My first book about Siam, initially published under my pen name Jack Lourens, came from my curiosity regarding the history of the region. After many years I settled in Phitsanulok, the birthplace of King Naresuan but found it difficult to place Siamese history into a context that I could understand. I visited Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and viewed the chicken statues that are such a landmark of Phitsanulok but knew nothing. Little information was available in English as I was about to find out, although searching of the Internet gradually revealed a few clues. I certainly underestimated the task when I set out to write the book first published in 2015 and then de-listed in 2017.
The book was later de-listed as I wrote “The Kings of Ayutthaya,” which included much of the text from “King Naresuan the Great” in the areas surrounding King Maha Chakkraphat and King Bayinnaung and passed the copyright to Silkworm Books who published “The Kings of Ayutthaya.” It was always my intention to rewrite King Naresuan, but I could not improve on the text I had worked so hard on, and anything lesser would not be acceptable to you or me.
There are still areas of the book that are not included in “The Kings of Ayutthaya” so I thought I would pass a Sunday morning and edit them to put on the website. They are written in my style of narrative non-fiction which, I feel, allows me to bring the topic to life. I hope you find them of interest.
The sixteenth century saw a period of change in both the warfare and politics of the South-East Asia region. The Portuguese, and later the Spanish, came to the region in search of trade, converts to Christianity and profit. With them came improved weapons, together with the tactics to support them. The improvement in weaponry and a more strategic approach to warfare enabled armies to dominate in a way that had never been previously possible. The face of warfare changed, and as it did so, the politics of the region adapted to the new possibilities.
In mid-sixteenth century South-East Asia, with the exception of the Ming Dynasty to the north in China, the nation-state ruled. These nation-states were often built along tribal or ethnic lines with fluid or disputed borders that could lead to relatively confined wars. The impact of the Europeans was first felt along the coastal margins where their ships would dock bringing goods, in particular modern weapons, for which there was soon a high demand. The weapons were accompanied by mercenaries, looking for opportunities.
One of the kings featured in the early stages of this book is King Tabinshwehti, the first king of the Toungoo Dynasty of Hanthawaddy (Burma) who was reported to be surrounded by a personal bodyguard consisting of four hundred Portuguese mercenaries at all times. The impact of the arrival of the Europeans was first felt by those countries bordering the sea. With trade and power shifting toward the coastal regions, many of the inland nation states found themselves under increasing threat from their more militarily focused and prosperous neighbors.
Against this backdrop one of the regions great rivalry’s emerged. Thailand (known then as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya or the Kingdom of Siam) and Burma (also known as Hanthawaddy) fought a series of epic wars for domination of the South-East Asia region. I do not use the term “epic” lightly. The scale of the wars, the pageantry, and the death toll was exceptional.
This novel is based on an interpretation of the historical record. Little of the history of this region is known outside of South-East Asia. I have tried to blend historical accuracy with the people who made this history. The facts are often obscured, dependent on who wrote the historical record and, in many cases, on whether the historical record has survived. For example, a subsequent Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya nearly two centuries after this book is set, destroyed much of the Siamese historical record. The complexity is added to as many monarchs are given two or three names depending on their name in their country and the names in the languages of the countries they interacted with. I have used their most commonly used name as found in the historic record. A simple search of Wikipedia will demonstrate the issue.
The romantic connection between King Naresuan and the Lady Natshin Medaw (the former wife of the Burmese Crown Prince Mingyi Swa) was my own concoction. There is no evidence to support it as factual. It provided a thread that runs through the book. The book follows the Thai narrative in most instances, and I intend no offense in anything said within the text.
I have selected three chapters that I hope may prove of interest:
- Chapter Two -
The following day saw the start of the annual celebration where the best fighters from Phitsanulok and the surrounding areas would meet. Kings would only keep small armies, and relied on the local population to rally around in times of national emergency. The lands of South-East Asia were based on the feudal system, and those who worked the land or lived in the cities owed allegiance to the king. These were the days when the best of them would meet, and new champions would emerge.
The market sat on either side of the walls that surrounded Phitsanulok. Every conceivable type of goods was presented for sale, and the smell of food wafted throughout the city. Training was taking place, and soldiers from King Maha Thammaracha's small standing army were instructing on the skills needed to correctly use the weapons of war, as well as in the arts of self-defense.
Prince Naret watched as the leading exponents of the art of the Daab fought mock duels with each other using the long-handled sword with its curved blade. The technique was to slash and maim rather than to stab, their movements assured and flowing. The prince had been given a small version of the sword by his father to practice with, but dearly wanted to be able to use a real one. He looked on as the fighters were blindfolded, then moving from side-to-side cutting watermelons in half, sensing where they were as though part of a magic show.
From Sukhothai came the leading exponents of Fun-Daab, fighting with a single shorter sword, giving exhibitions and slashing within a hairs-breadth of each other. Then they displayed their skills with the Gum-Daab-Song Mue, holding a sword in both hands as with flowing movements they effortlessly dispatched their imaginary opponent. The crowd watched the way they balanced their weapons with their movement, using the balls of their feet and the speed of the attack. Boys copied every move as two of the masters of this method of fighting left the stage.
It was the display of Grabee-Grabong that Prince Naret watched with awe. It was one of the purest of the martial arts, with its center in the city of Ayutthaya. The Grabee was a straight bladed sword, slightly longer than the European longsword and the accompanying Grabon was a cudgel. Together, in trained hands, they were transformed into one of the most formidable weapons in hand-to-hand combat, with only the strongest of men able to manipulate them to their deadliest effect. Just to watch them used together caused many of the demonstration's watchers to fear.
“Imagine the effect seeing them on the battlefield would have,” thought the young Prince Naret.
The prince wandered alone. He wore nothing to signify his rank. He felt comfortable among everyday people. Despite his lineage, he was often unsure around people in the palace. He was recognized by the watch captain, who was standing alongside a display of armor. Only the nobles could aspire to own personal body armor, made mainly by shaping leather. The soldiery would generally protect themselves with variously shaped shields; flat, rectangular and circular often made from a combination of materials such as leather, bamboo, wood, and metal to offer strength and lightness.
“The bouts start soon,” remarked the watch captain, as a war elephant resplendent in tooled armor draped his trunk around his shoulders.
Prince Naret and most of those present, seemed to move as one. It was as if a signal had been given. A series of elimination bouts took place between the contestants vying to be crowned “champion of the art of eight limbs.” The prince stood, unnoticed, among the crowd.
That evening, as the heat of the day mellowed, there was to be the final bouts between the champions in “the art of eight limbs,” the fighting-style that would, over the centuries, evolve into Muay Thai. The champions of Sukhothai, where the art had been developed, Kamphaeng Phet, Sawankaloke, and Phitsanulok would all fight each other, with King Maha Thammaracha deciding the outcome.
Prince Naret watched as the four remaining fighters prepared for the evening fights. He watched as they went through their training regime. The combatants had trained six-hours a day in the blazing heat throughout their lifetimes until the movements had become instinctive. He looked at their faces. They were hard men, and he wanted to be just like them.
