Book One

History records that King Suriyenthrabodi, the Tiger King of Siam, died from drink. The records also make a veiled reference to a civil war. This novel sees the king driven from the shores of Siam and forced to make a living in the only way he knows; fighting.

One of the finest proponents of the Muay Thay style of fighting, he makes his way to England in the year 1713, where he enters the fledgling fight scene, with a fighting style that contrasts with the style of the day. The novel, set in the final years of the reign of Queen Anne, gives more than a glimpse into the underbelly of London life, in period that is often a neglected by writers and historians.

The question asked is "Is he really the king of Siam?" The second part of that book answers that question.

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The Carrack was a sailing ship of the 14th–17th centuries that was built with three masts, the mainmast and foremast being rigged with square sails and the mizzenmast rigged with a fore-and-aft triangular lateen sail. Larger carracks often had a fourth mast, the bonaventure, stepped behind the mizzenmast to carry another lateen sail. The carrack was deep and broad, with a high sterncastle and still higher forecastle thrusting out over the bow. Large carracks, such as the Erasmus 2, reached almost 45 metres (150 feet) in length overall and more than 1,000 tons displacement.The carrack was the precursor of the galleon a warship that was built with less cumbersome fore- and sterncastles and a greater length relative to itsbeam.

The Howland Great Dock was completed in the early 1700s following the granting of an Act in its favour in 1696, and which was probably the largest dock in Europe at the time.  The main responsibility for the dock's design is usually credited to John Wells, a local shipwright who was one of the dock's investors and managers, but it is also possible that a Rotherhithe carpenter, Thomas Steers was responsible or contributed to the design.  Steers had gained experience of engineering in the military, and in 1710 was hired to work on the development of Liverpool's earliest enclosed dock, implying that he had already gained some experience in this line of work. 

Opposite: Howland Great Wet Dock by John Kip

Howland Great Wet Dock was timber-lined and covered an area of 12.25 acres, measuring c.1000 x 500ft in area and it was 17ft deep. Its wooden lock was 150ft long by 44ft wide, and was also 17ft deep. The construction was supervised by Wells but the contractor for the construction work was a Stepney carpenter named William Ogbourne, who was responsible for lining the dock with timber and building the lock.  Although Rotherhithe had been the focus for ship work for many years Howland Great Wet Dock was the first of all of Rotherhithe's big enclosed bodies of water, with direct access out onto the Thames.  It could handle up to 120 ships.  The dock was managed on behalf of the Bedford family by John and Richard Wells, who had loaned money for the construction of the docks. The total cost of the dock was £12,000. (Source: A Rotherhithe Blog.)

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"Farewell to Kent-street garrison,
Farewell to Horsly-down,
And all the smirking wenches
That dwell in Redriff town."
Roxburgh Ballads—"The Merry Man's Resolutions."

Rotherhithe, or, as it is occasionally called, "Redriff," is worthy of note as the first place where docks were constructed for the convenience of London. The parish adjoins Bermondsey on the east, and extends along the southern shore of the Thames as far as Deptford. The compiler of the "New View of London," published in 1708, considers Rotherhithe as "equivalent to 'Red Rose Haven,' probably from some such sign being there, as 'Rother' Lane (now called Pudding Lane) had that name from the sign of a red rose there." Hithe, or hythe, as is well known, is a common name for the lower port or haven of maritime towns, such as Colchester, Southampton, &c. Rotherhithe was mainly inhabited a hundred or more years ago, as now, by seafaring persons and tradesmen whose business depended on seamen and shipping.

In the Eighteenth Century, when this novel is set, Rotherhithe was still separated from Bermondsey by fields and market gardens, and was still fairly marshy. 

The first documented "boxing match" took place in 1681 in Britian when the Duke of Albemarle engineered a bout between his butler and his butcher. In the 18th century, England became the hub of bare-knuckle prizefighting.

Still illegal, bareknuckle prizefighting started to flourish in the period the book is set. Our main protagonist is James Figg, who meets Luang Sorasak at the end of Book 1. He is widely regarded as the first Heavyweight Champion of the World.

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There have been two explanations how the Bankside brothels became known as ‘The Stews’.  Firstly, the ponds on the Bishop of Winchester's estate where fish, especially carp, were bred for the table were called stew-ponds and that the near-by brothels were called stews after these - if someone said they were going to visit the stews it could be laden with innuendo.  Secondly, it has been put forward the name ‘stew’ derives from the word Estuwes or Estues which is Norman French for stove.

