The House of Bunnag (Thai: บุนนาค; RTGS: Bunnak) was a powerful Siamese noble family of Persian descent of the early Rattanakosin Kingdom of Siam. By the nineteenth century, its power and influence reached its zenith. The family was favored by Chakri monarchs and monopolized high-ranking titles. Three of only four Somdet Chao Phraya came from the Bunnag family — Dis, styled Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Prayurawongse; his younger brother Tat, styled Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Pichaiyat; and eldest son Chuang, styled Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Si Suriyawongse. They played key roles in government and foreign relations until after the Front Palace Crisis. As Chulalongkorn sought to undo the power of nobility and to pursue centralization, the Bunnags gradually withdrew from prominent roles in Siamese politics, yet continued to fill important official ranks.
Sheikh Ahmad, a Persian merchant, along with his brother Muhamad Sa-id and subordinates, settled in Siam around 1600. Sheikh Ahmad was a native of Qom, Safavid Iran, south of Tehran. He established himself as a rich merchant in Ayutthaya. There he entered the service of King Songtham (1611–1628) who appointed him as Chao Krom Tha Khwa (เจ้ากรมท่าขวา Lord of the Right Pier) to supervise traders from the West, i.e., Persians, Indians and Europeans; and also appointed him Chularatchamontri (จุฬาราชมนตรี, i.e., Minister of Islamic affairs) to oversee all Shiites in Siam.
After subjugating a Japanese revolt (under Yamada Nagamasa), Sheikh Ahmad became Samuha Nayok (First Prime Minister). Descendants of Sheikh Ahmad exerted control over Siamese politics, trade, and foreign affairs. Many of them became Samuha Nayok. They also monopolized the post of Chularachamontri. Some of them even converted to Buddhism.
Settlement in Thonburi
A man called Bunnag was a Buddhist descendant of Sheikh Ahmad. Bunnag married the sister of Nak, who was the wife of Thong Duang. He was then kinsmen to Thong Duang. Though Thong Duang emerged as a powerful noble in Thonburi, Bunnag stayed far from the bureaucracy due to his childhood conflicts with Taksin.
Thong Duang then became Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, the first king of Chakri dynasty in 1782. During the Nine Armies War, Bunnag led the Siamese forces against the Burmese. Bunnag was then awarded the higher rank and eventually became the Samuha Kalahom as Chao Phraya Akkaramahasaena.
Rise of Prayurawongse
Akka Mahasena was, of course, the primogenitor of the House of Bunnag. He sent his sons, including Dis and That, into the palace as the royal pages of Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke as an entrance to Siamese bureaucracy. Dis quickly rose to higher official ranks as Buddha Loetla Nabhalai favored the nobles from the Bunnag and Bangchang (his mother's family) family. Dis then became the minister of Krom Tha, supervising trade and foreign affairs under King Nangklao - a powerful post.
He was offered the position of Samuha Kalahom (Second Prime Minister) by the king but Dis said that the Prime Ministers died early. Dis then became Samuha Kalahom instead.
During the Siamese-Vietnamese Wars, Dis led the Siamese forces to Vietnam and imposed the naval blockade on Saigon. However, the campaigns was not so successful and the war was negotiated in 1845. With the death of Bodindecha in 1849, Dis remained as the sole powerful nobility in the court.
Dis was, indeed, played a key role in the ascension of Mongkut, whether or not Nangklao intended to give the throne to his half-brother. There is a legend said that Nangklao had intended the throne to be passed to his son Prince Annop. He even gave the bracelet passed down from his grandfather Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke. However, Dis switched the bracelet for a forged one, so the genuine one was not passed to Prince Annop. Mongkut, who had been in ecclesiastic status for 27 years, was lobbied by Dis to succeed the throne.
In 1851, when Mongkut had succeeded the throne, he appointed his main supporter as Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Prayurawongse and Regent in the kingdom. Prayurawongse's brother, That, became Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Pichaiyat and Regent in Bangkok. The Somdet Chao Phraya title was highest among the nobility and rivaled that of royalty. The first Somdet Chao Phraya - Maha Kshatriyaseuk - had become the first monarch of Chakri dynasty.
So Mongkut gave off much of his power to the Regents he appointed. As a Bunnag, Prayurawongse was also competent in trade and foreign affairs. The Bowring Treaty was indeed negotiated by Prayurawongse.
Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Sri Suriyawongse (Thai: สมเด็จเจ้าพระยาบรมมหาศรีสุริยวงศ์) (personal name Chuang Bunnag) December 23, 1808 - January 19, 1883) was a prominent 19th-century Thai figure and served as the regent during the early years of the reign of King Chulalongkorn.
A member of a family originally of Persian origin, Sri Suriyawongse was born the eldest son of Dis (ดิศ) Bunnag (Prayurawongse, สมเด็จเจ้าพระยาบรมมหาประยูรวงศ์) and Tan Poo-Ying Chan. Chuang was well educated for the time. King Mongkut made him Samuha Kalahom, one of the two Prime Ministers of old Siam.
After the death of King Mongkut in 1868, his young son Prince Chulalongkorn became the new monarch. However, as the new king was underage, Sri Suriyawongse was named as regent, a post he held until 1873.
He died in 1883 in Ratchaburi.Sri Suriyawongse was also the first Thai to have a life insurance policy, after King Rama V granted foreign companies permission to extend their insurance business into Siam.
His son Won Bunnag succeeded him as Samuha Kalahom and also held the title Chao Phraya Surawongse.