Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Beginning of Relations with European Nations and Japan

Portugal and Spain | Japan | Denmark | The Netherlands | England | France




Portugal and Spain

A. Portugal

    In the year 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India via the Cape of Good Hope, marking the Europeans, first contact by sea with the Far East. The Portuguese arrived in Malacca in 1509 and captured that city in 1511. As Malacca had been a part of the Thai Kingdom since the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng, Portugal decided to dispatch Duarte Fernandez to Ayutthaya. That same year, the Portuguese also sent Antonio de Miranda as their envoy to the Thai Kingdom. The Thais reciprocated by dispatching an embassy to Goa, a Portuguese settlement in India. In 1516, Portugal followed up by sending Duarte de Coelho as their third envoy to Ayutthaya and promised to supply the Thais with guns and ammunition. For their part, the Thais agreed to guarantee religious freedom as well as to facilitate the efforts of the Portuguese in establishing settlements and engaging in trade. Portugal also expressed her desire that Thais national be sent to settle down in Malacca in place of the Arab traders who had left the city following the Portuguese conquest. Moreover, the Portuguese praised the Thai Kingdom as being the most powerful and prosperous state in the region.

    As many as 300 Portuguese nationals subsequently settled down in Ayutthaya some were traders and some were military experts. Portugal appointed a trade representative in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Pattani to conduct trade in rice, tin, ivory, gum benjamin, indigo, sticklac and sappan wood. In 1538, King Prajairaja (1534 - 1546) employed some 120 Portuguese as his body-guards. However, Ayutthaya was not the only place where Portuguese soldiers volunteered to serve. In 1549, when the Thais and the Burmese were at war, both sides used Portuguese volunteers and cannons. In 1606, Diege Lopes de Sequeira led a group of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries to Ayutthaya for the first time.

    The Portuguese who came to Ayutthaya did not only seek to engage in trade on a temporary basis but also took up permanent residence there. This made it more convenient for them to trade with the Thais. However, in 1624, it so happened that Portugal seized a Dutch vessel in Thai waters and in 1628, a Thai junk was sunk by a Portuguese ship. Such incidents were prompted by political factors, that is, the Dutch during that time had expanded into the Far East and were competing with the Portuguese for trade and ports in areas which were originally Portuguese trading centres. The armed clashed which ensued between the Thais and the Portuguese were therefore mainly a product of the above-mentioned competition between Portugal and the Netherlands.

    The Portuguese were no match for the Dutch and the latter subsequently established themselves as a sea power in the Far East. The Portuguese in Ayutthaya, whether traders or missionaries, were allowed to live peacefully, although there were several incidents of foreigners being expelled from the Kingdom for interfering in Thai political affairs. This demonstrates that the Thais were always ready to reciprocate with an open-mind and to provide facilities whenever foreign countries desired merely to trade and to propagate their religion, but not to become involved in domestic politics. There was no discrimination against other religions and the door was always open to trade with other countries.

    B. Spain

    Spain and Portugal had divided up among themselves their sphere of expansionism outside Europe. The Spanish would expand to the West, while Portugal would focus on the East. Spain expanded her territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific, securing the Philippines Islands in 1598. Don Tello de Aguirre was then dispatched from Manila as Spain 's envoy to sign a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with the Thais. Relations between the Thais and the Spanish were along the same lines as relations between the Thais and the Portuguese since Spain and Portugal at that time were on friendly terms.






    Intercourse by sea between Thailand and other Asian nations had taken place since ancient times, particularly with India (Bengal and the Coromandel Coast) and Iran. During the period of European expansionism into the Far East, such intercourse was still taking place in the form of trade and exchanges of envoys. Since these ties did not have any impact on subsequent relations between Thailand and other countries, they will not be discussed here. Relations between Thailand and Japan, however, need to be mentioned.