The prince already practiced daily and had fought against boys of his age and older but, he wanted to be the best. He would watch and learn, and he would practice. After all, how could he expect his men to follow him if he was not the best?
The first fight was between the champions of Sukhothai and Sawankaloke. The prince was called by an aide to the king and sat on a raised dais to the left of his father with his brother by his side. Queen Wisut sat to the right of the king.
“The champion Surachai from Sukhothai is the favorite,” said Prince Naret knowingly.
“Quite rightly,” the king replied. “He won last year. His Kroo Muay, Chit Ye was champion of the four cities for five consecutive years. To please Chit Ye is not an easy task.”
The men faced each other and bowed. They then bowed to the east, south, west, and north, as was the custom. There was no ring, just soldiers gathered around in a circle. Both men wore only a panung and a band around their head in the colors of their city. The king clapped his hands, and two adversaries started to circle each other.
In the art of eight limbs the hands become the sword and dagger. The shins and forearms, hardened by training, act as armor against blows, and the elbow acts to fell opponents like a heavy mace or hammer, while the legs and knees become the axe and staff. The body is trained to attack, to avoid, and to protect, operating as a single unit. The knees and elbows are constantly searching and testing for an opening, grappling and trying to spin an enemy to the ground for the kill.
Prince Naret sat in awe as the two fighters engaged and disengaged. The crowd cheered and moved back and forth as the combatants came toward them and then pulled away. The prince focused on the fighter from Sukhothai. Both men were good, but the fighter from Sukhothai had more speed and greater flexibility. Kroo May Chit Ye acted as referee, and at the allotted time, indicated when the rounds had finished. As Chit Ye ended the first of the three rounds his pupil was beginning to get the better of his opponent.
“The fighter from Sukhothai looks even better than last year,” said the king to his prince.
“He is so quick, absorbs the punches and kicks so well,” murmured the prince, totally captivated by what he was seeing.
The final two rounds of the contest saw the fighter from Sukhothai dominate the fight but without putting his opponent down.
The fights continued with the remaining two of the four fighters taking center stage. The champions of Kamphaeng Phet and Phitsanulok were to fight. Outtaphon, Champion of Phitsanulok, a burly man with a dedication to his craft was well-known to the young prince. In many ways, he acted as Kroo Muay to the prince, despite the young prince's age. He fought well and felled his opponent in the third round with a reverse kick that his opponent failed to see coming.
The final fight was between the champions of Sukhothai and Phitsanulok. Three intense rounds of fighting followed with little to choose between the men.
The king leaned in close to his son.
“So, which of our fighters will you declare as the winner?” he asked.
The prince was taken aback. His father had left the decision to him? All were good, but those who had just fought were the best. His Kroo Muay had felled one opponent but was he as good as the champion of Sukhothai?
The prince whispered his choice in his father's ear.
The king placed the garland of golden flowers over the head of the champion of Sukhothai. Outtaphon, Champion of Phitsanulok, bowed his head to the prince to acknowledge that he had made the right decision.
The following morning the prince was swimming in the Nan River when he heard the sound of the warning bell. He quickly swam to the shore, putting his panung on as he ran up the bank. As he neared the gate, he could see a hive of activity. Horses were being moved, and men, fully armed, being readied to defend the palace. In the distance three riders gradually came into view, carrying the red colors of the King of Ayutthaya. The watch commander ordered the gates opened, and shortly afterward the three horsemen rode in through the open gates and into Phitsanulok.
Their horses were panting heavily and covered in mud. They had been ridden hard. As the prince looked on he watched as the three riders dismounted and addressed the watch commander. As they moved toward the palace, the nimble prince quickly moved ahead of them. His father noticed him as he entered the room and indicated that he should stand to one side. He held his hand to his lips to indicate to the young prince to remain quiet.
“King Maha Chakkraphat sends his warmest greetings and requests your support,” started the messenger. “The young pretender Prince Sri Sin has launched a coup in Ayutthaya. King Maha Chakkraphat has fled the city and looks to your forces to assist as he regroups.”
“Where is the king now?” asked King Maha Thammaracha.
“He escaped on the royal barge. His intention was to retreat to Maha Phram Island. When we left he was waiting for Prince Ramesuan and Prince Mahin to assemble their forces and counter-attack,” replied the messenger.
The king shot a glance at Prince Naret as if to say that King Maha Chakkraphat should have never fled the city. Prince Naret, listening quietly, was thinking the exact same thing.
“Prince Sri Sin had already been warned of his behavior to the king, had he not?” asked King Maha Thammaracha.
“Yes. Three years ago when he was sixteen, he had already been accused of plotting against the king's life. He was ordained as a Buddhist monk afterward and his movements were to be monitored. He must have escaped with the help of his supporters. Three days ago he fought on his war elephant against Caophraya Maha Sena outside the Sao Thong Chai Gate. Caophraya Maha Sena fell and was killed in the battle. Phraya Decho secured the gate, and the forces of the Sultan of Tani, who supported the prince, entered the city. When we left, troops loyal to King Maha Chakkraphat were still fighting in some areas of the city and around the palace,” said the messenger.
“And the king fled?” asked Prince Naret.
“Be quiet!” ordered King Maha Thammaracha, rebuking his young son. However, the question remained.
“Order the mounted troops to make ready,” said King Maha Thammaracha to his watch commander. We leave immediately. The infantry will follow. They will leave first thing in the morning.
“Father, can I come?” implored the seven-year-old prince.
“It is too dangerous even for a young soldier like you,” said the king. “We have no idea what we will find when we arrive. Be assured that I will tell you every detail when I return.”
With that King Maha Thammaracha bade farewell to his wife, two sons, and his daughter before riding south out of Phitsanulok at the head of his mounted troops.
It was a full three weeks until King Maha Thammaracha returned. The infantry had been turned around mid-way between Phitsanulok and Ayutthaya and had been back for the past week. Prince Naret was aware that the coup had failed and King Maha Chakkraphat was again on the throne, but was thirsting for the details.
After his father had washed and seen to affairs of state following his journey, he sat down with his son. The king knew that he would be waiting impatiently for the news.
“ …. so Prince Sri Sin, the son of King Prajai, and the dowager queen, Lady Si Suda Chan, urged his elephant forward. The beast collided with the war elephant of Caophraya Maha Sena, general to King Maha Chakkraphat. Prince Sri Sin delivered a downward blow with his Daab, catching the right shoulder of Caophraya Maha Sena and causing him to fall. The prince carried on forward with his renegade troops following behind. Seeing their commander lying injured on the ground, the guards panicked. Many left their posts. Those who remained were heavily outnumbered and either died or were forced to retreat as the troops of the Phraya Decho and Sultan of Tani surged through the gate.
“King Maha Chakkraphat was taken by surprise at the speed with which the young prince had advanced. He boarded the royal barge and fled. The following day Prince Sri Sin, his supporters, and the men of Tani entered the palace, although fighting was still continuing in many parts of the city.
