Period of Peace
Kingdom of Lanna
The Kingdom of Lanna, also known as the "Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields", was an Indianized state centered in present-day Northern Thailand from the 13th to 18th centuries. The cultural development of the Northern Thai people had begun long before as successive kingdoms preceded Lan Na. As a continuation of the kingdom of Ngoenyang, Lan Na emerged strong enough in the 15th century to rival the Ayutthaya Kingdom, with whom wars were fought. However, the Lan Na Kingdom was weakened and became a tributary state of the Taungoo Dynasty in 1558. Lan Na was ruled by successive vassal kings, though some enjoyed autonomy. The Burmese rule gradually withdrew but then resumed as the new Konbaung Dynasty expanded its influence. In 1775, Lan Na chiefs left the Burmese control to join Siam, leading to the Burmese–Siamese War (1775–76).
Following the retreat of the Burmese force, Burmese control over Lan Na came to the end. Siam, under King Taksin of the Thonburi Kingdom, gained control of Lan Na in 1776. From then on, Lan Na became a tributary state of Siam under the succeeding Chakri Dynasty. Throughout the latter half of the 1800s, the Siamese state dismantled Lan Na independence, absorbing it into the emerging Siamese nation-state. Beginning in 1874, the Siamese state reorganized Lan Na Kingdom as Monthon Phayap, brought under the direct control of Siam. The Lan Na Kingdom effectively became centrally administered from through the Siamese thesaphiban governance system instituted in 1899. By 1909, Lan Na Kingdom no longer existed formally as an independent state, as Siam finalized the demarcation of its borders with the British and French.
King Mangrai & the Foundation of the Lanna KingdomChiang Rai, Thailand
King Mangrai, the 25th ruler of Ngoenyang (now known as Chiang Saen), became a significant figure in unifying different Tai city-states in the Lanna region. After inheriting the throne in 1259, he recognized the disunity and vulnerability of the Tai states. To strengthen his kingdom, Mangrai conquered several neighboring regions, including Muang Lai, Chiang Kham, and Chiang Khong. He also formed alliances with nearby kingdoms, like the Phayao Kingdom.
In 1262, Mangrai shifted his capital from Ngoenyang to the newly established city of Chiang Rai, which he named after himself. The word 'Chiang' means 'city' in Thai, so Chiang Rai would mean 'the City of (Mang) Rai'. He continued his expansion southwards and took control of the Mon kingdom of Hariphunchai (now Lamphun) in 1281. Over the years, Mangrai changed his capital multiple times due to various reasons, such as flooding. He eventually settled in Chiang Mai in 1292.
During his reign, Mangrai was instrumental in fostering peace among regional leaders. In 1287, he mediated a conflict between King Ngam Muang of Phayao and King Ram Khamhaeng of Sukhothai, leading to a powerful friendship pact among the three rulers. However, his ambitions did not stop there. Mangrai learned about the wealth of the Mon kingdom of Haripunchai from visiting merchants. Despite advice against it, he planned to conquer it. Instead of direct warfare, he cleverly sent a merchant named Ai Fa to infiltrate the kingdom. Ai Fa rose to a position of power and destabilized the kingdom from within. By 1291, Mangrai successfully annexed Haripunchai, causing its last king, Yi Ba, to escape to Lampang.
Foundation of Chiang MaiChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
After his conquest of the Hariphunchai kingdom, King Mangrai established Wiang Kum Kam as his new capital in 1294, situated on the eastern side of the Ping River. However, due to frequent flooding, he decided to move the capital. He selected a location near Doi Suthep, where an ancient Lua people's town once stood. By 1296, construction began on Chiang Mai, meaning "New City", which has remained a significant capital in the northern region ever since.
King Mangrai founded Chiang Mai in 1296, making it the central hub of the Lan Na kingdom. Under his rule, the Lan Na territory expanded to include areas of present-day northern Thailand, with a few exceptions. His reign also saw influence over regions in Northern Vietnam, Northern Laos, and the Sipsongpanna area in Yunnan, which was his mother's birthplace. However, the peace was interrupted when King Boek of Lampang, son of the displaced King Yi Ba, launched an attack on Chiang Mai. In a dramatic battle, Mangrai's son, Prince Khram, faced King Boek in an elephant duel near Lamphun. Prince Khram emerged victorious, forcing King Boek to retreat. Boek was later captured while trying to escape through the Doi Khun Tan mountains and was executed. Following this victory, Mangrai's forces took control of Lampang, pushing King Yi Ba to relocate further south to Phitsanulok.
