A ROYAL LETTER FROM FRANCE
Phaulkon and the Barcalon together entered the king’s chambers and happily announced to the king that the Envoy to France was being made ready to board an English merchant ship at anchor. They confirmed with His Majesty that two Siamese nobles, Pichai Vatee and Pichai Taramaitri and two French missionaries, Vachet and Pascott, were prepared to depart. The missionaries were traveling with the Envoy to serve as interpreters. The king expressed joy over their good works and said he was pleased. He thanked them profusely and then announced that he had thought long and hard about the mission and co show his gratitude and his pending friendship with King Louis IV of France he wanted to send a few special gifts to His Majesty. He enumerated them: two baby elephants, two young rhinoceroses, two musk deer, seven crates of sandalwood and other things like ostrich feathers that were unknown in France. The king also wanted to send six Siamese students to learn the ways and culture of the west. Pichai Vatee and Pichai Taramaitri would carry with them a letter from the Barcalon to the French Minister of Trade. The king was concerned that there might not be sufficient space for the animals. Phaulkon went to the ship to check the holds and then assured the king there was space
Phaulkon also advised the king that His Majesty needed to write to the French king personally, to establish not just trade relations but a royal relationship as well. He explained the importance of such a friendship. He pointed out to the king that England’s only interest in Siam was business. France’s relationship with Siam was business, certainly, but it was also something more. It was prestige for France, to have a strong ally in the East like Siam, and for Siam it was security. France was the only nation in the West willing to provide Siam with military armament. By Siam showing it had strong ties with France, the English and the Dutch would have second thoughts about attempting to extend their control over Siam. Phaulkon explained that Siam could very well serve as a buffer state among the warring nations of Europe. “Promise them everything,” he said, “and give them nothing. After all, that is the general practice of politics in Europe.”
”And what makes you think that Asia is any different,” King Narai said with a smile.
Before the ship sailed, the missionary brothers in Ayutthaya coached Vachet and Pascott and instructed them to inform both the King of France and the Pope about King Narai’s kindness and generosity to all the French missionaries in Siam, and, unbeknown to Phaulkon, they were to tell the French king and the Pope that there was strong evidence that King Narai seemed to be inclined towards the Christian faith. Furthermore, King Louis and the Pope should continue their support if they so desired to declare the Kingdom of Siam as the centre of Eastern Christianity.
Members from the Siamese royal family, officials from the court, almost everyone from the foreign community, Phaulkon and the Barcalon and throngs of curious bystanders were at the riverside docks to see the vessel, carrying the Mission of the Second Envoy and the king’s assortment of animals and gifts, cast off its mooring lines and set sail down the River Menam on the first leg of its long and perilous journey to Europe. It was, in spite of the apprehension after the tragic failure of the first envoy, a joyous farewell with the banks of the river lined with cheering and waving Siamese and with fireworks streaking across the sky overhead.
Phaulkon and Marie were enjoying an evening in their new home in Louvo, after the hectic day at the docks in Ayutthaya, when Fanique arrived in a huff from Ayutthaya. No sooner had he entered the house than he began complaining bitterly that he did not see Phaulkon at church any more. Phaulkon was quick to defend himself, saying he was pressed with very important matters of the state. Fanique argued that nothing could be more important than God. Marie attempted to pacify her father saying her husband was under great stress with the French and the Muslims pounding at their doorstep. Marie promised her father that he would see them both at church in Ayutthaya the coming Sunday.
But Fanique was not pacified. He persisted in the fatuous belief that a little lecturing in this case was necessary. He began to criticize Marie for her love of money more than her love for God. “I didn’t bring you up to show off with your grand fancy house and your servants and your guards,” he scolded.
“My dear Father,” Marie said with all calmness, “the house comes with my husband’s position, that he is the King’s Favorite, and his position requires a certain lifestyle. Besides, Father, my husband works hard for what we have. I barely see him. He is forever attending to the king and to his duties as the Minister of Trade for Siam. We need servants not for me but for entertaining guests that my husband’s position demands. And since my husband is barely home, the guards are for my protection.” She was very forceful and convincing in her speech, and her father listened with great care.
But he was still concerned.
“You even speak like your husband now,” he said in response, “and before you know it, you will turn against the Church.”
