Last Words with King Narai
The king, although finding it difficult to speak, expressed his most sincere and noble feelings through Laneau to the ambassador. “I suffer from this malady that no medicine can seem to cure, but I shall do my best to recover. I always do,” he said. “Let me tell you, I may appear to many as a man of intellect when faced with deep issues, like religion, but I admit I have a lot to learn. Life is all learning. I am most honored that my good friend the King of France and you, my friends, have traveled this far and very kindly and enduringly have given your time to teach me your faith which you believe to be so true. But whether or not it be the true religion, I must continue to search for the truth. That I can promise you. When I find out what is the truth, I will accept it. But you must understand, that I may not soon arrive at any conclusion. Walls have many eyes and ears. Just by investigating the truth alone, without even reaching a conclusion, can end my life and the lives of my loved ones.”
Chaumont spoke up: “Fear not, Your Highness, my Master King Louis will see to it that your investigation of the truth will only bring you and your kingdom total security and lasting prosperity. I will see to it. You have my word on it.”
The king thanked him gracefully and then made a startling request. He asked Chaumont to recommend Phaulkon to the King of France. He carefully explained that Phaulkon, a most faithful servant but, being Greek and always a foreigner in the eyes of the Siamese, had incurred the envy and hatred of many people in Siam. Therefore, in the event of his death, the King of Siam, he requested that Phaulkon, who might need to leave the country, be allowed to retire in France.
Chaumont assured him that the King of France would hear of Phaulkon’s faithful service and abilities and would certainly take him into his own service. He further assured King Narai that Phaulkon would be treated in the same manner that His Highness had treated him.
The king then proudly announced that along with Ambassador Chaumont he was sending his third envoy to France. The French ambassador was both startled and pleased. Startled that he had not been informed, and pleased that a Siamese embassy might ease some of the problems he would face upon his return to France, foremost his failure to convert the Siamese king to the Christian faith.
King Narai and Phaulkon had long planned in advance for a third Siamese embassy to France. They had planned in secret and left out no details. They chose not one but three ambassadors in the event that any one of three failed in their mission. The first in rank of three was Phra Wisut Sunthon, better known Kosa Pan, a Siamese gentleman accepted for his charm and intelligence. He was a younger brother of the deceased Barcalon. The second ambassador was the elderly Luang Kalayan Rachai Maitri who had formerly been on a mission to China. The third, a young man named Si Wisan Wacha, had served on an ambassadorial mission to Portugal. All three were experienced and accomplished diplomats.
The ambassadors were accompanied by eight Siamese nobles (consistently referred to as “mandarins” by the French) and twenty of their own servants. In addition there were twelve Siamese students. Also traveling with the envoy was Father Tachard as the special, but unofficial, representative of Phaulkon.
King Narai and Phaulkon were aware that the real purpose of the mission was the return of Ambassador Chaumont and Abbe de Choisy to France. It was an opportunity King Narai couldn’t turn down to send Siamese ambassadors to France aboard the same ships. The king, everyone knew, was seeking a political alliance with the French to act as a counter balance to the growing commercial and political power of the Dutch, already well entrenched in Malacca, Java and the Moluccas. Kosa Pan would carry a royal letter to Louis XIV, to return the French king’s friendship.
Now satisfied, King Narai rang a bell and an entourage of young attendants entered the king’s chamber bearing gifts. King Narai presented Ambassador Chaumont, with the highest of honors, a beautifully carved vessel of solid gold, its base set in fine rubies and emeralds, the highest distinction the King of Siam bestows on the most deserving visitors to his realm. To Abbe de Choisy and Bishop Laneau he presented crucifixes, also of pure gold.
By now the king was weary and he began dozing off before he could wish them well. The assembly quietly left the room, all pleased and content, bearing their costly gifts.
Phaulkon was troubled that the French, having failed in their mission, might revoke their support for Siam. The kingdom would then be sure prey for the Dutch who now had most of the East Indies under their control. Phaulkon decided he must take drastic measures and called for Father Thomas as his confidant. He explained to Father Thomas, whom he knew to be faithful to Siam and the king, that he must solicit support from the envoy returning to France. He must use every trick and duplicity of which he could think. He told Father Thomas he had called Father Tachard, his only hope, and perhaps even the hope of Siam.
When Father Tachard arrived, Phaulkon explained that he had called him because he wanted to entrust him with an important mission. He said that he had thought long and hard about what had gone wrong and he had come to a conclusion. Father Thomas was his witness.