Lanna Succession CrisisChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
In 1311, after King Mangrai's death, his second son Grama, also known as Khun Hham, took the throne. However, internal conflicts arose when Mangrai's youngest son attempted to claim the crown, leading to power struggles and shifts in capital locations. Eventually, Saen Phu, Grama's son, established Chiang Saen as a new city around 1325. Following a series of short reigns, the capital was moved back to Chiang Mai by Pha Yu, Saen Phu's grandson. Pha Yu fortified Chiang Mai and initiated the construction of Wat Phra Singh in 1345 to honor his father, King Kham Fu. The temple complex, originally named Wat Lichiang Phra, expanded over the years with the addition of several structures.
KuenaWat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Suthe
Mengrai's family continued to lead Lanna for over two centuries. While many of them ruled from Chiang Mai, some chose to live in the older capitals established by Mangrai. Notable kings from this lineage include Kuena, who ruled from 1355-1385, and Tilokraj from 1441-1487. They are remembered for their contributions to Lanna's culture, especially in building many beautiful Buddhist temples and monuments showcasing the unique Lanna style. The Chiang Mai Chronicle describes King Kuena as a fair and wise ruler dedicated to Buddhism. He also had a vast knowledge in many subjects. One of his most famous works is the gold-covered stupa at Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, built on a mountain to house a special Buddha relic. This temple remains an important symbol for Chiang Mai today.
Period of PeaceChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
Under the leadership of Saenmuengma (whose name means ten thousand cities arrive — to pay tribute) Lan Na experienced a period of peace. However, there was a notable rebellion attempt by his uncle, Prince Maha Prommatat. Seeking support, Maha Prommatat reached out to Ayutthaya. In response, Borommaracha I from Ayutthaya sent forces to Lan Na, but they were turned back. This marked the initial military clash between the two regions. Later, Lan Na also had to defend itself from invasions by the emerging Ming Dynasty during Sam Fang Kaen's rule.
Ming Invasion of LannaChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
In the early 1400s, Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty focused on expanding into Yunnan. By 1403, he had successfully established military bases in Tengchong and Yongchang, laying the groundwork for exerting influence over the Tai regions. With this expansion, several administrative offices sprouted in Yunnan and its vicinity. However, when the Tai regions showed resistance to Ming dominance, confrontations ensued.
Lan Na, a significant Tai territory, had its power centered around Chiang Rai in the northeast and Chiang Mai in the southwest. The Ming's establishment of two “Military-cum-Civilian Pacification Commissions” in Lan Na highlighted their view of Chiang Rai-Chiang Saen's importance, on par with Chiang Mai.
The pivotal event occurred on 27 December 1405. Citing Lan Na's purported obstruction of a Ming mission to Assam, the Chinese, supported by allies from Sipsong Panna, Hsenwi, Keng Tung, and Sukhothai, invaded. They managed to capture crucial areas, including Chiang Saen, forcing Lan Na to surrender. In the aftermath, the Ming dynasty placed Chinese clerks in "native offices" across Yunnan and Lan Na to manage administrative tasks and ensure Ming interests. These offices had obligations like providing gold and silver instead of labor and supplying troops for other Ming endeavors. Following this, Chiang Mai emerged as the dominant power in Lan Na, heralding a phase of political unification.
TilokkaratChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
Tilokkarat, who ruled from 1441 to 1487, was one of the most influential leaders of the Lan Na kingdom. He ascended the throne in 1441 after overthrowing his father, Sam Fang Kaen. This power transition wasn't smooth; Tilokkarat's brother, Thau Choi, rebelled against him, seeking assistance from the Ayutthaya kingdom. However, Ayutthaya's intervention in 1442 was unsuccessful, and Thau Choi's rebellion was quelled. Expanding his domain, Tilokkarat later annexed the neighboring Kingdom of Payao in 1456.
Relations between Lan Na and the burgeoning Ayutthaya kingdom were tense, especially after Ayutthaya supported Thau Choi's uprising. The tension was exacerbated in 1451 when Yutthitthira, a disgruntled royal from Sukhothai, allied himself with Tilokkarat and persuaded him to challenge Trailokanat of Ayutthaya. This led to the Ayutthaya-Lan Na War, primarily focused on the Upper Chao Phraya valley, previously the Sukhothai Kingdom. Over the years, the war saw various territorial shifts, including the governor of Chaliang's submission to Tilokkarat. However, by 1475, after facing several challenges, Tilokkarat sought a truce.