“Many high ranking men joined the rebellion. Phraya Decho, Phraya Tainum, Phraya Phitchainarong, Muan Pakdisuan, Muan Painarit, and the supreme patriarch of the Buddhist forest monk sect, Phra Pannarat Wat Pakao, amongst others. It later transpired that the supreme patriarch had chosen the auspicious day on which to launch the attack.
“Although the rebels were in the palace, there were still many brave soldiers fighting for their king inside Ayutthaya. Prince Ramesuan and Prince Mahin gathered their troops and launched a counter-attack on the second afternoon. Those inside who were still not subdued by the rebels were emboldened by the sight of the two princes and forced the Temporal Gate allowing the troops of the two princes to enter. By early evening it was all over. Prince Mahin killed Prince Sri Sin in combat, and the troops of the Sultan of Tani were either killed or captured. The sultan lies in an underground dungeon awaiting his fate. Those nobles who supported the upstart prince were killed on the spot.”
“So all is well?” asked Prince Naret.
“Far from it, I fear. King Maha Chakkraphat was welcomed by all his chief ministers and entered his royal residence. He is severely weakened by this event, and now he is viewed as a weak king. Others may now vie for his throne. I am also weakened, as it was I and Chao Intrathep who allowed Prince Sri Sin to live when his mother was killed. People will question my judgment.
“It is Prince Mahin who concerns me most though. Killing the upstart prince in hand-to-hand combat has empowered him, although we only have the word of his men that this is how events transpired. He struts and poses. I know his father, but I do not know the son. He owes me no loyalty and I owe him none. He is a man I must look out for.
“He is a man we should both look out for,” said the seven-year-old Prince Naret boldly.
It was in the late August of 1552 when a lone man entered Phitsanulok on foot. He walked past the guards on the gate, who did not give him a second glance. If they had, they would have noticed the tiredness etched on his face and saw how the blisters on his already callused feet caused him to limp. It had taken him two months to complete his trek from Burma. He went to the office of the watch commander and showed him the ruby encrusted ring he wore, given to him by King Maha Thammaracha. He was immediately taken to see the king.
“Greetings King Maha Thammaracha,” said Jamnon. The wiry and cunning Jamnon had grown up in the same household as the king and had fought alongside him in many battles. There was none of the bowing that others did in the presence of the king. Jamnon was a man that the king trusted, and trusted implicitly.
“My friend you look tired. It must be important news that brings you here today.”
“News of the worst sort,” Jamnon replied. “King Bayinnaung is raising an army. An army like the world has never seen before. He intends to attack Ayutthaya next year.”
- Chapter Fourteen -
The forces of Generals Chao Phaya Chakri and Phaya Praklong made their way across the desolate countryside toward the cities of Tavoy, and, most prized of all, Tennaserim with its the port of Mergui.
"Look at this land," said General Chakri as they stopped at a high point before making their way down towards the ports.
"It bears the scars of war yet there have been no battles this far south," General Praklong commented.
"I recall when it was a land of people, villages and rice fields. Now it's just scrub land."
"The land and the people will recover over time."
"Let us hope so," said General Chakri as both men spurred their horses and started the gradual descent towards the sea.
The two armies marched untroubled into the Mon lands lying to the south of the Three Pagodas Pass and along the east coast of the Andaman Sea.
“It is decided then. You are to take your forces and attack the city of Moulmein in Tennaserim, while I will attack Tavoy,” said General Praklong.
“We dare not fail. King Naresuan will have our lives,” General Chakri replied.
“We are fortunate to be alive now. If it wasn't for Bhikkhu Somdet Phra Wannarat and his calming influence we would have died, as many have before us."
“We both have had many chances to die.”
“We have heard from our spies in Tavoy,” General Praklong said. “They are aware of our coming and are preparing accordingly. I am told that there is much unrest with the rule of King Nanda Bayin, and in the manner Tavoy is governed. We may expect some support from within the city. I imagine the situation might be similar in Tenasserim, but we will not know until we get there.”
“Both cities formed part of the old Sukhothai Empire from the time of King Ramk'amheng. I think many will welcome us back.”
“How will King Bayin react to us being here?”
“He cannot allow these cities to fall without a fight,” General Chao Chakri replied.
“The armies that he gathered to attack Ayutthaya would have returned to their homes and villages by now. The empty guard posts we saw on our way here are evidence that he is well aware of our arrival. I think it will take him some time to mobilize his troops again.”
“He has his troops in Martaban above the Three Pagodas Pass. They will be sent our way, and he has many Portuguese that he can call on, together with their ships. Both Tavoy and Tennaserim are vulnerable to attack by sea.”
“Then we should prepare as soon as we secure the towns and the ports. You know how it is in war. Communication may prove difficult. Prepare for a seaborne invasion but watch to the land.”.
“The sea also gives us the opportunity to move troops quickly. When our cities have fallen we must do all we can to support each other. If we can combine our armies they will prove more difficult should the Burmese attack,” said General Chao Chakri.
“Why do you think the king has sent us?” asked General Praklong changing the subject.
“Yes, I was thinking the same on our journey here,” General Chao Chakri replied. “In all my years serving our king I had never seen him in the mood he was after the battle. It was as if killing Mingyi Swa released a devil into him.
“He is punishing us, of course, but more than that, he wants to see how much taste for rebellion there is in the Toungoo Empire. We are not a formidable army, but our size is such that it would take a concerted effort to drive us out.”
“He expects King Bayin to collapse from within?” asked General Praklong.
“He is a cunning one, our king. He is a formidable warrior, the bravest man I know but he is also a master strategist. He is probing for weaknesses. King Bayin has been defeated five times now by the forces of Ayutthaya. He is like a wounded animal. Many will gather for the kill, but he is still dangerous.
“If we succeed in our mission he will use Tavoy and Tennaserim as bases to move first on Pegu and then strike northward toward Toungoo,” said General Chao Chakri.
“Do you think he has territorial ambitions on Hongsawadee?” asked General Praklong.
“Having spoken with him, I think he sees lessons from the Toungoo Empire. The dangers in over extending your reach. It is Ayutthaya he wants; a secure Ayutthaya,” said General Chao Chakri. “And to get that he needs to secure our borders and encourage the Toungoo Empire to collapse, with the unrest that will follow.”
“You are saying that he expects King Bayin to collapse given time?” asked General Praklong.
“Yes, without doubt, as do I,” said General Chao Chakri. “And sooner rather than later.”
“The king will move on the Khmer soon. He has no love for them and needs to secure the eastern border. The North remains quiet, but if King Nanda Bayin loses influence, then Lan Na looks weak. It may ostensibly be under our vassalage, but the king is Burmese. Under pressure, we will see where his true loyalty lies.”
“After quelling the Khmer, do you expect him to come here?” General Chao Chakri asked.
“It may be too soon,” General Praklong replied. “He might reinforce our position but he will wait for others to rise against the once mighty Toungoo Empire.”