‘Rookery’ was the word used to describe this country’s most squalid slums in the mid-Eighteenth Century. The poet George Galloway described one in 1792 as "a cluster of mean tenements densely populated by people of the lowest class". Criminals, prostitutes, alcoholics and reprobates roosted in them noisily, ghettoised away from the rest of society.

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St Giles parish, immortalised in Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’, was the site of London’s most notorious rookery of the time. Home to a relentless tide of immigrants, coiners, prostitutes, thieves and addicts of varying kinds, it was synonymous with the gin craze and became a pit of lawlessness and violence so threatening that the police gave it a wide berth for more than a hundred years.

London Bridge spanned the River Thames between Borough High Street in Southwark and King William Street in the City of London.

The bridge was lined with shops and houses (a source of income for the bridge,) lining the 926-foot (282-metre) length of the bridge and reducing the carriageway to only 12 feet (4 metres) in places. In 1282 five arches collapsed under the pressure of winter ice. These, too, were rebuilt, and the bridge, though often in a state of disrepair, survived as London’s sole crossing of the Thames until 1750. In that year Westminster Bridge opened, despite opposition from City merchants.

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Despite being illegal the boxing scene grew rapidly, especially in London with the first documented account coming in 1681. Fights of the time would often have three distinct phases; cudgels, swords and then bare-knuckle fighting. It is only as the sport involved that bare-knuckle came to dominate

By the end of the 17th century this new craze of prize fighting in England had taken off so much that bouts were even being hosted in the Royal Theatre. A purse would be agreed upon and side bets could be taken by the fighters themselves, their entourage and by the watching crowd. 

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It was not until James Figg became a boxer in 1719 that skill was brought into the game. Figg, an expert fencer, held the title until 1730 losing only one bout in his career. He would challenge all comers to bouts of boxing at his booth at Southwark Fair and owned the Boarded House, a notorious boxing den.

James Figg died in 1734 after nearly 300 fights. During this time boxing still had no rules or regulations and were often quite vicious affairs. Having said that, boxing did regain some status and respectability due to the fact that King George was an avid fan along with many noblemen. King George also set up a ring at Hyde Park, London in 1723.

Rashid al-Din Sinan was the original “Old Man of the Mountain” of the Crusades, who made the Nizari Ismailis famous in medieval Europe as assassins. His final act was in 1191, when he ordered the successful assassination of the newly elected King of Jerusalem Conrad of Montferrat. This assassination may have been sponsored by King Richard 1 of England or, his rival, Saladin. The sect continued its role in the centuries following his death gaining world-wide notoriety.

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In 1714, George I succeeded Queen Anne to the throne as the first ruler of the Hanoverian line. The 1707 Treaty of Union which was not fully supported, particularly in Scotland. Following his ascension George I, a German from Hanover who could not speak English, managed to alienate more people including a range of former supporters of Queen Anne. 

The Earl of Mar was initially been seen as an enthusiastic supporter of George I, but after being publicly snubbed by the new king, on 1 September 1715 he raised a standard for King James VIII at Braemar. The two armies met at the Battle of Sherifmuir and by evening, both armies were seriously reduced, and although Mar had a great advantage in numbers, he refused to press home his advantage. The battle was inconclusive, however, the Jacobite army was demoralised and although the rising continued for another two and a half months it seemed to never truly recover from the loss at Sheriffmuir.

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Opposite: An engraving of James Figg.

Book Two

The seal of the province of Pichit in North-Central Thailand shows a pond, which refers to the old name of Phichit, Mueang Sra Luang ("city at the royal pond"). The banyan tree in front refers to the temple Wat Pho Prathab Chang. The temple was built in 1669- 71 by King Suriyenthrathibodi, aka, Luang Sorasak or Phrachao Suea (The Tiger King), who was born in the village of Pho Prathab Chang, between a banyan and a sacred fig.
Olivier Touzeau, 5 September 2012.

The Muay Thai style of fighting emerged over time. History records it as Muay Boran in its early days. 
Some of the greatest or renowned Thai monarchs in the past regarded Muay Thai as one of their favorite 
sports or past-times.  In particular, King Naresuan the Great, (pictured opposite)who had participated in Muay Thai contests and championed the Muay Thai style of fighting among his men.

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When he was young, Luang Sorasak showed great interest and enthusiasm in Thai-style Boxing. It is said that he endeavored to learn every style or technique and rhythm involved in Thai-style Boxing from the Royal Court. He would then leave the Court and attended Thai-style Boxing training courses provided by other training establishments.


Training photograph. Source: Muay Thai Institute of Rangsit Thailand 

Muay Thai is the most ancient form of Thai Martial arts symbolizing the uniqueness of the Thais.  Art and culture represent an important source of a nation's heritage (and history) and plays an important role in the history, sovereignty, and development of the nation.  It is considered incumbent upon the Thai people not only to preserve but also to perpetuate its cultural and national heritage in the nation's interest and, to uphold Thailand's international standing or status.

