Episode 3.11 – The Golden Tower King

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Thai painting of the army of Yamada Nagamasa, Japanese mercenary and official at Ayutthaya who helped orchestrate the coup of Prasat Thong, only to be betrayed by the king soon after his ascension, according to Van Vliet)

The 17th century was an age of commerce, of peace and prosperity. And yet it was also a period of political instability, courtly intrigue, and brutal civil war. As the country grew richer off the back of foreign trade, the position of King became more and more lucrative – and enticing. With no formal law of succession beyond nomination by the previous king – and with that relying on the good graces of the court to enforce – there was little stopping ambitious nobles from orchestrating violent uprisings to seize the palace for themselves.

The most famous example of this comes in the 1628-9 coup of Prasat Thong – first cousin of the previous king, who came to power by leveraging patronage gained through high office, and choice friends among the many foreign mercenaries and officials present in the capital. We are fortunate to have a near-contemporary account of his coup in the form of Jeremias Van Vliet, a regular visitor to the show before, whose 1640 work documents the eyewitness accounts (with quite a few editorializations on the part of its author!) of the insurrection.

Today, we explore the coup, as well as the reigns bounding it, and see what a 17th century Thai succession crisis looked like in person.

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