The Taksin Era
Burmese control of Thailand was shortly
terminated in an uprising led by General Pya Taksin who
forced the Burmese into retreat, and proclaimed himself
king in 1769. King Taksin (1769-1782) established his royal
capital in Thonburi a city across the Chao Phraya river
from the present day capital of Bangkok. King Taksin then
set about reining in a number of rebellious Thai princes
and reasserting central control over the entire kingdom
including the tributary kingdoms.
The short reign of King Taksin has all
the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy -- complete with
palace intrigue, betrayal, and treachery. A charismatic
leader steps forward in the darkest hour of his countrys
history and rallies his nation to drive out the hated Burmese
invaders. He then reunites the kingdom and holds it together
during one its most difficult periods. His reward in life
and place in Thai history seem a little out of balance with
his contributions. King Taksin allegedly became insane and
started to regard himself as the second coming of Buddha.
Whether true or not, he was deposed by his ministers, who
then executed him in the custom reserved for royalty --
by shackling his hands and feet with gold restraints, sewing
him into a velvet sack so that no royal blood touched the
ground, then beating him to death with a Sandalwood club.
During the Ayutthaya period a surprising number of Thai
kings are reported to have become insane and were eliminated.
As in previous cases, many heirs to the king were also executed.
General Chakri a close and trusted aide of the former King
Taksin succeeded him to the throne. King Taksins status
as a warrior hero is very reserved, in many accounts of
Thai history if he is mentioned at all it is usually minimal.
He certainly has never achieved the near god status of some
of the later kings.
In the late seventeenth century ships of
the British East India Company transiting the
Straits of Malacca were under constant attack from pirates
and slave traders. To stem this assault on the prestige
of the British flag they sought one or more defensible islands
with a good harbor to expand their empire and guard the
northern entrance of the Straits of Malacca. Captain Francis
Light a merchant with the East India Company
had lived on Phuket for many years and had traveled and
traded throughout the area. He was well aware of the strategic
advantages of Phuket Island and Penang, farther down the
coast, and he recommended acquisition of both islands. A
very energetic man who was fluent in both Thai and Malay,
he held secret negotiations with both the Governor of Phuket
and the Sultan of the Malay state of Kedah. The then governor
of Phuket was under intense pressure to increase the production
of tin. The governor sought to cede Phuket to the British
in return for commercial concessions. The British had seized
control of foreign territories on less pretense than this
offered and they apparently seriously considered the proposal.
Captain Light also obtained an offer from
the Sultan of the Malay State of Kedah to sell the British
the island of Penang. Ultimately the company officials opted
to establish only one colony and they felt that Penang Island
offered the better harbor of the two. In 1785, Captain Light
was off to found the British colony of Penang. At the time,
the Sultan was also under pressure from the Thai Royal Court
regarding payment of tribute to the Thai king and was seeking
both money and protection from the British. In spite of
the agreement reached with Captain Light the British never
had any intention of going to war to protect the Sultan.
After the island had become a colony a short period of hostilities
erupted between the Sultan and the British during which
it was determined that payment for the island would not
be necessary after all.