The Start of the Chakri Dynasty

“General Chakri was highly effective in the field; he repelled four Burmese invasions and brought to heel two Laotian principalities; in the course of his operations he brought from Vientiane the Emerald Buddha, which is today the most important object of worship in the capital.

“Traditionally, Cambodia had been a vassal state of the kings of Ayutthaya, and Taksin, elated by his successes, was resolved to reassert his rights and assure that his throne was occupied by a monarch who had been approved by himself. He felt however that he was too old, too exhausted by many wars to undertake a new campaign, so he entrusted its conduct to General Chakri, while himself remaining in Thonburi would devote his energies to the interior organization of his kingdom.

“However, the years of battle, followed by seven years of absolute rule, had corroded his stability. He became insane. It was not long before the city was in revolt with a General Sanka restoring order at the head of the military junta.

“The news of this confusion reached General Chakri in Cambodia. He immediately abandoned his campaign and hurried home. He was welcomed on all sides, General Sanka meeting him outside the city walls to make obeisance. The officers of state followed, and on April 6, 1782, offered Chakri the throne, which he accepted. It was a bloodless revolution. There was no fighting.

“Taksin surrendered without a protest, with the request that he be allowed to live out his days in a Buddhist monastery. Chakri had been his favourite general. They had fought side by side; they had never quarreled. Taksin might well have hoped that his wish would be granted him. But it was not a good idea to have a deposed king living even as a monk within the confines of the country over which he once ruled.

“There was no alternative to his execution. He apparently bore no ill will, and on his way to the scaffold asked if he might be able to take his leave personally of his old brother-in-arms. It is reported that Chakri could not trust himself to speak; he was in tears and waved the messenger away.

“In Thaland, the blood of a royal person may not be shed; the execution of such a one is performed by a blow on the back of the neck with a scented sandalwood club. Prince Chula has written that the death was instantaneous and that it was merciful as the guillotine. On the other hand there are reports that the victim was placed in a velvet sack and beaten to death.

“But what of General Sanka? He had headed a revolt that had become inevitable; he had restored order to the capital, without any intention of taking over the supreme authority himself. When the ideal leader appeared at the gates with his elephants and troops, he recognized the man of destiny who would save the hour and paid him homage. Surely he had deserved well of the state in general and of Chakri in particular? Surely he could expect quick promotion? In any other country, yes, but not in Thailand.

“Treachery was the greatest crime a Thai could commit. To plot against a king was even worse and Sanka had conspired against Taksin. Chakri was innocent. He did not usurp a throne. He occupied an empty one. But Sanka was a criminal. He must pay the penalty. He was executed not with a sandalwood club but with a sword.

“In this way the reign of the Chakri dynasty began.”

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