Apart from his military endeavors, Tilokkarat was a devout supporter of Theravada Buddhism. In 1477, he sponsored a significant Buddhist Council near Chiang Mai to review and compile the Tripitaka, a central religious text. He was also responsible for the construction and restoration of numerous prominent temples. Expanding Lan Na's territories further, Tilokkarat extended his influence westward, incorporating regions like Laihka, Hsipaw, Mong Nai, and Yawnghwe.
Eighth World Buddhist CouncilChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
The Eighth World Buddhist Council took place in Mahābodhārāma, Chiang Mai, focusing on the study of scriptures and Theravada Buddhist teachings. The event was overseen by Mahāthera Dhammadinnā from Tālavana Mahāvihāra (Wat Pā Tān) and was supported by the King of Lan Na, Tilokkarat. This council was significant as it rectified the Thai Pali Canon's orthography and translated it into the Lan Na script.
YotchiangraiChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
Yotchiangrai became king after the death of his grandfather, King Tilokkarat, in 1487. He was the grandson of the well-respected King Tilokkarat and took the throne after a challenging childhood; his father was executed due to suspicions of disloyalty. During his eight-year reign, Yotchiangrai built the Wat Chedi Chet Yot temple to honor his grandfather. However, his time as king wasn't smooth, as he faced conflicts with neighboring kingdoms, especially Ayutthaya. By 1495, either due to his choice or others' pressure, he stepped down, making way for his 13-year-old son.
His reign, along with the rule of his grandfather and son, is considered the "Golden Age" for the Lan Na kingdom. This era was marked by a surge in art and learning. Chiang Mai became a hub for Buddhist artistry, producing unique Buddha statues and designs in places like Wai Pa Po, Wat Rampoeng, and Wat Phuak Hong. Apart from stone statues, the period also saw the crafting of bronze Buddha figures. This expertise in bronze was also applied in creating stone tablets that highlighted royal donations and important announcements.
Decline of Lanna KingdomChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
Following the reign of Tilokkarat, the Lan Na kingdom faced internal princely disputes that weakened its ability to defend against rising neighboring powers. The Shans, once under Lan Na's control established by Tilokkarat, gained independence. Paya Kaew, Tilokkarat's great-grandson and one of the last strong rulers of Lan Na, attempted to invade Ayutthaya in 1507 but was repelled. By 1513, Ayutthaya's Ramathibodi II sacked Lampang, and in 1523, Lan Na lost its influence in Kengtung State due to a power struggle.
King Ketklao, Kaew's son, faced turbulence during his reign. He was overthrown by his son Thau Sai Kam in 1538, restored in 1543, but faced mental challenges and was executed by 1545. His daughter, Chiraprapha, succeeded him. However, with Lan Na weakened by internal strife, both Ayutthaya and the Burmese saw opportunities for conquest. Chiraprapha was eventually forced to make Lan Na a tributary state of Ayutthaya after multiple invasions.
In 1546, Chiraprapha abdicated, and Prince Chaiyasettha of Lan Xang became the ruler, marking a period where Lan Na was governed by a Laotian king. After moving the revered Emerald Buddha from Chiangmai to Luang Prabang, Chaiyasettha returned to Lan Xang. The Lan Na throne then went to Mekuti, a Shan leader related to Mangrai. His reign was controversial, as many believed he disregarded key Lan Na traditions. The kingdom's decline was characterized by both internal disputes and external pressures, leading to its diminished power and influence in the region.
Burmese RuleChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
The Burmese, led by King Bayinnaung, conquered Chiang Mai, initiating a 200-year Burmese rule over Lan Na. Conflict arose over the Shan states, with Bayinnaung's expansionist ambitions leading to an invasion of Lan Na from the north. In 1558, Mekuti, the Lan Na ruler, surrendered to the Burmese on 2 April 1558.
During the Burmese–Siamese War (1563–64), Mekuti revolted with encouragement from Setthathirath. However, he was captured by Burmese forces in 1564 and taken to Pegu, then the Burmese capital. Bayinnaung appointed Wisutthithewi, a Lan Na royal, as the queen regnant of Lan Na after Mekuti's death. Later, in 1579, one of Bayinnaung's sons, Nawrahta Minsaw, became the viceroy of Lan Na. While Lan Na enjoyed some autonomy, the Burmese tightly controlled labor and taxation.