    In 1593, when King Naresuan defeated Phra Maha Uparaja, the Burmese Crown Prince, in a battle on elephant-back, his army was composed of 500 Japanese soldiers. This indicated that the Japanese had entered Thailand some time before that.

    These Japanese consisted of volunteer soldiers, traders and seafarers. At the time, Japan placed restrictions on its trade with foreign countries, that is, prior permission had to be obtained for this purpose. The Japanese who left their country to become volunteer soldiers or traders were adventurers at heart, as were the Europeans who had journeyed to the Far East during the same period. Many of their actions, therefore, depicted this adventurous spirit. The Japanese volunteer corps performed well if they were kept under good supervision. However, whenever they were allowed to become involved in Thai politics, problems always arose. One case in point was Yamada Nagamasa, who was conferred the title of Okya Senabhimuk and given command over the Japanese volunteer corps during the reign of King Songtham (1610 - 1628). Yamada served King Songtham with loyalty, as evidenced by his role in supporting the King 's brother to assume the throne, as was His Majesty 's wish. Yamada also played a part in getting rid of Phya Silpa and in promoting Phra Arthityawong (August-September 1629) to the throne over King Prasattong (1629 -1656). All these actions were taken out of Yamada 's perception of what constituted loyalty. However, once he became too involved in domestic politics, which was totally unbefitting of a foreigner, disaster was to befall him and he was eventually poisoning.

    The actions of Japanese citizens in Thailand during that period were entirely separate from the actions of the Japanese Government, which maintained friendly relations with Thailand. The Shokun had promoted cordial relations with the Thai Kingdom since the reign of King Ekatosarot (1605 - 1610). During King Songtham 's rule, ties between Japan and Thailand grew even closer. Thailand dispatched several envoys to Japan, namely, Khun Pichitsombat and Khun Prasert in 1621, Luang Thongsamut and Khun Sawat in 1623, and Khun Raksasittiphon in 1626. The Shogun always responded to Thai letters, such as one requesting Japan to refrain from involvement in any actions taken by Thailand to keep Cambodia in line. The Shogun replied that the Japanese in Thailand were basically traders who should not become involved in domestic affairs. Therefor, if ever they interfered in internal politics, Thai rulers were free to punish them as deemed appropriate.

    The close relations between the two rulers were apparent from their correspondence. King Songtham, for example, once wrote : The existence of a sea separating Thailand and Japan has made contact between our two nations difficult. However, merchant ships of both nations now ply regularly between our two countries, causing relations to become even closer. It is now apparent that you (the Shogun) have sincere affection for us, an affection even stronger than that of our immediate kin. In reply, the Shogun 's letter said : The cordial relations between our two countries cannot be destroyed. Since we both have mutual trust, the existence of a sea between us is not of any significance.

    The two sides exchanged a large number of gifts. Thai fire arms and ammunition were popular among the Japanese as being of high quality. The Thais, for their part, were fond of Japanese horses. In terms of trade, Japan purchased as many as 15,000 pieces of deer skin from Thailand each year, not to mention tin, teak, sappan wood, boards, sugar, coconut oil, lead, and other commodities. The Japanese offered silver bullion and copper in exchange for the goods.

    Trade between Thailand and Japan came to a halt during the reign of King Prasattong circa 1633. The main reason for this was Japan 's decision not to trade with foreign countries. The Netherlands and China, however, were allowed to carry on trade with Japan on the island of Deshima, near Nagasaki. Therefore, subsequent trade between Thailand and Japan had to pass through the Dutch and Chinese.

    In sum, relations between Thailand and Japan during that period were cordial and close, although they were sometimes interrupted due to the actions of Japanese citizens in Thailand, which were unconnected to the Japanese Government. When trade relations subsequently came to a halt, this was a result of the Japanese Government 's policy of isolation caused by Japanese displeasure towards European missionaries. Thailand, however, continued to seek friendly relations with Japan, as evidence by the dispatch of envoys to that country in 1656 during the reign of King Chaiyaracha and in 1687 during the reign of King Narai (1656 - 1688).