“If the Shan unite and rise as one I think the days of the Toungoo Empire will be over. King Bayin needs to watch them more closely than he watches us and King Naresuan is held in high regard by the Shan.”
“Every Siamese is conscious that the Burmese came and pillaged Siamese territory many times. It is time to repay the Burmese in the same coin,” General Chao Chakri said.
The following morning saw a brisk wind blowing in from the sea as the two armies parted company. The two generals wished each other well, as they had done numerous times in the past few years, and headed towards their agreed targets.
General Praklong led his army inland, not allowing it to be caught with its back to the sea. His scouts told of a city that was ready for a siege, and one that looked determined to hold out until reinforcements arrived. Within both Siamese armies was a core of Portuguese mercenaries, at first captives from King Naresuan's attack on Lovek a few years earlier, but now paid fighters eager to please their new paymasters. As General Praklong and the self-styled General Diago Mendez looked at the walls of Tennaserim, the Portuguese general pointed out two areas of weakness. The city walls were built in the years before cannons had arrived in Southeast Asia. General Praklong nodded in agreement, and General Mendez set up his cannon. The bombardment began.
After five days of bombardment, the walls started to crumble. Those within were rebuilding as fast as they could, but it was a losing battle. After ten days General Praklong launched his first assault. After fifteen days surrender terms were agreed upon and the victorious general rode into the city of Tennaserim. The incumbent governor and his generals were vigorously interrogated but would reveal nothing apart from the valuable fact that King Nanda Bayin was sending reinforcements by sea. They were put in bamboo cages in the center of the town and left to die. The town remained untouched.
King Nanda Bayin had made it difficult for the two armies to communicate. He, like King Naresuan, had learned the importance of small, specialist teams. His men disrupted communications between the two forces, and General Praklong in Tennaserim waited for news from Tavoy that failed to arrive. Knowing that the Burmese were to launch a seaborne attack the general seized the initiative and commandeered all the ships lying in port.
They numbered about one hundred and fifty in total, as well as three foreign sloops. The general set his men to fit out the ships as a battle fleet before he then sent the fleet south along the coast to Tavoy. He placed Phraya Thep Archun in command of his hastily assembled navy and, leaving ten thousand troops in Tennaserim, rode at the head of his army to establish the fate of General Chakri in Tavoy.
Tavoy had proven more difficult to take and had only fallen after a twenty day siege and one pitched battle. Eventually, the gates were opened and General Chakri and his men entered the city. Unaware of the situation in Tennaserim, General Chakri took a similar course of action to General Praklong. He commandeered the ships in the harbor and fitted them out for battle. Hearing of proposed Burmese attacks, by both land and sea, he placed two of his officers with sea-going experience Phraya Phichai Songkhram and Phraya Ram Khamhaeng in charge of his navy and sent one hundred boats to establish the fate of General Chakri in Tennaserim, while readying his troops for battle on land.
General Praklong had made a wise choice in the commander of his fleet. Phraya Thep Archun held the wind behind him. He was being pushed inexorably toward land, but his fleet countered against the prevailing wind. He felt that any Burmese navy would stay close to land, and so it proved. In the distance and silhouetted against the low-lying delta, the Burmese fleet came into view. As the Burmese fleet came over the horizon, he estimated their number at about two hundred ships.
Assessing the situation he could see how the Burmese would find it difficult to come to him, as it meant moving against the prevailing south-easterly wind. So, for now, he held the advantage. He emptied five ships of men and loaded as many combustible materials on them as possible. When the wind was right, the ships were set alight, and the fire-ships drifted toward the Burmese fleet. The Burmese noticed too late and scattered, often colliding in the process. Phraya Thep Archun followed his fire-ships and engaged the enemy.
As the battle was underway the fleet of General Chakri came into view to find the fleet of General Praklong already engaged in a ferocious sea battle. With the second Ayutthayan navy approaching from the rear, the Burmese navy had nowhere to go, and caught between the two navies, was routed. Unable to turn in the wind, their fate was sealed and with an hour the Burmese navy dispersed, many being sunk, some beaching their boats, many being captured, and others heading toward the Irrawaddy Delta.
Of those captured following the battle came the news that a Burmese land force was on its way to relieve both Tavoy and Tennaserim.
When the men were landed, the two armies recombined and waited, with a force of ninety thousand men. They were waiting for the Burmese, who they had been reliably informed were sitting to the north in the city of Moulmein. The Burmese land force marched south, not expecting the greeting that waited for them. They were caught unawares as the combined forces of Generals Chao Phaya Chakri and General Phaya Praklong charged at them from two sides. The Burmese army was routed as the Burmese navy had been, resulting in the capture of eleven Burmese commanders, as well as war elephants, horses, men, arms, and ammunition.
When news of this splendid series of victories reached King Naresuan, all his general's offenses committed during the last Burmese invasion were forgotten, and he sent messengers to welcome them home. Tavoy and Tennaserim were now loyal to Ayutthaya. The request of Crown Prince Ekathotsarot for ports to trade from had been met. Tavoy and Tennaserim were already established centers of trade and allowed the growing Ayutthayan empire access to the Indian Ocean. The two generals stopped at this, the southern border of Mon territory. The land of Tennaserim that lay to the south of the city was to be left, for the present.
Upparaja Ekathotsarot would come to excel in developing trade with the Europeans and his neighbors. With control of the coast, Ayutthaya could expand from Chanthaburi on the Cambodian border, crossing to the west toward Phetburi and down to Nakon Si Thammarat (Trabalinga) and Pattani.
King Nanda Bayin now had his enemy firmly on his doorstep.
As the armies of Generals Chao Phaya Chakri and Phaya Praklong left Ayutthaya heading west to fight the Burmese, King Naresuan looked toward the Khmer on his eastern border. The Ayutthayan king had lost patience with the Khmer, and set out to subjugate Cambodia. He understood that he would not be able to focus his attention fully on the Burmese, and bringing about an end to the Toungoo Empire until the Khmer were subdued.
King Naresuan divided his army into four. The first army was to attack and capture Champasak, the second Banteymas, the third Siem Reap and the fourth army, led by the king, would attack Battambang. They would then join forces outside Lovek.
As the Khmer retreated, it was the town of Pursat, under the command of Phraya Sawank'alok that offered the most resistance, but after a change to the original plan the forces of King Naresuan combined, their missions achieved, and the town was overwhelmed by the superior forces of the Siamese. As the Khmer retreated, they put up a further fight at Boribun with an army of thirty thousand men under the command of King Naresuan's old adversary Prince Srisupanma. As the Khmer retreated again, all four armies of King Naresuan finally converged together outside the capital city of Lovek, leaving a trail of desolation in their wake.
