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The Siamese Kingdom

The Siamese Kingdom

Power struggle in Sukhothai. In the first half of the 13th century probably in the 1240's, a Thai chieftain later known as King Intradit joined forces with several other groups, overthrew the Khmer overlord at Sukhothai and established an independent Thai kingdom of the same name. sukhothai remained small under its first two rulers; in expanded dramatically, however, during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng, exerting either direct or indirect power over much of present-day Thailand through force and strategic alliances. Ramkhamhaeng is also credited with devising the Thai alphabet as well as a paternalistic system of monarchy that is regarded as ideal even to this day. Aside from its political achievements, Sukhothai is also remembered for its superb Buddhist art and architecture, which were distinctively Thai, and which are still considered the finest ever created in the country. Also notable were the beautiful ceramics produced first at Sukhothai and later at the satellite city of Si Satchanalai. Sukhothai's empire began to fall apart rapidly after Ramkhamhaeng's death and by 1320 in had once more become a small kingdom of little regional significance. By 1378 it had become a vassal state of Ayutthaya.

The Rise of Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was founded on the Chao Phraya River by King Ramathibodi in 1350. over the next four centuries, it grew from a small, fortified city into one of the great capitals of the region, its power reaching far beyond the fertile river valley. The capital fell to the Burmese in 1569, but less than two decades later regained independence under the able leadership of the future King Naresuan, who proceeded to extend its rule over most of the southern peninsula, the north, and both Cambodia and Laos. Relations with Europe began with a treaty between Siam and Portugal in 1516. the Dutch received permission to build a trading station in 1604, followed by the British in 1612. By King Narai's reign in 1656, Ayutthaya already had a cosmopolitan population of nearly a million. The first French Catholic missionary arrived in Ayutthaya in 1662, joined by others two tears later. Given land on which to build churches and schools by King Narai, they became an important force in relations between the two countries. The first Thai embassy sent to France was lost at sea in 1681, but a second arrived safely in 1684 and formally requested a French mission to Ayutthaya. The first of these mission arrived in 1685, headed by the Chevalier de Chaumont; a second arrived two years later. A Thai embassy accompanied the first on its return to France, and was received at the court of Louis XIV. Following the death of King Narai in 1688, conservative elements assumed control and expelled many Europeans during the latter part of Ayutthaya's rule.

The Fall of Ayutthaya. Shortly after King Ekatat assumed the throne in 1758, Ayutthaya was attacked once more by the Burmese under King Alaungpaya. A second invasion led by Alaungpaya's son, Hsinbyushin, succeeded in capturing Ayutthaya, after a siege lasting more than a year. The city was burned and looted by the victors and more than 30,000 of its inhabitants were taken to Burma. Son of a Chinese father and a Thai mother, the future King Taksin was a military officer at the time of Ayutthaya's fall. Within seven months he managed to rally Thai forces, expel the Burmese from the ruins of the city, and establish a new capital at Thonburi, further down the Chao Phraya River.

The Chakri Dynasty. In March 1782 a revolt broke out against King Taksin who was thought to have become insane. He was replaced by a prominent military commander who, as King Rama I, founded the Chakri Dynasty and, for strategic reasons, moved the seat of government across the river to a small trading port known as Bangkok. King Rama IV, or King Mongkut is best known as the hero of The King and I. to the Thais, however, he is remembered as one of the most far-sighted Chakri rulers, who negotiated important treaties with European powers, introduced modern sciences, and set his kingdom on the path to reforms that undoubtedly helped save it from the colonial fate that befell all its immediate neighbors. During his reign from 1868 to 1910, King Rama V, or King Chulalongkorn as he is better known, carried his father's reforms further. He abolished slavery, reorganized the governmental system, and built the first railways. The first Thai king to visit European capitals, Rama V also sent most of his sons abroad for further education. Forced by France to concede some of his territory to Cambodia, Rama V also had to relinquish sovereignty over Laos. Thus he was able to preserve his country's independence.