Phaulkon slowly divulged his plans, point by point. But first, he assured Father Tachard that his plans were based upon the good of both France and Siam. Moreover, Jesuits and French missionaries would benefit from his plan as well. He told Father Tachard that he was putting all his hopes in him and that he must do all he could to present his point to the proper authorities in France. Father Tachard must explain to the Jesuits in Paris that everyone was aware that Chaumont was not successful in converting King Narai due to political reasons, that the King was surrounded by military advisors and his own ministers who were all loyal to the Buddhist faith, and that they prevented the king from even showing the slightest interest in another faith.
If Siam was to be converted to the Catholic faith, it could only be done gradually through the people. To do this, France must send qualified people, navigation experts, construction engineers, teachers and medical practitioners, men trained in military science, and that these people must be scattered in posts around the country. They were the ones to show by example to influence the Siamese. This was an indirect form of evangelizing. It would be slow but certain. Convince the people and the rulers will follow. When these posts are established, together with the French military troops, missionaries and Jesuits would be able to preach and spread their religion without interference or fear for their safety. It was important that they back off from demands from the king.
To Father Tachard this sounded reasonable. He was now convinced that although Phaulkon did not see eye to eye with Chaumont, he was nevertheless desirous to help spread the Catholic faith. This is exactly what Phaulkon wanted him to believe. Phaulkon had to gain French confidence in any way he could. He wanted to get trained men and even soldiers as a force to back Siam against the Dutch, or the even the English if they decided to come back. Furthermore, the king could use this military force as he saw fit, against any adversary. He was thinking of uprisings against the king.
Phaulkon went down river to Pak Nam to wish bon voyage to the French Envoy and the Third Siamese Embassy to France. He was loaded with a great number of presents, including two silver banded cannons. As a parting gift, Phaulkon offered the French the fortified post in Signora. The offer was received with enthusiasm, except for Chaumont. He refused, saying he must confer with Paris first. L’Oiseau and La Maligne crossed the bar at the mouth of River Menam and set sail for France. The sea voyage lasted six months from Siam to Brest. They had left Ayutthaya the 22nd of December 1685 and did not reach Brest until the 18th of June 1686. The good news of their arrival came with great rejoicing in Siam.
Digging Deeper on the Bible
At home in Louvo, Marie was glad and relieved that the pressure from the French Envoy was over. She told Phaulkon how much she and his son missed him. Phaulkon admitted he too was tired of parties and dinners. Marie told her husband that she had many plans for the family.
Phaulkon asked her to slow down; the battle had yet to be won. There were many issues he needed to put to rest. Foremost was the Makassar crisis. He was aware that Muslim rebels could strike at any time. The most distasteful thing that he had to do was issue orders to recall Samuel White from Mergui. He had been informed of Samuel’s misdoings and this included, among a long list, elicit trading. Phaulkon dreaded the thought even more after having learned that Samuel’s wife had died of fever and he was left to raise their two young daughters. But Phaulkon knew he had no other choice.
That night Phaulkon was reading the Bible and fell asleep on the divan. Marie came, looked at him with compassion and as she began to wipe his brow with a soft towel, he reached up and grabbed her hand and held it. “I have waited all this time and you have never asked me to show you the scripture we talked about.”
“You were hardly ever home,” she answered.
“I am home now, my dear; you can ask me,” he said with gentle kindness.
“Why is it so important to you?” asked Marie.
“When you read it, you will know,” he said and bid her sit beside him on the divan. She sat down and he opened the Bible and pointed to a scripture he had marked. “Psalms 37:29, and it says the righteous will possess the earth and reside forever upon it.”
“You mean not in heaven?” Marie asked.
“Not according to the Bible. Look, in Matthew 5:5 it says ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”‘
He explained that all nine accounts of resurrection in the Bible that he read are resurrections back to the earth, in body not spirit. He showed her John 11: 24-25, that the resurrection will be on the last day and that those who exercise faith in Jesus, even though they die, will live again on the earth. He then showed her Revelation 21 :4 and read: ”And God will wipe out every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry, nor pain be anymore.”
“But that is talking about heaven,” Marie said, making her point but with a tone of doubt.
“I thought so too,” Phaulkon said, “but the same scripture is also written in the book of Isaiah 25:8 describing everlasting life on earth. I just want to show you that you were right, even death cannot part us. You and I will be back on this beautiful earth to live forever.”
“Why wait until now to tell me?” Marie asked.
She confessed she had always feared losing him, but now, knowing the truth, her fears were gone.
“You will never lose me, never,” Phaulkon assured her. “I, Constantine Gerakis, give you my word, and so does God, as the Bible is His word.”