Fearing for his safety, King Satta had recruited Portuguese mercenaries under Diogo Veloso to act as his personal bodyguard, in much the same way that King Bayinnaung had done in previous years. The Khmer king had requested that the governor of Malacca send additional troops and mercenaries to support him, but none arrived. He wrote to the Spanish Governor of Manila, Gomez Dasmarinas, sending a letter written on gold leaf seeking Spanish aid against Siam in exchange for giving a completely free hand to missionaries and granting commercial privileges, but received no reply.
As his options were reduced, King Satta still refused to capitulate. Despite the northern part of his country having been ravaged by the Ayutthayan forces, he declared his intent by holding captive a Siamese envoy sent to discuss terms and casting him into prison. Fortress Lovek, as it was known, stood up well to the siege. There is an interesting story regarding the siege that is difficult to corroborate. The city was surrounded by bamboo, a plant that grows with considerable speed and is difficult to penetrate. The Siamese threw coins into the bamboo forest. The local people, unaware of the consequences of their actions, cut down the bamboo in order to gather the coins, thereby clearing a path for the Siamese to attack.
The Khmer put up a stout defense, but the end was inevitable. It was not until July 1594, four months after the siege commenced, that the city fell. The king and two of his sons fled to the relative safety of Luang Phrabang in Lan Xang.
Following their king fleeing the city, the troops of King Naresuan entered and looted and pillaged the city before taking ninety-thousand captives back to Ayutthaya along with many items of value. Among the treasure collected were two spiritually powerful statues both highly venerated by the Khmer people. One was known as the “Preah Ko” (sacred cow) and the other the “Preah Kaev (sacred jewel.) Inside the bellies of the statues, the legend relates, “there were sacred books, in gold, where one could learn sacred formulas, and books where one could learn anything about the world.”
It is said the statues contained everything that the Khmer were: their art, their literature, and their traditions. The loss of these two objects have often been accredited, in the mind of many Cambodians, with the “dark age” that enveloped the Khmer in the years that followed the Ayutthayan invasion.
King Naresuan captured and took King Satta's brother, the Khmer Crown Prince Srisuphanma, whom he remembered only too well from their earlier disagreement in Lan Na, back to Ayutthaya as a hostage. He also took the daughter of Prince Srisuphanma to be his concubine. The Princess Channary caught the eye of King Naresuan. Her name meant “moon-faced girl,” and with her wide-brown eyes and fiery temperament, he found himself looking in her direction often.
The Siamese looted the city, sending the higher-ranking captives back to Ayutthaya by sea, together with much of the Khmer fleet, which now formed part of the Ayutthayan navy. Many of the prisoners were settled in the areas that had been subject to King Naresuan's earlier “scorched earth” policy or joined the Ayutthayan army. Slowly the land was being repopulated and reclaimed.
King Naresuan returned to Ayutthaya with his army, leaving a small army at Oudong to control the country. Cambodia became a vassal state of Ayutthaya but refused to submit quietly. A warlord, King Rama Jeng Prey looked to take the throne of Lovek for himself. He ousted the Siamese army and ascended the throne under the name of King Ramadhipti in 1593.
Using only his close royal family as court officials, he proceeded to rule Lovek in a dictatorial style where any slight challenges and or perceived threats to his rule were crushed mercilessly. Throughout Cambodia, there was a period of local warlords establishing themselves and fighting against each other. The rule of law broke down, and Cambodia entered its “dark age.”
The battles raging within Cambodia were of little concern to King Naresuan, they ensured that no further attacks would come from the Khmer. He later sent Upparaja Ekathotsarot to ensure that payments due to Ayutthaya were made, but the chaos that reigned in Cambodia served to neutralise any threat from the east.
Spanish troops entered Cambodia in 1596 and helped install a son of the late King Sattha on the throne. However, the Spanish proved unpopular, and most were massacred in an uprising in Lovek in 1599. By 1603, with the full support of Naresuan, King Sattha’s brother Prince Srisupanma acceded to the Cambodian throne as a vassal of Ayutthaya.
In the time of King Bayinnaung, the heir to the throne of Lan Xang was a child named Noi Hno Muang Keo Koumane, the son of King Setthathirath. He was taken hostage and spent his childhood in Pegu in much the same way Prince Naret had done all those years earlier. He became accomplished in the military strategy and tactics taught by the Burmese and European teachers but remained a captive until the age of twenty.
Lan Xang, “the land of a million elephants under the white parasol,” had endured much under the vassalage of the Burmese. Following the period after the death of King Setthathirath, when the country fell under the remit of General Sen Soulintha, ongoing conflicts between the feudal nobility, and a usurper claiming to be King Setthathirath resurrected led the country into chaos. Prince Nokeo Koumane was recognized by his people as the rightful king. The ministers of Lan Xang petitioned King Nanda Bayin for his return, but it was only after a delegation was sent to Pegu and Prince Koumane had come of age in 1590, that he was allowed to return home.
The king returned to Vientiane where he was crowned in 1591. During his time in Pegu the country had fractured, and now had two seats of power. One remained in Vientiane while the other had been established in Luang Prabang. Forming an army, he marched on Luang Prabang where he met little resistance and reunited the country. The new king then sought better relations with the Muong Phoueune, a landlocked principality with Lan Xang to its west and south, Vietnam to its east and unruly hill tribes to its north. Both were vassals of Hanthawaddy. With an agreement reached with Muong Phoueune, and no doubt inspired by the actions of Prince, now King Naresuan, King Koumane declared independence from Burma in 1593.
A Burmese army, consisting mainly of troops from the Shan states and Lan Na, was sent to quell his act of rebellion only to meet a series of defeats. In the same year, the new king of Lan Xang felt strong enough to launch an attack against Lan Na, where he felt he had a claim to the throne and captured the city of Chiengsen. Nawrahta Minsaw, the King of Lan Na, had maintained his rule, relying on the power of Burma to support him. He had accepted the status of a vassal state to Ayutthaya but made little effort to fulfill the obligations made. When he learned of the advance of King Nokeo Koumane, he requested that the Burmese King Nanda Bayin send an army to help him.
King Nanda Bayin was feeling the pressure of trying to hold the Toungoo Empire together and could spare no further troops. Nawrahta Minsaw now found himself in a position of great danger. As a Burmese king, he was unlikely to receive support from his own subjects who, in any case, were more likely to support a claim from the deposed King of Luang Prabang who held a strong hereditary claim, or from King Koumane who was not of Burmese descent.
In desperation, Nawrahta Minsaw sent a message to King Naresuan requesting his support. Both Nawrahta Minsaw and King Naresuan were well acquainted, as they both grew up together, in the royal compounds in Pegu.
King Naresuan seized the opportunity and demanded that Nawrahta Minsaw accept Thai suzerainty and that Lan Na be returned to him as a vassal state of Ayutthaya. Unable to fight alone the king of Lan Na agreed. King Naresuan sent an army to Chiengsen and drove out the invaders. He installed P'ya Ram Dejo, a Laotian nobleman to oversee the running of Lan Na, adding the territory as a vassal state of Ayutthaya.