Following Bayinnaung's era, his empire disintegrated. Siam successfully revolted (1584–93), leading to the dissolution of Pegu's vassals by 1596–1597. Lan Na, under Nawrahta Minsaw, declared independence in 1596 and briefly became a tributary of Siam's King Naresuan in 1602. However, Siam's authority waned after Naresuan's death in 1605, and by 1614, it had nominal control over Lan Na. Lan Na sought assistance from Lan Xang rather than Siam when the Burmese returned. For over a century after 1614, vassal kings of Burmese descent ruled Lan Na, despite Siam's attempt to assert control in 1662–1664, which ultimately failed.
Lanna RebellionsChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
In the 1720s, as the Toungoo Dynasty waned, power shifts in the Lanna region led to Ong Kham, a Tai Lue prince, fleeing to Chiang Mai and later declaring himself its king in 1727. The same year, due to high taxation, Chiang Mai rebelled against the Burmese, successfully repelling their forces in subsequent years. This rebellion led to Lanna's division, with Thipchang becoming the ruler of Lampang, while Chiang Mai and the Ping valley gained independence.
Thipchang's rule in Lampang lasted until 1759, followed by various power struggles, involving his descendants and Burmese intervention. The Burmese took control of Lampang in 1764 and, following the death of Abaya Kamani, the Burmese governor of Chiang Mai, Thado Mindin took over. He worked on assimilating Lanna into Burmese culture, reducing the power of local Lanna nobles, and used political hostages, like Chaikaew, to ensure loyalty and control over the region.
By the mid-18th century, Chiang Mai once again became a tributary to the emerging Burmese dynasty and faced another rebellion in 1761. This period also saw the Burmese using the Lan Na region as a strategic point for further invasions into Laotian territories and Siam. Despite initial attempts at independence in the early 18th century, Lanna, especially Chiang Mai, faced recurring Burmese invasions. By 1763, after a prolonged siege, Chiang Mai fell to the Burmese, marking another era of Burmese dominion in the region.
Siamese Conquest of LannaChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
In the early 1770s, after achieving military victories over Siam and China, the Burmese became overly confident and their local governance grew arrogant and repressive. This behavior, particularly from the Burmese governor Thado Mindin in Chiang Mai, led to widespread discontent. As a result, a rebellion erupted in Lan Na, and with the assistance of the Siamese, local chief Kawila of Lampang successfully overthrew the Burmese rule on 15 January 1775. This ended Burma's 200-year dominance in the region. Following this victory, Kawila was appointed the prince of Lampang and Phaya Chaban became the prince of Chiang Mai, both serving under the Siamese rule.
In January 1777, the newly crowned Burmese king Singu Min, determined to recapture the Lanna territories, dispatched a 15,000-strong army to seize Chiang Mai. Facing this force, Phaya Chaban, with limited troops at his disposal, opted to evacuate Chiang Mai and relocate south to Tak. The Burmese then advanced to Lampang, prompting its leader Kawila to also retreat. However, as the Burmese forces withdrew, Kawila managed to reestablish control over Lampang, while Phaya Chaban faced difficulties.
Chiang Mai, in the aftermath of the conflict, lay in ruins. The city was deserted, with the Lanna chronicles painting a vivid picture of nature reclaiming its domain: "jungle trees and wild animals claimed the city". Years of relentless warfare took a heavy toll on the Lanna population, leading to its significant decline as inhabitants either perished or fled to safer terrains. Lampang, however, emerged as a primary defense against the Burmese. It wasn't until two decades later, in 1797, that Kawila of Lampang undertook the task of revitalizing Chiang Mai, restoring it as the Lanna heartland and a bulwark against potential Burmese invasions.
Rebuilding LannaKengtung, Myanmar (Burma)
Following the reestablishment of Chiang Mai in 1797, Kawila, alongside other Lanna leaders, adopted the strategy of "putting vegetables into baskets, putting people into towns" to initiate conflicts and bolster their manpower shortage. To rebuild, leaders like Kawila initiated policies to forcefully resettle people from surrounding regions into Lanna. By 1804, the removal of Burmese influence permitted the Lanna leaders to expand, and they targeted regions like Kengtung and Chiang Hung Sipsongpanna for their campaigns. The aim was not just territorial conquest but also to repopulate their devastated lands. This resulted in major resettlements, with significant populations, like the Tai Khuen from Kengtung, being moved to areas like Chiang Mai and Lamphun. Lanna's northern campaigns largely ended by 1816 after Kawila's death. It's believed that between 50,000 to 70,000 people were relocated during this period, and these people, due to their linguistic and cultural similarities, were considered part of the 'Lanna cultural zone'.
