been announced by a communication from Gaudama himself, and who possessed, in consequence of his merits, a white elephant with black tusks;" he introduced the Thai alphabet, ordained a new era which is still in vogue, married the daughter of the emperor of China, and consolidated the petty princedoms of the north country into one sovereignty. His birth was fabulous and his departure from the world mysterious. He is the mythic author of the Siamese History. Born of a queen of the Nakhae (a fabulous race dwelling under the earth), who came in the way of his father, the King of Hărĭpunxăi, one day when the king had "retired to a mountain for the purpose of meditation, he was discovered accidentally by a huntsman, and was recognized by the royal ring which his father had given to the lady from the underworld. When he had grown up he entered the court of his father, and the palace trembled. He was acknowledged as the heir, and his great career proceeded with uninterrupted glory. At last he went one day to the river and disappeared." It was thought he had rejoined his mother, the Queen of the Nakhae, and would pass the remainder of his life in the realms beneath. The date of Phra Ruàng's reign is given as the middle of the fifth century of the Christian era.
After him there came successive dynasties of kings, ending with Phăja Uthong, who reigned seven years in Northern Cambodia, but being driven from his kingdom by a severe pestilence, or having voluntarily abandoned it (as another account asserts), in consequence of explorations which had discovered "the southern country," and found it extremely fertile and abundant in fish, he emigrated with his people and arrived at a certain island in the Meinam, where he "founded a new city, Krŭng thèph măhá năkhon Síajŭthăja – a great town impregnable against angels: Siamese era 711, A.D. 1349."
Here, at last, we touch firm historic ground, although there is still in the annals a sufficient admixture of what the late king happily designates as "fable." The foundations of Ayuthia, the new city, were laid with extraordinary care. The soothsayers were consulted, and decided that "in the 712th year of the Siamese era, on the sixth day of the waning moon, the fifth month, at ten minutes before four o'clock, the foundation should be laid. Three palaces were erected in honor of the king; and vast countries, among which were Malacca, Tennasserim, Java, and many others whose position cannot now be defined, were claimed as tributary states." King Uthong assumed the title Phra-Rama-thi-bodi, and after a reign of about twenty years in his new capital handed down to his son and to a long line of successors, a large, opulent, and consolidated realm. The word Phra, which appears in his title and in that of almost all his successors to the present day, is said by Sir John Bowring to be "probably either derived from or of common origin with the Pharaoh of antiquity." But the resemblance between the words is simply accidental, and the connection which he seeks to establish is not for a moment to be admitted.
His Majesty the late King of Siam, a man of remarkable character and history, was probably, while he lived, the best-informed authority on all matters relating to the history of his kingdom. Fortunately, being a man of scholarly habits and literary tastes, he has left on record a concise and readable historical sketch, from which we cannot do better than to make large quotations, supplementing it when necessary with details gathered from other sources. The narrative begins with the foundation of the royal city, Ayuthia, of which an account has already been given on a previous page. The method of writing the proper names is that adopted by the king himself, who was exact, even to a pedantic extent, in regard to such matters. The king's English, however, which was often droll and sometimes unintelligible, has in this instance been corrected by the missionary under whose auspices the sketch was first published.[2 - No attempt at uniformity in this respect has been made by the editor of this volume; but, in passages quoted from different authors, the proper names are written and accented according to the various methods of those authors.]
"Ayuthia when founded was gradually improved and became more and more populous by natural increase, and the settlement there of families of Laos, Kambujans, Peguans, people from Yunnán in China, who had been brought there as captives, and by Chinese and Mussulmans from India, who came for the purposes of trade. Here reigned fifteen kings of one dynasty, successors of and belonging to the family of U-T'ong Rámá-thi-bodi, who, after his death, was honorably designated as Phra Chetha Bida – i.e., 'Royal Elder Brother Father.' This line was interrupted by one interloping usurper between the thirteenth and fourteenth. The last king was Mahíntrá-thi-ràt. During his reign the renowned king of Pegu, named Chamna-dischop, gathered an immense army, consisting of Peguans, Birmese, and inhabitants of northern Siam, and made an attack upon Ayuthia. The ruler of northern Siam was Mahá-thamma rájá related to the fourteenth king as son-in-law, and to the last as brother-in-law.
"After a siege of three months the Peguans took Ayuthia, but did not destroy it or its inhabitants, the Peguan monarch contenting himself with capturing the king and royal family, to take with him as trophies to Pegu, and delivered the country over to be governed by Mahá-thamma rájá, as a dependency. The king of Pegu also took back with him the oldest son of Mahá-thamma rájá as a hostage; his name was Phra Náret. This conquest of Ayuthia by the king of Pegu took place A. D. 1556.
"This state of dependence and tribute continued but a few years. The king of Pegu died, and in the confusion incident to the elevation of his son as successor Prince Náret escaped with his family, and, attended by many Peguans of influence, commenced his return to his native land. The new king on hearing of his escape despatched an army to seize and bring him back. They followed him till he had crossed the Si-thong (Birman Sit-thaung) River, where he turned against the Peguan army, shot the commander, who fell from his elephant dead, and then proceeded in safety to Ayuthia.
"War with Pegu followed, and Siam again became independent. On the demise of Mahá-thamma rájá, Prince Náret succeeded to the throne, and became one of the mightiest and most renowned rulers Siam ever had. In his wars with Pegu, he was accompanied by his younger brother, Eká-tassa-rot, who succeeded Náret on the throne, but on account of mental derangement was soon removed, and Phra-Siri Sin Ni-montham was called by the nobles from the priesthood to the throne."
With the accession of this last-mentioned sovereign begins a new dynasty. But before reproducing the chronicles of it we may add a few words concerning that which preceded.
This dynasty had lasted from the founding of Ayuthia, A.D. 1350, until A.D. 1602, a period of two hundred years. Its record shows, on the whole, a remarkable regularity of succession, with perhaps no more intrigues, illegitimacies, murders, and assassinations than are to be found in the records of Christian dynasties. Temples and palaces were built, and among other works a gold image of Buddha is said to have been cast (in the city of Pichai, in the year A.D. 1380), "which weighed fifty-three thousand catties, or one hundred and forty-one thousand pounds, which would represent the almost incredible value (at seventy shillings per ounce) of nearly six millions sterling. The gold for the garments weighed two hundred and eighty-six catties." Another great image of Buddha, in a sitting posture, was cast from gold, silver, and copper, the height of which was fifty cubits.