Phaulkon spoke up as Fanique was leaving. “I may be against some of the principles taught by the Church but I am not against God.”
“They are both the same, are they not?” Fanique said and left before Phaulkon could say more.
As he drove away in his carriage to the boat landing to board the ferry that would take him back to Ayutthaya, Fanique looked back at the house, and he may have been angered but he was proud too. Maybe he was too stern with his daughter and her husband. The results of their success were obvious, he reasoned.
After his father-in-law had left, Phaulkon sat staring into space for the longest time. Marie took him in her arms and comforted him with kind words, and they poured out their hearts to one another. “Constantine, you must be patient with my father,” she began and told him how her father had always wanted the best for her.
Phaulkon then aired his own thoughts. He came to the eternal problem that was really bothering him, and one for which he had no answer. He asked Marie how important was the Catholic faith to her. He asked if she would still love him if he weren’t Catholic. Did it honestly make her happy for them to appear in church even though she was aware that he was not happy making a show to please others.
“Am I happy to be in church with you? The answer is yes,” she said. “As for making a show for others, only time will tell.”
“But time is also now,” he persisted. “Time is right now. I need to know the truth. I am confused, Marie, I am confused. I believe in God, yes a Christian God, but not in the doctrine the Catholics teach. Why do I feel this way? Do I feel guilty? Yes, I am guilty for being hypocritical when it comes to advising the king, that I believe one thing and say something else.”
“Tell me then,” she asked, “what is the difference between believing in God and believing in the Catholic doctrine? Are they not one and the same?”
“How can it be when the Vatican sanctions the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition and now the persecution of the Protestants in France, all in the name of a Christian god. They all have the same God, but why do they fight about their beliefs? My heart tells me something is wrong, that I am not being honest.” He thought for a moment. “My heart has never been wrong. My heart guided me to this land that I love and to the woman I love. Surely my heart should not be wrong in matters of God. I must trust my heart.”
“Trust in your heart,” Marie said and curled up in his arms.
Phaulkon was at a loss for words. “Yes,” he said softly, “I will trust my heart.”
Phaulkon sincerely hoped that he would find a copy of the Bible and then he could better explain things to Marie. He needed that book. He was, nevertheless, thankful that Marie was understanding.
“When you find the answers I will listen,” Marie said. Again she reminded him that she had loved him long before he became a Catholic. Before she became his wife, she was, by Japanese tradition, her father’s property. “It was my father’s demand that unless you converted to Catholicism, I could not marry you,” she said. “But now I am your wife and your property.”
Phaulkon took Marie by the shoulders and shook her, not violently but softly. “You are neither my property nor anyone else’s,” he said. “I did not become your husband to own you nor to dictate to you.” He explained he loved her for who she was and it was his heart, not religion, that dictated to him his love for her. “Is this too much to expect from you?” he asked.
“Please do not forget,” she said. “I am Asian and it is not easy to change what has been instilled in me since birth.”
Phaulkon laughed. “I wonder what the Bible will have to say about that?” he said.
“You must remember, my loving husband, I also want to know the truth. And I must admit that you have put some doubts in my mind too. But isn’t God supposed to unite people in love? At least that’s what the priests say.” She hugged him dearly. “I will always love you, and nothing can take us apart. Remember? Not kings, not even God. Remember.”
The baby began crying in his crib. Marie picked him up and gently handed him to his father.
Phaulkon waited desperately for a packet ship to bring news about the Envoy’s safe arrival in France. Along with King Narai’s letter to King Louis, he had sent by Pichai Vatee’s hand the letter from the Barcalon to the French Minister of Trade asking for the procedure for preparing a trade alliance between the two countries. He wondered if there would there be a need for additional preparations for a royal audience, and this worried him. Was he stepping over the line? Everything would depend upon the adeptness of the two Siamese nobles, Pichai Vatee and Pichai Taramaitri.
