Three Military Accounts of the 1688 Revolution in Siam by General Desfarges, Lieutenant de La Touche and Engineer Jean Vollant
Translated and edited by Michael Smithies
Itineraria Asiatica - Siam Volume XI
Itineraria Asiatica is a series of historical reprints of books containing first-hand descriptions and narratives by travellers in Asia. The books, published by Orchid Press in Bangkok, are paperbacks boxed in beautiful slipcases.
Three Military Accounts of the 1688 Revolution in Siam. The coup d'état of 18 May 1688 in the Siamese Versailles at Lopburi led to the establishment of the last Ayutthayan dynasty, known to history as that of Ban Phlu Luang. But it was not just another internal palace coup in face of the imminent death of the reigning monarch, Narai. For the king's favourite, Phaulkon, known to his contemporaries as 'the little Greek', had been instrumental in bringing a French expeditionary force into the country in October the previous year, which had secret orders to seize Bangkok, 'the key of the kingdom', and Mergui, its chief port on the Andaman Sea.
Phaulkon's original plan was to place Frenchmen in key positions in the country, perhaps with a view to ruling through a pliant successor in the form of Mom Pi, the king's adopted son, but the unexpected appearance of so many troops eclipsed that project and the minister's hold on power. The important courtier Petracha, head of the elephant corps, playing on nationalist feelings, then proceeded throughout 1688 to outmaneuver Phaulkon and the French.
Mom Pi and Phaulkon were killed on Petracha's orders, along with the king's two half-brothers, and the king's only child was obliged to marry the usurper. The French in Mergui were forced to flee in June, and their forces were besieged in Bangkok until a treaty of surrender was negotiated and they could leave, not without breaking the terms of their treaty, in November.
The French general, Desfarges, played a less than glorious role in these affairs, abandoning Phaulkon at a crucial juncture, and refusing to give shelter to his widow in the French fort, largely because he wished to keep the money Phaulkon had handed to him for safe-keeping before he betrayed him.
Desfarges left an account to justify his actions, hoping to escape the rope on his return to France (he died beforehand). One of the officers in the contingent sent to Mergui, Lieut. de La Touche, also wrote an account of events in the momentous year 1688, the retreat from Mergui, his being taken prisoner and tortured, and finally released and sent to Bangkok.
The engineer in charge of the fortifications in Bangkok, Vollant des Verquains, was another who wrote an account of events, rich in information concerning the treachery of Desfarges, whom he hated, and his treatment of Phaulkon's widow. He also describes the final ignominy of the French being seized at the Cape and made prisoner by the Dutch.
These three illuminating texts have been brought together and translated from the original French for the first time, and throw a great deal of light on the failure of the French to colonize Siam at the end of the seventeenth century.
192 pages, 20 b/w illus.
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