Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Anglo-Siamese War (1687)

Anglo-Siamese War (1687)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Siam (Thailand) and French
mercenaries vs. England

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Siamese coast (Gulf of Thailand)

DECLARATION: England declared war in 1687.

primarily the Dutch but also the growing English
influence in the region by currying favor with the
French; England found Siamese diplomacy a threat
to its economic interests and sought to punish the
Siamese for closing an English factory.

OUTCOME: Siam reversed its policy of open trade and
closed its ports for 150 years.

French East India Company, 600 mercenaries; British
sailors and Siamese troops, unknown



At the age of 12 Constantine Phaulkon (1647–88), an
adventurer destined to become one of the more audacious
figures in the history of Europe’s colonial relations with
Southeast Asia, signed on with an English merchant ship
docked in Greece soon to set sail for Siam (Thailand).
Once there, Phaulkon, a polyglot, quickly added Thai to
his growing repertoire of languages, eventually to include
Portuguese, Malay, French, and English, in addition to his
native Greek, all of which rendered him invaluable as an
interpreter to the English (not yet “British”) East India
Company, which hired him in that capacity in 1670. During
his eight years as a company factotum, Phaulkon met
and befriended Siam’s King Narai (1632–88), ultimately
offering his services to the Thai court. Rising quickly to
become acting minister of finance and foreign affairs, by
1684 he was virtually Siam’s prime minister, taking a leading
role in shaping Narai’s foreign policy.
In collaboration with French Roman Catholic missionaries,
principally the Jesuit Gui Tachard, the Greek
soldier of fortune schemed to establish the French in
Siam, persuading Narai that closer relations with Louis
XIV (1638–1704) would help to balance the strong economic
influence of the Dutch in the region. Siam and
France exchanged envoys, and in 1685 a treaty was
drafted granting Louis and the French East India Company
numerous trading rights and allowing French troops
to be stationed in the country. In the course of all the
Franco-Thai diplomacy, Siam forced the English East India
Company to close one of its factories. The English Crown
responded in 1686 with a royal proclamation that withdrew
the right of Englishmen to serve on foreign vessels
and, to implement the decree and press for payment of
damages for closing the factory, dispatched two English
ships to Siam. Meanwhile, France had been adding fuel to
the imperial fire Phaulkon and Tachard had lit under the
Siamese king: Louis XIV made several additional and
somewhat onerous demands of Narai and sent an armed
expedition to Siam in 1687 to ensure he met them. Narai
had, in fact, become suspicious of French designs, but
Phaulkon reassured him by engaging 600 French East
India Company garrison troops as mercenaries in the
Siamese army to help man coastal forts.
The English ships arrived shortly after the French
fleet, and the former sent the latter scurrying. Throughout
the night Siam and French mercenary forces onshore
shelled the English ships, sinking one, then killing a contingent
of sailors who broached the beach before forcing
the second ship to flee. Although the English soon afterward
declared war, they did not pursue it, but under the
threat of English attack, Narai had ratified the final treaty
with France, incorporating all of Louis’s demands.
In March 1688, King Narai fell seriously ill, and his
brother Phetracta (Bedjara) took advantage of Phaulkon’s
consequent isolation to lead a coup by the anti-French faction
at court. Phaulkon was executed and the French garrisons
expelled. The effect of the Phaulkon affair was to
reverse the policy of openness encouraged by former Thai
rulers; Siam closed its ports to all foreigners for 150 years.

Further reading: George A. Sioris, Phaulkon: The First
Greek Counsellor at the Court of Siam: An Appraisal
(Bangkok: Siam Society, 1998).

No comments:

Post a Comment