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This highly-skilled form of martial arts comes in various styles or techniques, developed and refined and handed down by tradition throughout the history of Thailand. In Muay Thai performances, there is an important ceremonial ritual which the boxers or combatants must go through before the commencement of each bout. This ritual indicates the great extent to which Muay Thai boxers hold their masters in high reverence and is regarded as a holy symbolism handed down throughout the ages. At the beginning of the Ayutthya era, boxers fought with bare fists protected only by cloth. Timing was by placing a coconut shell in a container of water used as a sort of timing device.  The floating (of the shell) is called UNLOY and UNCHOM which determines the end of a round.

Constantine Phaulkon first traveled to Asia with Samuel White's elder brother George in around 1670. A chance meeting with a shipwrecked Siamese ambassador in Sumatra, whom Phaulkon rescued and returned to Ayutthaya, led to a meteoric rise at court. At first he was able to use the Company's support to cement his position; when, after 1685, the English withdrew from Siam, Phaulkon turned to France. For a while his strategy worked but, inevitably, his influence with King Narai was unpopular and when, in 1688, the King fell ill, his enemies pounced. Phaulkon was executed on June 5th 1688 and Narai died shortly afterwards. He was succeeded by his foster brother Phra Phetracha, who proceeded to expel most foreigners from the kingdom.

Phra Chao Sua (The Tiger King), went to the extent of disguising himself as a commoner in order to enable him to participate in Muay Thai contests frequently held during Temple festivals and he usually 
emerged victorious.

It is said that after he ascended the throne, he once disguised himself as a commoner, and traveled by sea with his fleet of boats, and moored in a hiding-place at Tarkruad sub-district to take part in a boxing match held during a festival.  There, he dispatched some soldiers who accompanied him to inform the head of a boxing ring that there was a boxer from Ayutthaya who was looking for an opponent to engage him in physical combat. When people heard about this newcomer from Ayutthaya, they were interested to find out about his ability and skills. The head of the boxing ring found three challengers to fight him.  The Tiger King.

Opposite: Ayutthaya

Below: Sketch from La Loubere:

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Thai students learn the story of Phanthai Norasing at school. Phanthai Norasing is a symbol of integrity and honesty and his virtues are taught to all students. Norasing lived during the Ayutthaya period about two hundred years ago. He used to be a coxswain on one of the barges of Phra Chao Sua, the King at the time. In 1704 A.D., the King was travelling along the curved Khok Kham Canal on the Ekkachai Royal Barge. There were so many bends in the canal that poor Norasing was having trouble controlling the rudder. This caused the prow of the boat to be broken off when it hit the trunk of a tree. Norasing understood that the palace law of the time ordered execution for his error. Although the King Sua forgave him but, he begged the King to have him executed. After his death, the King built a shrine on Khok Kham Canal and commanded to have a new canal, later to be named Klong Mahachai, to be dug in a straight line in order to make a safer passage.

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Opposite: King Suriyenthrabodi. The Tiger King of Siam. (From the text of "The Tiger King of Siam.)

As a king he was much maligned, even in his own records. The Chronicle of Ayutthaya, (the British Museum Edition) states:

At that time, the King was of vulgar mind, uncivil behavior, savage conduct, cruel habit. He engaged Himself in no charitable business, but in that against the royal traditions. Also, He lacked inhibition, but was consumed by unholy sin. Eternal were anger and ignorance in His mind. And the King habitually drank liquor and pleased Himself with the intercourses with the female children not yet attaining the age of menstruation. In this respect, where any female was able to endure Him, that female would be granted a great amount of rewards, money, gold, silks and other cloth. Should any female be incapable of bearing with Him, He would be enraged and strike at her heart, putting her to death. The caskets were every day seen to be called into the palace to contain the females' dead bodies and to be carried out of there through a royal gate at the end of the royal confinement mansion. That gate thereby gained the name the “Gate of Ghosts” until now.”

Furthermore, when His Majesty made a trip to any canal, sea, island or any other place plentiful with sharks, sawfish and other aquatic beings, He always drank liquor. If any concubine, lady, page or official caused His barge shaken, His Majesty would exercise no judgment and express no mercy, but would be enraged and order the person to be dragged with a hook and thrown into water to be consumed by sharks and sawfish.”

Moreover, His Majesty never maintained Himself in the five precepts. He gratified Himself by having carnal knowledge of the wives of His public officers. From that time onward, He was given the name the “Tiger King.”