    Trade between Denmark and Thailand first commenced in 1621 during the reign of King Songtham. On that occasion, Denmark 's East India Company, established in 1616, had sent a ship to Mergui and Tenasserim under the command of a Dutch captain named Crappe. He also bore a letter from Okya Tanausri, the Governor of Tenasserim, the contents of which are as follows :

    Letter of Okya Chaiyathibodi Srironarongaluchai Aphaiphiriyahyarakromaphahu, Governor of the great city of Tenasserim, to the Reth of Athilamas :

    The following royal decree is given to the great city of Tenasserim. It is hereby decreed that foreign merchants entering the harbour of the great city of Tenasserim to trade, and having accomplished their business should either be leaving the city or be moving on to the metropolis of Ayutthaya, are to be given every facility to carry on their business without cause for irritation. An old tradition exists between Athilamas and Tenasserim that merchants from Athilamas should be able to travel within the territory belonging to the great city of Tenasserim. And now the Reth of Athilamas, in consideration of our mutual regards, wishing to establish friendship with us, has instructed Captain Karabes of Athilamas to bring a ship into the port of the great city of Tenasserim. Captain Karabes of Athilamas informs us that the Reth of Athilamas is in good health and in the good company of all his chief councillors and generals and that the country of Athilamas is happy and prosperous. We are glad to hear this and have therefore had Captain Karabes of Athilamas and his soldiers entertained as our guests. Moreover, we have permitted them to carry on their trade in accordance with all their wishes. The duties accruing to us and the fees due to our chief councillors by ancient custom have been reduced for Captain Karabes of Athilamas owing to our desire to establish a close friendship with the Reth of Athilamas. Whatever will further cement the ties of friendship between the great city of Tenasserim and Athilamas, and whatever will facilitate the continued trade of merchants from Athilamas in the great city of Tenasserim, we shall leave to the wits of the Reth of Athilamas.

    Given on Friday, the 13th day of the waxing moon of the first month of the Year of the Cock, being the third decade (corresponding to the 10th of December 1621).

    In another letter, the Reth of Athilamas was referred to as the Retho of Dilamas. Since Portuguese was a widely used language at the time, I surmise that the authors of the letters were attempting to write the Portuguese words Rei de Dinamarca, meaning King of Denmark.

    The Governor of Tenasserim 's letter clearly indicated that Thailand has never shut the door to trade with other countries, although customs and dues were usually levied in this connection. However, in the above case, Thailand was prepared to waive the customs and dues for the sake of friendly relations with the Danes.





The Netherlands

    In 1608, the Dutch established a trading station in Ayutthaya and the following year, in 1609, Thai envoys were dispatched to the Netherlands. Subsequently, on 12 June 1617, the two countries concluded their first treaty whereby the Dutch obtained definite terms for the purchase of animal hides. Between 1618 -1620, England and the Netherlands were at war and an English vessel was attacked by a Dutch ship at Pattani. At that time, Portugal 's sea power had declined and naval supremacy was being contested between the Netherlands and England. During the reign of King Prasattong in 1648, when Songkhla staged a revolt, the Netherlands offered to send warships to assist the King in suppressing the rebellion. However, the ships were either late in arriving or were never dispatched in the first place, thus marring relations between the two countries.

    During the reign of King Narai in 1661, the Netherlands seized a vessel, flying the Portuguese flag, in the Gulf of Tonkin. The goods on board the vessel, however, belonged to the King of Ayutthaya, thus triggering a dispute between the Thais and the Dutch. In 1664, a group of Chinesemen laid siege to a Dutch trading station in Ayutthaya and in retaliation, Dutch ships were sent to blockade the Gulf of Thailand. Thailand was compelled to sign a treaty with the Netherlands on 11 August 1664. The treaty itself was composed of two documents, one long and one short. The contents of the latter can be summarised as follows :

    1. The King of Ayutthaya and the Dutch East India Company were to maintain friendly relations.

    2. The Dutch were free to trade in Thailand, without any restrictions, but were required to pay taxes and dues in accordance with the normal practice.

