Songtham

Songtham (Thai: ทรงธรรม) was the King of Ayutthaya from 1620 to 1628 of the House of Sukhōday. His reign marked the prosperity of the Ayutthaya kingdom after it regained independence from Toungoo Dynasty, and saw the commencement of trade with foreign nations especially the Dutch and the Japanese. Songtham filled his guards with foreign mercenaries most notably the Japanese – Yamada Nagamasa.

Inthraracha was the eldest son of Ekatotsarot with his first class concubine. He was in the priesthood for 8 years before government servants asked his to leave and ascend the throne with the title Phrachao Songtham at the age of 29.

Ekatotsarot died in 1620 and was succeed by Si Saowaphak. Ruling less than a year, and showing no ability, he was murdered. Before his death, Japanese traders stormed the palace and took the king hostage. He was released only after promising not to harm any of the Japanese.

The Japanese rebels took the Sangharaja as a hostage until they could flee the country.

Prince Chula Chakrabongse states, “the king went insane before he died in 1620. His younger son, who had killed the elder brother when their father was alive but helpless, now seized the throne.” He became King Songtam, “The Pious” or “The Just”, after he repented his act.

Songtham was said to be very religious – both by the Siamese and van Vliet – as for his religious youth. His name Songtham was a posthumous reverence that means “maintaining the virtues”. His reign was the glamorous time for Siamese peasants who were free from wars and suppression. The most prominent achievement in his reign was the discovery of Buddha’s Footprint at Saraburi. Songtham ordered the construction of a temple over the footprint – the footprint itself can still be seen today. From Songtham onwards, Ayutthayan kings paid annual respect to the Buddha’s Footprint in a grand river procession.

On martial affairs, however, King Songhtam was less successful. In 1621 himself led Siamese armies into Cambodia to bring the kingdom under control but was repelled by King Sri Suriyopor of Oudong. Songtham sent his brother Uparaja Si Sin to invade again in 1622 and failed. Also in 1622 King Anaukpetlun of Pegu took Tavoy away from the Siamese.

During his reign, Cambodia and Lanna revolted and became independent.

The English first arrived aboard the East India Company ship Globe in 1612, delivering a letter from King James I. They were given a place between the Japanese and Dutch in Ayutthaya, and were later joined by the French East India Company. However, the English closed their factory in 1622. Songtham signed a treaty with the Dutch on 12 June 1617. All trading however, was through the King’s government. Colonies from China, Malay, Japan, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were tolerated.

Songtham sent four embassies (about 20 people each) to the Japanese shōgun in 1621, 1623, 1626, 1629, to Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada and Iemitsu.

In 1624, Fernando de Silva led a Spanish fleet to sack a Dutch ship near the Siamese shoreline. This enraged Songtham who held the Dutch in great preference and ordered the attacks and seizures of all the Spaniards. The Portuguese, however, were treated alike and the Iberians were technically disgraced from Siam after nearly a hundred years of royal support.

Songtham wanted his son, Chettha, to succeed him, though he was young. He therefore asked Phraya Siworawong or Prasat Thong, to protect him from danger. After Songtham’s death, Siworawong arrested and executed all those who had been opposed to Songtham’s wishes.