King Nokeo Koumane of Lan Xang died at the relatively young age of twenty-five, but unrest from Lan Na's own vassal states, Nan, Chiang Saen and Chiang Rai caused King Naresuan to continue to intervene in the politics of Lan Na until the end of his reign.
- Chapter Sixteen -
The Lady Natshin Medaw
Peace had reigned over the city of Ayutthaya in the ten years since King Naresuan had taken the war to his neighbors. It was a period of rebuilding and renewal as the wars of the past fifty years began to slip into memory and into folklore.
King Naresuan sat upright in his chair as his favorite concubine, the Khmer princess, Princess Channary, massaged years of stress from his aching body. He rose and moved to the bed and allowed her to massage his back. It was not a gentle and relaxing massage as the Princess Channary was skilled in the Southeast Asian art of massage, and pummeled and contorted the king until every muscle in his body surrendered. Princess Channary was excellent at massage, in fact, she was good at everything, the king thought to himself.
The princess looked at the king as he lay naked before her. He was scarred where an arrow had pierced his flesh many years ago. Cuts, wheals, and scars seemed to appear everywhere on his body. She poured oil over him, and the massage slowed into a rhythm.
“You have been in many battles,” the princess offered. She looked at his muscles. Muscles upon muscles, his legs as broad as any man she had ever seen.
“It has been my life,” said the king.
“You are rarely here.”
“That is one reason my brother also acts as king. Perhaps now that Ayutthaya is secure, I may stay home and relax.”
“You wouldn't last a month here,” the princess said jokingly.
The king laughed.
“You are probably right. Even with you here to look after me sooner or later, I will find a war or it will find me.”
“You have not taken a wife?” asked the princess.
“I have one love, and that is all I need,” he said, leaving it at that.
The following morning the king rose early and went for his customary run before swimming in the Chao Praya River. His brother walked across to him as he started to lift logs above his head.
“Do you never rest for one day?” his brother asked as he walked along the river bank with his sons Prince Suthat and Prince Si Saowaphak.
“Never, and I never will. You have built a fine city during my many absences.”
“You have brought the peace that allows for that to happen,” his brother replied.
“The cost of that peace has been high, and many years in the making. We must never take it for granted.”
“I have received a message this morning from Lan Na. It appears that Ram Decho has been forced back to Chiang Saen by King Nawarahta Minsaw and the scene is set for battle.”
“Then we need to rouse our men and make our way up to Chiang Mai to see who we are to deal with,” said the king. “Our plan is reaching its climax.”
King Naresuan and Upparaja Ekathotsarot rode at the head of an army of ten thousand men on the way to Lan Na. The submission of Lan Na would secure the northern border and all but protect the Kingdom of Ayutthaya from attack. The Khmer had been beaten, Lan Xang was again in turmoil, and the Burmese were fighting among themselves. With Lan Na under the suzerainty of Ayutthaya, peace would finally be secured.
Nawarahta Minsaw, King of Lan Na, rode out to honor the invitation made to him by King Naresuan and Upparaja Ekathotsarot to visit them in their camp at Lamphun, to the south of Chiang Mai.
Recent years had proved difficult for the Burmese king of Lan Na. War after war had beset his country. He declared independence from King Nanda Bayin in 1597, after the failing king asked for his sons to be taken to Pegu as hostages. Without the support of the once mighty Toungoo Empire to protect him, he was vulnerable. He was a Burmese king in Tai lands.
The forces of Lan Xang under Vorapita, the new Burmese-appointed regent following the unfortunate early death of King Nokeo Koumane, invaded as far as Nan and had reached the gates of Chiang Mai before being driven back and out of Lan Na. Unrest continued unabated. Ram Decho, ruler of Chiang Saen, revolted, seizing much of the country before being driven back and killed by the forces led by King Nawarehta Minsaw. It was a victory that King Nawrahta Minsaw enjoyed. It had been many years since he had fought for King Bayinnaung, and he had all but forgotten the thrill that came from the tactics and the planning, as well as from the fighting itself.
The king of Lan Na thought that the uprising had at least the tacit support of the Siamese and he was about to be proved right in his assumption.
The King and the Upparaja of Ayutthaya were to the south of Chiang Mai, receiving oaths of submission from princes and warlords from as far apart as Nan and Chiang Rai. The King of Lan Na, a reluctant general at the best of times, had beaten his adversary Ram Decho only to return and be confronted with the Siamese sitting on his doorstep and demanding his submission. He had been out-maneuvered, and he knew it.
He had hoped that his declaration of independence would unite the people of Lan Na behind him enabling him to devote his armies to defending Lan Na against invasion, but he had been seen as a weak king with little support. He had been helped, and sometimes hindered, by the Siamese. Now he had received an invitation directly from King Naresuan and Upparaja Ekathotsarot. It was an invitation that, despite his prevarication whether to attend or not, was one he could not refuse.
The King of Lan Na was, at heart and in practice, a poet. When his wife and constant companion, Queen Hsinbyushin Medaw, was by his side he had someone with whom he could share his life and love of poetry with. Her “yadu” (the seasons) poems, full of melancholy and contemplation, meant she was still by his side when he needed her. Her death earlier that year had, however, left a chasm in his life which he sought to fill by finally leaving the safety of Chiang Mai and taking the war to Ram Decho, defeating him in the hills surrounding Chiang Rai.
By chasing Ram Decho across the country, he had left his southern border unsecured only to find the king and upparat of Ayutthaya ensconced on his territory when he returned. It wasn't that he had been outmaneuvered that perplexed him, it was that he would have to meet with King Naresuan, a man who had frightened him from their early years together in school in Pegu, and it was a fear that lasted to the present day.
To the king of Lan Na, King Naresuan was a larger-than-life figure, a warrior with little understanding of the niceties that made life, in the eyes of Nawarahta Minsaw, worthwhile. It was a fear he could never hide from the young Prince Naret and certainly not from the wiser King Naresuan.
It was with trepidation that he entered the Siamese camp where he was kept waiting for nearly an hour before being granted an audience with King Naresuan and Upparaja Ekathotsarot. As he entered the massive war tent of the Siamese he saw the king and the upparat sitting side-by-side on golden thrones of equal size. Two tigers sat quietly chained at the feet of the dais. To the right of the upparat stood his eldest son Tu Laung, previously sent as a hostage with his sister to Ayutthaya when he agreed to vassal status with King Naresuan. He was relieved to see his son still alive. He had heard nothing from him these past five years.
He walked forward and supplicated himself on the floor. He was shaking. It was not that he feared death. He feared King Naresuan.
“Rise, King of Lan Na,” said King Naresuan, his strong voice resonating in the head of King Nawarahta.
With his actions in supplicating himself before the king and upparaja and with those simple words from King Naresuan, all was understood. He would remain as King of Lan Na, but Lan Na was now a vassal state of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.
“We are sorry to hear of the death of your wife,” said Upparaja Ekathotsarot with genuine concern. “She was a talented lady, and her poetry will live long after her.”
“Thank you, Upparaja," King Nawarahta Minsaw replied. I miss her more than words can say.”