At last a ship arrived in Ayutthaya bearing news from France, and it was all good. Monsieur Colbert, the French Minister, did arrange for the Siamese envoy to discuss with King Louis the matter of their mission. The meeting took place at Versailles Palace. Phaulkon hurriedly reported to King Narai the content of the message. He read with pleasure that during dinner the Siamese envoy informed King Louis of the earnest desire of their master, the King of Siam, for friendship between the two countries. They reminded King Louis that Siam had already sent one envoy but it had been shipwrecked. The nobles also informed the King of France that if he desired to send an envoy to Ayutthaya, the King of Siam would be deeply gratified and would welcome it with honor. The very mention of this excited King Narai. He was overwhelmed a few weeks later when another dispatch arrived stating that King Louis agreed to send an envoy with help and support for the Kingdom of Siam. Vachet and Pascott stated that the French mission would be much more than an Envoy; King Louis of France would send an ambassador and an embassy staff and establish diplomatic relations with Siam. It further stated that the French ambassador and the embassy staff would accompany the Siamese Envoy on their return to Siam. King Narai was overwhelmed how rapidly a diplomatic exchange was taking place. . .
In still another dispatch, Vachet and Pascott informed King Narai that they had confided with King Louis that his help and support for Siam was not in vain. They told King Louis that King Narai was very kind and generous to the French missionaries and the Jesuits, and he seemed inclined to embrace the Catholic faith. This last dispatch annoyed Phaulkon greatly. It was an assumption they had made without a foundation. They had informed King Louis that Constantine Phaulkon, the Greek Favorite of King Narai, was a powerful man in the kingdom and a convert to Catholicism and that he was in full support of the French alliances. King Louis, of course, already knew this about Phaulkon but still he was very impressed with what the missionaries had to report. The Pope would be pleased to hear it too, King Louis reiterated. Phaulkon was somewhat disappointed that there was no mention in the letter about any of the missionaries from Siam having private discussions with the King of France.
Vachet and Pascott were informed that King Louis had chosen an ambassador and an assistant to Siam, and they were called to present themselves to Vachet and Pascott. They entered the reception room, the Chevalier de Chaumont, the first ambassador to Siam, and the Abbe de Choisy, his assistant. What the letters didn’t say was that Chaumont was terribly aloof and haughty. But, as King Louis made note, he was the scion of one of the most ancient families of France and a recent convert himself to Catholicism. One might say he was the worst type of convert; he became a religious fanatic.
The Chevalier de Chaumont and Abbe de Choisy were a strange combination. Abbe de Choisy too was a convert, but there their similarities stopped. Abbe de Choisy was a reformed transvestite, which was instantly obvious by his effeminate manner. He once went under the guise of the Countess des Barres, the widow of a deceased earl. After a severe illness he retired to the seminary of the Societe des Missions Etrangeres and entered the Catholic order. His appointed task upon arrival in Siam was to give King Narai religious instruction.
King Louis was sending not only an ambassador and embassy staff but also skilled missionaries as well to help build-in King Louis’ own words-a strong Siam. Among them, having learned of King Narai’s keen interests in astronomy, were six Jesuit astronomers, one of who was Father Guy Tachard, and with them the latest scientific equipment. But all this did not come without conditions and a price. King Louis warned that Siam must listen to the Jesuits and accept their doctrine. If Siam wanted to be a friend of France, they had to learn and accept French ways. Their priority was to convert King Narai to Catholicism and Chaumont and Choisy were to remain in Siam as long as it took to baptize King Narai. Their mission, unbeknownst to the Siamese, nor to Phaulkon, was religion and not trade. The ambassador had been well versed on his duties. Failure would mean his disgrace and he was determined not to let this happen.
The French Embassy and the Siamese Envoy, with the Embassy’s secret documents to King Narai, sailed for Siam aboard two French men-of-wars under the command of Lieutenant de Forbin. En route they made a stop at the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope. Father Guy Tachard went ashore and in the short time that they were there he was able to establish an observatory near the VOC Gardens. He attempted to establish the longitude, but was unable to derive a useful co-ordinate due to bad weather and the lack of time. The mission had to be on its way.
The French expedition arrived with great fanfare at the mouth of the River Menam. King Narai, of course, was pleased that the King of France had responded to his request for better relations between the two countries, and Phaulkon, his Minister of Trade, was pleased that things were turning out the way they were. But unfortunately those joyous feelings would not be long lasting. Once Phaulkon read the secret letter, he had a decision to make. How would he explain the French demands to King Narai?