The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH53

Chapter 29B
Betrayals and Trickery of Colonization

It was a colorful and joyful day at the palace when the Siamese envoy, Kosa Pan, the formal Phra Wisut Sunthorn, appeared before King Narai, the royal court, assembled officials and guests. There was an excitement in the Audience Hall that it hadn’t seen in many a day. But the excitement extended far beyond the Audience Hall. Happiness reigned everywhere. The whole kingdom was thrilled to hear that their hero, Kosa Pan, was back King Narai was most anxious to hear about Kosa Pan’s thoughts and learn his opinion of King Louis XIV and the French people. Kosa Pan expounded with a great flourish of waving arms and hand movements on how well he and his embassy had been treated so royally by King Louis and the French court. From the moment the mission landed at the French port of Brest and continued its journey to Versailles, crowds of curious onlookers constantly surrounded them. At both Versailles and Paris, they had endless receptions and state dinners in their honor, all of which caused a sensation in the courts and society of Europe. The envoy’s eastern dress of fine silk and their peculiar manners, together with special dragon carved chairs used to carry them around, caused much comment in French society. They were welcomed everywhere, and invited to plays and concerts, and the opera, and even parades were sponsored for their benefit.

“Tell me more about King Louis,” King Narai asked. “What kind of king is he?”

“He is more than a king to his people,” Kosa Pan answered. “He is, perhaps, more like a god, and about France, it is not a country but the world.” He told of the greatness and riches of the French, with its magnificent palaces and wide avenues. Kosa Pan became so exuberant with his descriptions of King Louis and France that tears came to his eyes when he spoke. He told of a humorous moment too, when they were invited to the opera but made a disturbance when they refused to be seated. They were offered seats below with an audience who sat in the balcony above their heads. There was another account that brought laugher to everyone in the court, as it did do at the court in France at the time. When asked by the French if he liked the way French women dressed, Kosa Pan said in all sincerity, “They are fine, with all their lovely garments, but they would be better still if they were dressed in the manner of the women of my country.” Asked what that was, he replied “In Siam they are half-naked.” There was applause from the ladies. It was obvious to King Narai, at which he did comment, that the ambassadors, particularly the principal envoy, had great success with the ladies.

The Siamese envoys had been assiduous in keeping records for their king, as he had requested, and went so far as to have their attendants count the number of trees in the parks of different palaces seen. The ambassadors themselves kept records. Each evening they compiled memoirs of what they had seen during the day, there was even an assistant who wrote up their travels in Siamese Verse. They did have trouble with the French language. The difficulty arose from the fact that in Ayutthaya, Portuguese was the lingua franca for communication with Europeans. Even Phaulkon used Portuguese in his dealings with the French and often refused to speak French although he was quite fluent in the language. Among the many accounts presented to the king there were page after page of architectural descriptions of buildings seen by the envoy.

With the official ceremonies over, Phaulkon knew his ultimate duty was to entertain the French Embassy and this he did lavishly. His home in Louvo became a banquet hall with Marie taking on the role as elegant hostess. And elegant she was, dressed in her fine Japanese silk robes, her obi sash of brilliant colors and her tiny feet in golden slippers. She moved with the grace of a geisha. Meals were prepared in the throne hall’s kitchens and brought to the house in golden chariots and served as if in honor of Dionysus. The menu of an average meal included remoulades of horseshoe crab and crayfish, followed by roasted veal served whole, not a few but dozens of steamed river trout caught that day, stuffed cuttlefish, red tuna belly and fresh-water prawns. The array of food, so very different from their cuisines at home, delighted the French immensely. Most of the dishes they had never seen the likes of before, even on the best tables in Paris. The wine, imported from France and Italy, of course, was decanted into amphora and specially sealed with Phaulkon’s own crest. To augment the feasts, after each meal dancers and musicians followed at which time Marie silently disappeared leaving the men to their own devices. Meals lasted late into the night and some ended with the first glow of dawn the next day. At a gala dinner, the night before the embassy had their audience with the king, Phaulkon presented the guests with extravagant presents and heaped them with high praise. As for the ill feelings that existed between the French embassy and the Siamese during the landing, Phaulkon saw to it that they were soon forgotten. The biggest and most obvious change was with Des Farges. He reveled in the praise and compliments and the gifts.