    3. Thailand would refrain from employing Chinese on Thai ships; any such ships with Chinese on board were liable to be seized by the Dutch.

    4. The Dutch East India Company had a monopoly on the export of deer hides and cattle hides from Thailand.

    The long document, however, contained one additional point stipulating that in cases in which employees of the Dutch East India Company committed a serious crime in Thailand, the King of Ayutthaya had no authority to pass judgment. Such employees were instead required to be handed over to the head of the Company, to be punished in accordance with Dutch law. This clause was in violation of Thai sovereignty and was the initial example of extraterritoriality, but it must be kept in mind that the treaty was signed following the blockade by Dutch ships.

    The above incident portrays the danger that politics can easily interfere with trade. In any case, the Netherlands ' sea power was not long-lasting and they were eventually replaced by England. Once to political issues had passed and the Dutch concentrated only on trade, the rifts between Thailand and the Netherlands ceased to exist. The Dutch trading missing thus continued its operations until the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767.






    In 1612, English ships visited Pattani and Ayutthaya, bearing a letter from King James of England. They established a trading station at Ayutthaya but trade with the Thais did not yield a good profit and the trading station was subsequently shut down in 1632.

    In 1659, a number of Englishmen fled from Cambodia and in 1661 they reestablished their trading station in Ayutthaya. The English did not seem all too interested in trade with Thailand, but the Thais appeared to welcome such trade. In 1678, the Thai ruler offered to cede Pattani to the English East India Company. The proposal was not only turned down, but the Company even went so for as to assist Songkhla in rebelling against Ayutthaya.

    In sum, Thailand not only opened her door to trade with all foreign countries, but she in fact desired to have contacts with England in order to balance the influence of the Dutch. England, however, was not pleased with her trade with the Thais, claiming that Thailand 's foreign trade at that time was a state monopoly. In order to be imported or exported, certain goods had to be bought or sold only through the Royal Warehouse Department. Although other goods could be bought or sold freely by private traders, the government reserved the right of pre-emption to trade such goods ahead of the Company. The Company therefore requested that the Thai authorities clearly stipulate the type and quantity of goods to be traded by the Royal Warehouse Department. The Thais, naturally, were unable to comply with this request.

    The Thai authorities were not the only ones to practise a trade monopoly. The English East India Company also desired to exercise its own monopoly where England was concerned, that is, it sought to prevent other Englishmen outside the Company from trading with Thailand. Some employees of the company, however, engaged in their own private trade. Moreover, some Englishmen not connected with the Company, commonly known as interlopers, also were engaged in trade. They included George White, the benefactor of Constantine Phaulkon, and his younger brother, Samuel White.

    Phaulkon was by origin a Greek, who since his youth had sought employment on board English ships. In 1675, he entered Ayutthaya alongside George White, who appointed him to be his representative. Phaulkon also had his own ship for trading with Thailand but this ship was wrecked at the same spot as that of a Thai envoy to Iran. In any case, by 1679 Phaulkon had become an interpreter for the Royal Warehouse Department. He subsequently received swift promotions to become Luang, Phra, Phya, and finally Chao Phya Wijayen.

    Officers of the English East India Company disliked Phaulkon since he had once been an interloper who had competed with the English for trade. Therefore, when an English trading station burned down in 1682, Phaulkon was accused of complicity. Moreover, Phaulkon’s decision in 1682 to switch from the Anglican faith to Roman Catholicism further convinced the Company that Phaulkon was trying to please the French rather than the English. In actual fact, Phaulkon was not on good terms with the English but tried to maintain friendly relations with them by sending expensive gifts for George White to distribute in London, including a present for the King of England. Subsequently, King James II sent a handwritten thank-you note to Phaulkon, calling him Our well beloved friend. The Thai envoy, on his way to France in 1684, also passed through England.