“And you are a man who uses words well.”
“We have some of that fine Chinese tea you grow. My brother and I ask that you join with us,” continued Upparaja Ekathotsarot, as he banged his golden staff on the dais.
The magnificent tent emptied as those inside backed out, bowing to their joint rulers.
“My brother would speak with you,” said Upparaja Ekathotsarot.
You could hear King Nawarahta Minsaw gulp as he turned to face the Ayutthayan king.
“What I tell you today and what I ask of you is to remain between the three of us,” said King Naresuan. “No other person apart from the one it involves should ever hear of it on pain of death. Your death.”
“I understand,” said King Minsaw, both curious and terrified at the same time.
“I will begin in Pegu, where we fell in love,” said King Naresuan. King Nawarahta Minsaw was taken aback by these words. He had thought of King Naresuan as a consummate warrior, and to hear him talk of love was something he would never had considered.
“Only my brother, my sister Princess Suphankanlaya, the lady herself and your late queen, the Lady Hsinbyushin Medaw, know of my story. I told neither my father nor my mother. It is something personal to me, and it was, perhaps wrongly, something I was unwilling to share. The lady in question is your niece, the Lady Natshin Medaw.” said King Naresuan.
“Oh, now I see. Now I understand,” King Nawarahta Minsaw replied after some thought. It was as if the revelation had finally opened his eyes. “Little Natshin has always carried a sadness, a longing about her. Now I understand.”
“We have not met for many years. She was the wife of Crown Prince Mingyi Swa and was then held in Pegu, though was well looked after by King Nanda Bayin. She passed only one message to me in all those years, and I caught a glimpse of her only once when I swore the “Oath of Cakkavati” inside the Shwemawdaw Paya. Many years have passed.
“When I besieged Toungoo she was held inside. As I looked back as we left, she was looking. I could not see her, but I knew she was there. My heart aches for her, as I feel hers does for me. For all I have done, both good and bad, nothing matters more to me than to be with her,” King Naresuan said, with an intensity that had both King Nawarahta Minsaw and Upparaja Ekathotsarot hanging on his every word.
“What do you wish of me?” King Nawarahta Minsaw asked. “Anything you wish.”
“I have written this letter to the Lady Medaw. I wish you to pass it to her. I also request that you arrange for us to meet,” said King Naresuan, passing the letter containing thirty years of his love.
“I will leave to make arrangements in the morning if that is acceptable to you. It will be an honor,” said King Nawarahta Minsaw now with a totally different understanding of King Naresuan. His fear of him had gone.
“I am sure I can leave Lan Na in your safe keeping,” he added with a hint of irony.
“And now we need to agree your terms of vassalage,” said Upparaja Ekathotsarot, getting back to the business at hand.
It was only two days later when another of King Naresuan's school friends from his days in Pegu rode into his camp. Kham Kai Noi was the Sopha of Hsenwi, a city that lay to the north of the resurgent city of Ava under King Nyaugyan Min. The city of Hsenwi sat to the north-east of the Shan states, a fluid confederate of territories with loose and ever-changing alliances. Despite their recent domination by the three successive kings of the Toungoo Empire remained a fiercely independent people with no desire to submit to the Burmese yoke again, be it Toungoo or be it Ava.
“King Naresuan, Upparaja Ekathotsarot, I come seeking your help,” said Sopha Noi. “Our people are under threat so soon after the death of King Bayin.”
“The power vacuum is being filled. It is King Nyaungyan no doubt,” said Upparaja Ekathotsarot.
“He demands tribute from us, as does the emperor in Beijing. I feel the emperor is unlikely to attack this far south, but what King Nyaugyan asks is far deeper than mere tribute. King Nyaugyan needs people for his armies as the Toungoo Empire did before him. We have seen so many of our sons taken never to return. Already some Sopha have refused to supply men and have suffered accordingly.”
“He needs people for his armies,” said King Naresuan. “That is why he did not join Toungoo and the Arakan in sacking Pegu. He used the time to consolidate power in the north of Burma.”
“As a ruler you must think beyond today, beyond the moment. You need to see how the actions you take will influence the future.” His father's words came back to him.
“And his defeat of Toungoo following their attack on him has left him as the dominant power. He wants the Shan states to support him, either by agreement or force, before he wages total war, first against the city of Toungoo and the moving south into the heartland of Hongsawadee.”
“King Nyaungyan has made overtures of friendship to us but we, the Shan, hold that Ava should be ruled by Shan kings or those of Shan blood,” Sopha Noi responded. “The successive reigns of King Tabinshwehti, King Bayinnaung, and King Nanda Bayin have taught us that we do not want to be ruled by a king of Burmese descent again.
“Our people have common cause in this, and are united in their desire to drive King Nyaungyan from Ava. Already rebellions have broken out. Both Mone and Mogaung have revolted, The Sopha of Mogaung was defeated and taken to Ava with his wife and family as hostages. King Nyaungyan has a son Anaukpetlun who is a fearsome warrior and, from what we have seen of him so far, an excellent general.”
“You offer a challenge you know I cannot refuse,” said King Naresuan. You know me all too well from our school days. You already tempt me to meet this Anaukpetlun on the battlefield.”
“You will help us?” asked Sopha Noi.
King Naresuan looked at Upparaja Ekathotsarot, who nodded in agreement.
“Some of our army is here. We can call on our troops resting in Ayutthaya. We will need to ready, them but you have our support,” King Naresuan said.
“You have always been a friend to the Shan. What do you ask of us for this support?” asked Sopha Noi.
“I have no territorial designs of the lands of the Shan or of the Burmese, but I will ask for tribute as a sign of the Shan people's respect. The defeat of King Bayin has shown me the futility of vast empires that cannot be sustained. It is also in my interest that Burma remains weak, and the defeat of Ava will ensure that will be the case for the foreseeable future. I ask that you remain our ally against the Burmese. With us to the east, you to the north, and the Arakan to their west, they are contained,” said King Naresuan.
“We will march in support of your army. We have the army of Lan Na to call on, but we will need to leave a substantial holding force here until the peace is assured. It is your battlefield Sopha Noi. Let us hear how you think this war should best be waged?” King Naresuan prompted.
They discussed battle plans and strategies deep into the night. The Shan prince, Sopha Kham Kai Noi, was to head back to Hsenwi and raise an army while King Naresuan would follow within two months. The Siamese king would cross the River Salween at Ta Hsang with his war elephants crossing further downstream at Tha Chang (the elephant crossing), and wait for the troops of Sopha Noi to join him before heading toward Ava. Prince Ekathotsarot and his army were to head to Muang Fan and approach Ava from the east.
King Naresuan and Upparaja Ekathotsarot left to travel to Ayutthaya to gather their troops. Both of their tasks in Lan Na had been fulfilled.
“When this war is won my only concern is the Lady Natshin and her safety,” said King Naresuan. “I want her to return to Ayutthaya with me. I dearly want to spend my remaining time with her. Our love apart has been hard to bear for both of us.”