The French embassy’s audience with King Narai was a ceremony similar to that which was given to Ambassador Chaumont. King Narai received the royal letter from the King of France while Phaulkon served as the interpreter and publicly read the document. Also present, along with the French Embassy, were Bishop Laneau and Father Tachard. The highlight of the ceremony was when General Des Farges swore an oath of allegiance to King Narai. Phaulkon now felt assured he could depend on the general for the safety of Siam and the kingdom. He felt too that his own safety was assured.

Afterward, King Narai hosted a grand state banquet. He invited all the missionaries in the kingdom, from far and wide, and sent boats commanded by his nobles to bring them from scattered parts of the kingdom to Ayutthaya. It was a splendid show when all the boats arrived.

In meetings and conferences that followed, Phaulkon made it known that he would no longer participate in helping to convert King Narai; but he did point out that he was taking an active part in helping build more churches and missionary schools, and much of it with his own money.

The French envoys remained persistent about their claim on Bangkok but with Phaulkon’s wining and dining them, and with his giving them magnificent presents, their demands grew less each day. Des Farges was pleased and overwhelmed by the tributes and praises and valuable presents and he felt wholly indebted to Phaulkon. He and Phaulkon became good friends, calling each other by their first names. Gradually Des Farges put aside the issue of Bangkok.

The French envoys, La Loubere and de Boullay, however, were not blinded to Phaulkon’s buying favors and French troops’ loyalty and they decided to take action. They did not dwell on false hope. They were poised to insist that Phaulkon officially turn Bangkok and Mergui over to France, and that the conversion of the king commence at once or else, for they felt, if they didn’t act, they too might lose themselves in the gluttony that was possessing the others.

At the far off Tenasserim coast at the port of Mergui all was not going as well as it was in Ayutthaya. Against the orders of Phaulkon, Samuel White returned to the port but unwilling to surrender what he considered was his. He immediately began using the port as a base for privateering expeditions against the Kingdom of Golconda, which had friendly relations with the East India Company. When Abul Hasan Qutb Shah, the seventh ruler of the kingdom of Golconda was deposed, partly the fault of the marauding privateers, the East India Company demanded £65,000 compensation from King Narai and blockaded Mergui. King Narai immediately declared war on the East India Company and handed control of Mergui over to a French governor and the French garrison stationed there. Fearing the arrival of French war ships and the possibility of a trial on the charge of piracy, the renegade sea captains lavishly entertained the British subjects in Mergui aboard their ships in hope to muster up their support. Invited were some sixty British subjects, including Richard Burnaby who had left the East India Company to become an interloper. But the British underestimated the Siamese and their unyielding support of their king. The stealth of the foreigners with their boisterous entertainment aroused the suspicion of the Royal Siamese Navy and they took matters into their own hands. From shore batteries and from other royal Siamese ships in the harbor, they opened fire on the English ships and massacred all the Englishmen who were aboard, down to the last man. Burnaby was among them.

Both the king and Phaulkon marked a noticed change in the behavior in Kosa Pan towards the French several months after his return as ambassador to France. His grand and gracious opinion of the French was short lived. He discovered that he had been little more than a puppet in the eyes of the French court. The Siamese ambassadors were clearly meant to be dazzled by what they saw, and to be treated in such a generous manner that they would report to their end of the earth the greatness of the French monarch. Kosa Pan had gone to France as the Siamese chief envoy but the French had not consulted him before making decisions. They acted alone. He was aware when he left Ayutthaya that Siam had offered Singora to the French as a military post. That he knew. But he was not aware that the French had decided in the meantime to substitute Bangkok for Signora. He learned only upon his arrival back in Siam that the occupation of Bangkok had been planned months before in Paris, behind his back. He considered this an affront to his dignity both as ambassador and as an influential Siamese. As the brother of the late and most popular minister, the Barcalon, Kosa Pan had a change of heart towards the French.

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