    The root of the difficulties and rift centred on private trade. Although Phaulkon was a Thai government official, with the duty of conducting trade in the name of the Phra Klang (the Minister of the Treasury), he also engaged in his own private trade. At Phaulkon’s recommendation, Samuel White was appointed Governor of Mergui. At the same time, White was engaged in his own trade, although his ships, which were sent to trade with foreign countries such as India, always flew the Thai flag. Thus, whenever trouble arose, it also meant that Thailand would have to become involved.

    Owing to the above obstacle, the Company and the Royal Warehouse Department were unable to reach agreement. In 1686, a dispute broke out between Samuel White and a trader from Golconda in India. Phaulkon then instructed Coates to seize ships from Golconda as retaliation for Golconda’s involvement in the sinking of one of White’s ships, which was sailing under the Thai flag. Believing that the English East India Company may have supported White’s actions, Golconda lodged a complaint against the Company. In actual fact, the Company itself was displeased with White, whom they regarded as an interloper. Therefore, in 1687, the Company sent two frigates to Mergui to capture the city. They were also instructed to seize Thai vessels stationed there and toapprehend Englishmen employed by the Thai government, including Samuel White. However, the Thai Governor of Mergui came to the rescue and repelled the attacks. Thailand then declared war against the English East India Company in 1687 and contacts with the English were terminated.

    A review of the above incidents demonstrates that the Thai side welcomed trade with the English, but the latter were unable to make a good profit owing to what they claimed was the Royal Ware house Department 's monopoly on trade. On the other hand, the Company itself sought to secure its own monopoly by not permitting private English traders to compete with the Company. The violent incidents which occurred resulted from the actions of Englishmen employed by the Thai authorities. Therefore, the lesson which can be drawn from this incident is that Thailand should exercise caution in employing foreigners and should take precautions to ensure that such foreigners serve the country 's interests and not their own.






    Contacts between Thailand and France commenced when Monsignor de la Motte Lambert, the Bishop of Berytus and a member of the French Roman Catholic mission, arrived in Ayutthaya in 1662. He died, however, the following year, in 1663. In 1664, Monsignor Pallegoix, the Bishop of Heliopolis, along with a number of French Jesuit missionaries, arrived in Ayutthaya to propagate their religion. These missionaries were granted land and lodgings, besides being accorded facilities to build a prayer hall. In 1668, a group of Islamic missionaries arrived from Acheen (or Aceh) in Sumatra but were unsuccessful in their efforts to propagate their religion. The French missionaries were heartened by this and took it as an indication that the Thais might be inclined towards Roman Catholicism. In 1669, Monsignor Laneau, the Bishop of Metellopolis, arrived as head of a Roman Catholic mission in Indochina, with headquarters at Ayutthaya.

    In 1680, a ship was sent by the French East India Company to trade with Thailand and was warmly received by the Thais. Phya Pipatkosa was dispatched as the first Thai envoy to France to forge friendly relations with that country. The Thais intended to offer Songkhla (which at the time was rebelling against Thai rule) to the French, but Phya Pipatkosa 's ship was wrecked and he died before ever reaching France.

    It has already been mentioned that Phaulkon had converted from the Anglican faith to Roman Catholicism in 1682. He tended to socialise with the French Jesuits, who wielded considerable influence over King Louis XIV. These Jesuits hoped to convert King Narai to Christianity, particularly, Roman Catholicism. Phaulkon, meanwhile, aimed to promote friendly relations and trade with France since he was not on good terms with the English East India Company. In 1684, Thailand sent her second diplomatic mission to forge friendly ties with King Louis XIV, passing through England on the way to France. Frere Tachard, a French priest, acted as interpreter. This time, the Thais sent lower ranking officials, Khun Pijaiwanit and Khun Pijitmaitri, for the sole purpose of asking France to appoint an embassy to Thailand to sign a treaty of friendship. In 1685, the French sent the Chevalier de Chaumont as ambassador to sign the said treaty. He was accompanied by the Abbe de Choisy. The primary aim of the French Embassy was to try to convert King Narai to Christianity, while the Thais sought to conclude a treaty of friendship and trade with the French. King Narai refused to change his religion but agreed to sign a convention with France which facilitated French trade with the Royal Warehouse Department. The French were required to pay the usual customs and dues. They were also given a monopoly over the tin trade in Thalang (Phuket). At the same time, Songkhla was ceded to the French. The manager of the French company was also given the authority to punish company employees who were guilty of criminal offenses.