On returning to Hsenwi, Kham Kai Noi found that his younger brother, who he had left in charge in his absence, had been assassinated, and it was two of his uncles who were now ruling the state. The sight of Sopha Kham Kai Noi and his returning forces was enough to make the uncles flee. One fled to China, the other later committed suicide rather than face the wrath of Sopha Noi. It was an omen that worried Sopha Khan Kai Noi. If his own family could not remain united, how would the Shan people remain united in the battle that lay ahead?
The help that Kham Kai Noi, Sopha of Hsenwi, waited for never arrived.
King Naresuan returned to Ayutthaya before returning with Upparaja Ekathotsarot on the sixth waning moon of the second Siamese month, 1604. They passed through Kampang Phet before moving north to Chiang Mai and organizing their forces.
King Naresuan set his camp on the plain of Keao on the eastern bank of the Nam Hang River. While there, he suffered from a septic pustule on his chin. The poison spread throughout his body, and as his condition worsened, couriers were sent to bring his brother Ekathotsarot, the Upparat and heir to the throne of Ayutthaya. Three days after his arrival and with his brother by his side, King Naresuan died at the age of forty-nine. It was on Monday, the 8th waxing moon of the sixth Siamese month (25 April, 1605) that his fifteen year reign drew to a close.
Debate still rages as to where his body lies. The spot where he died is situated to the northeast of Hui Auw, on the eastern bank of the Nam Hang River. According to Tai traditions when a ruler or leader died, the corpse was cremated on the site of death and the ashes were enshrined in a stupa-like structure. Local belief was that if a leader died while on their way to battle then the corpse must be cremated ahead of the place where he died, meaning that he did not retreat, instead he marched forward, even after death.
Upparaja Ekathotsarot called off the campaign following the death of his brother and returned to Ayutthaya. He ruled Ayutthaya peacefully and prosperously, building on the security his brother had brought to the nation until his own death fifteen years later.
Sopha Noi refused to pay tribute to both China and Ava, and as a consequence, both sent armies against him. The armies of the Chinese were the first sent as far south in nearly three hundred years, since the time of the Mongol emperors, and, as before, they cut a swathe through the Shan kingdoms, this time returning before invading Burma as they had done three centuries before. According to the account given by the historian Nang Khurg Hsen, Sopha Kham Kai Noi died in battle fighting King Nyaugyan at Khurhsen, bringing to an end the Shan quest for independence.
It fell to King Nawarahta Minsaw to return to Toungoo and break the news of King Naresuan's death to the Lady Natshin Medaw. Only two months earlier he had witnessed the joy on her face when he told her the King Naresuan would come to meet her.
“I have his letter. Our love was not meant to be,” she said holding the letter to her.
After King Nyaungyan had defeated the Shan, the Lady Natshin Medaw returned to Ava to live out her remaining years. She never spoke of the love she held for King Naresuan. It was deeply personal. Only six people had ever known of this, the deepest of loves, a love that had spanned the decades.
The importance of King Naresuan the Great to the Kingdom of Thailand cannot be underestimated. In a time of fast moving change and brutal wars, it was he who secured the freedom of his country. It may have been that at the time the concept of the nation state had not yet taken hold, but as new ideas on politics and government arrived from Europe there were major changes to how countries in this region of the world started to view themselves. Modern day Thailand has its roots in the freedom that King Naresuan the Great secured from the Burmese.
There are many versions relating to the death of King Naresuan. Most texts are clear that he died of an infected carbuncle or a pustule on his face. Others say his death was caused by smallpox. The site of his death is also a point of conjecture. The spot where he died was thought to be the northeast of Hui Auw, on the eastern bank of the Nam Hang River, although Burmese scholars put the place of his death as Wang Hang in Chiang Mai province.
The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya tell of an enormous and widely attended funeral ceremony held for King Naresuan in 1605. A temple, thought to be Wat Worachetharam, was built on the site of his cremation. This temple housed a holy Stupa and a holy relic of the Buddha and had dormitories built to house the forest dwelling sect of monks. The forest dwelling monks lived within the temple and were supported with alms and food. Crown officials were appointed to the temple which was endowed from the Royal purse. It is highly likely that a ceremony was held and as we saw with the death of King Maha Thammaracha considerable importance is given to following proper protocols in continuing the line of succession.
The "Songkram Yuddhahatthi" took place on Monday, the 2nd waning day of the 2nd month of the Buddhist calendar Chulasakarat Era, year 954. This date is calculated to correspond to Monday, 18 January, AD 1593 of the Gregorian calendar. Every year during the week of January 25, there is a week-long Don (meaning "hill" or "slope") Chedi Monument Fair which honors the great king who did so much for Siam. This fair includes a full costume reenactment of an elephant battle that took place four centuries ago. This date is now observed as Royal Thai National Armed Forces day.
Over the course of a dozen consecutive evenings, the famous battle between Naresuan’s army and the Burmese invaders is re-enacted in Don Chedi’s sports stadium. Thousands of local students are clad in the tunics of sixteenth-century Thai and Burmese soldiers. The sparks from their clashing swords fill the night, like a huge swarm of fireflies, while a spectacular light show and reverberating sound effects further evoke the atmosphere of a real battlefield. War elephants dressed ready for battle to authenticate the show.
The highlight is when King Naresuan, riding one of these elephants, engages with and strikes down his counterpart, the Burmese crown prince Mingyi Swa in the most famous duel in Thai history.
The scene is re-enacted across Thailand, most notably among the ruins of the Chan Palace in Phitsanulok, in Sukhothai, and in Ayutthaya.
Statues to King Naresuan can be found throughout the country. Probably the best known King Naresuan Monument in the Upper North stands in Muang Ngai, a small town some ten kilometers northwest of Chiang Dao. At this site, Royal Thai Army Day is annually celebrated in style. It is believed that, during an offensive against Burma, King Naresuan rested his army and prepared for battle at this scenic site, located in the shadow of Mount Chiang Dao. At the base of the Memorial Stupa, terracotta panels depict important highlights from King Naresuan’s life, while a replica of a wooden stockade, comprising a thirty-meter square fence, has been reconstructed behind it.
Statues to King Naresuan are virtually everywhere in the king’s birthplace, Phitsanulok, in the Lower North of Thailand. The most impressive of all of them is a twice life-size statue at the city’s King Naresuan University, depicting the king seated with a sword across his lap while declaring Ayutthaya’s independence. Interestingly, large statues of the king are even enshrined in the city’s Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, just beside the Phra Phuttha Chinnarat, one of the country’s most revered Buddha images.
The symbol of the region is the cockerel. Found at road intersections, alongside main roads in Phitsanulok province and in peoples' home and gardens, the cockerel is a symbolic tribute to Prince Naret's victory over Crown Prince Mingyi Swa.
“The notions of warrior bravery and self-sacrifice for national interest were then firmly imbued in the Thai identity.”
Ka Wong, speaking of King Naresuan.