Kingdom of Chiang MaiChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
The Kingdom of Rattanatingsa, also known as the Kingdom of Chiang Mai, served as a subordinate state to the Siamese Rattanakosin Kingdom during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was later incorporated due to the centralizing reforms of Chulalongkorn in 1899. This kingdom succeeded the ancient Lanna kingdom, which had been dominated by the Burmese for two centuries until Siamese forces, led by Taksin of Thonburi, seized it in 1774. The Thipchak Dynasty governed this realm, and it was a tributary to Thonburi.
Vassalage to BangkokChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
After the death of King Kawila in 1815, his younger brother Thammalangka took over as the ruler of Chiang Mai. However, subsequent rulers weren't given the title of "king" but instead received the noble rank of Phraya from the Bangkok court. The leadership structure in Lanna was unique: Chiang Mai, Lampang, and Lamphun each had a ruler from the Chetton dynasty, with the Chiang Mai ruler overseeing all Lanna lords. Their allegiance was to the Chakri kings of Bangkok, and succession was controlled by Bangkok. These rulers had considerable autonomy in their regions.
Khamfan succeeded Thammalangka in 1822, marking the start of internal political strife within the Chetton dynasty. His reign saw confrontations with family members, including his cousin Khammoon and his brother Duangthip. Khamfan's death in 1825 led to more power struggles, which eventually led to Phutthawong, an outsider to the primary lineage, taking control. His reign was marked by peace and stability, but he also faced external pressures, notably from the British who were establishing a presence in neighboring Burma.
The British influence grew after their victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1826. By 1834, they were negotiating boundary settlements with Chiang Mai, which were agreed upon without Bangkok's consent. This period also saw the revival of abandoned towns like Chiang Rai and Phayao. Phutthawong's death in 1846 brought Mahawong to power, who had to navigate both internal familial politics and growing British interventions in the region.
KawilorotChiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai
In the mid-19th century, Lanna, under the rule of King Kawilorot Suriyawong appointed by King Mongkut in 1856, experienced significant political and economic shifts. The kingdom, known for its vast teak forests, saw burgeoning British interests, especially after their acquisition of Lower Burma in 1852. Lanna lords capitalized on this interest, leasing forest lands to British and Burmese loggers. This timber trade, however, was complicated by the 1855 Bowring Treaty between Siam and Britain, which granted legal rights to British subjects in Siam. The treaty's relevance to Lanna became a point of contention, with King Kawilorot asserting Lanna's autonomy and suggesting a separate agreement with Britain.
Amidst these geopolitical dynamics, Kawilorot was also embroiled in regional conflicts. In 1865, he supported Kolan, a leader from the Shan state of Mawkmai, in his skirmishes against Mongnai by sending war elephants. Yet, this gesture of solidarity was overshadowed by rumors of Kawilorot's diplomatic ties with the Burmese king, straining his relationship with Bangkok.
By 1869, tensions escalated as Kawilorot dispatched forces to Mawkmai due to their refusal to submit to Chiang Mai's authority. In retaliation, Kolan launched attacks on various Lanna towns. The situation culminated in Kawilorot's journey to Bangkok, during which he faced retaliation from Kolan's forces. Tragically, Kawilorot died in 1870 while en route back to Chiang Mai, marking the end of this period for the kingdom.
Siamese Integration of LannaThailand
During the mid-to-late 19th century, the British Government of India closely monitored the treatment of British subjects in Lanna, especially with the ambiguous boundaries near the Salween river affecting British teak businesses. The Bowring Treaty and the subsequent Chiangmai Treaties between Siam and Britain attempted to address these concerns but culminated in Siamese interventions in Lanna's governance. This interference, while intended to strengthen Siam's sovereignty, strained relations with Lanna, who saw their traditional powers being undermined.
By the late 19th century, as part of Siamese centralization efforts, the traditional administrative structure of Lanna was gradually replaced. The Monthon Thesaphiban system, introduced by Prince Damrong, transformed Lanna from a tributary state into a direct administrative region under Siam. This period also witnessed the rise of European conglomerates competing for timber logging rights, leading to the establishment of a modern Department of Forestry by Siam, further diminishing Lanna's autonomy.
By 1900, Lanna was formally annexed into Siam under the Monthon Phayap system, marking the end of Lanna's unique political identity. The subsequent decades witnessed a few resistances to centralization policies, like the Shan Rebellion of Phrae. The last ruler of Chiang Mai, Prince Kaew Nawarat, served mostly as a ceremonial figure. The Monthon system was eventually dissolved after the Siamese Revolution of 1932. Modern descendants of Lanna rulers adopted the surname "Na Chiangmai" after King Vajiravudh's 1912 Surname Act.
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