    The above convention was only a provisional document. Thailand dispatched a third diplomatic mission to France, headed by Phra Wisutsuntorn (Kosapan), and astute diplomat, and accompanied by de Chaumont. The French wished to acquire Mergui instead of Songkhla, but Kosapan pointed out that Mergui was a long distance away from the Thai capital. Contacts by sea would have to take a detour around the Malay Peninsula, while trips by land would consume a lot of time. Upon consulting their map, the French found this to be the truth. In actual fact, however, Mergui was a port of great importance to Thailand since it provided an outlet to the Indian Ocean. Some historians believe that the Thai mission aimed to ask French troops to come to Thailand but there is no evidence to support this theory. What the Thais actually sought were experts in various fields, including military affairs, although it is doubtful that this included French troops.

    The Thai delegation returned with a second embassy from France, headed by Simon de la Loubere and Claude Ceberet du Boullay. 1,400 French troops also arrived, under the command of General Desfarges, along with 300 skilled artisans. Father Tachard also accompanied the mission. The agreement, which was concluded in 1685, was a commercial treaty which granted a number of special privileges to French companies, such as exemption from customs and duties in trading with Ayutthaya. The exemption did not, however, include prohibited goods such as white saltpetre, black saltpetre, sulphur, fire arms and other weapons, for which permission had to be sought. The French company was given a monopoly over the tin trade in the town of Thalang Bangklee and was permitted to establish branches on the islands near Mergui. Moreover, if employees of the Company were involved in a legal dispute, the matter was to be decided by the Company 's Chief stationed in the town of the dispute, who had been accorded judiciary power by the French king. In cases in which company employees were embroiled in a dispute with individuals not connected with the company, such dispute was to be decided by a Thai judge, sitting with a French representative.

    The Thais did not of their own free will give the French Company Chief the authority to decide legal cases in Thailand since this constituted a violation of Thai sovereignty. The administration of foreigners residing in Thailand at the time involved dividing such foreigners into separate categories, based on their nationality. An officer was appointed as the head of each category and was placed under the supervision of Thai government officials, who answered to the Phra Klang. This arrangement was aimed at resolving problems which could arise since each people had a different culture.

    Therefore, the granting of judiciary authority constituted a special privilege which did not correspond with Thai traditions. The Thais had only acquiesced because of Phaulkon, who was a key figure in the negotiations, not to mention the presence of a large number of French troops in the country. Thailand 's only objective was to seek friendly relations and trade ties with France, while the French had political aims, that is, to convert the Thai king to Christianity. The stationing of French troops in Thailand also posed a threat to the independence of the Thai nation. For this reason, King Petraja decided to get rid of Phaulkon and the French in order to maintain Thai independence. The move was clearly not due to any animosity towards foreigners on the part of the King since the Portuguese and the Dutch were allowed to go about their business peacefully. Ties with England, meanwhile, had been severed because the English had tried to capture Mergui, as earlier mentioned. Even in the case of the French, King Petraja (1688 - 1703) agreed to consider entering into a new treaty when Tachard returned for negotiations in 1968. However, Tachard kept insisting on building a French fort at Tenasserim and therefore agreement could not be reached with the Thais. Nevertheless, the Jesuit missionaries were permitted to continue preaching their religion in Thailand.