Setthathirath (Lao: ເສດຖາທິຣາດ; 1534–1572) is considered one of the great leaders in Lao history. Throughout 1560s until his death, he successfully defended his kingdom of Lan Xang against military campaigns of Burmese conqueror Bayinnaung, who had already subdued Xieng Mai (Chiang Mai) in 1558 and Ayutthaya in 1564. Setthathirath was a prolific builder and erected many Buddhist monuments including Wat Xieng Thong in Louang Phrabang and the That Luang in Vientiane.
King of Chiangmai
Also known as Chaiyachettha or Chaiyaset or Jayajestha, he was crowned King of Lanna after the death of his grandfather, the previous King Ketklao, who died without a male heir to the throne, when his grandmother Queen Chiraprabha abdicated in favor of him. His daughter Princess Yotkamtip was Chao Settathirath's Mother, which through succession made Prince Settathirath the Heir to the throne of Chiang Mai.
Son of the King Phra Chao Photisarath of Lan Xang, he became ruler of Chiang Mai in 1546. The previous ruler, King Ketklao, gave his daughter Princess Nang Yotkham in marriage to Phra Chao Phothisarath, and she bore him the Prince Chao Chaiyaset. When Ketklao died, there was no other descendant to succeed him. High-ranking officials and Buddhist monks therefore agreed unanimously to assign the throne to Chao Chaiyaset. His name was lengthened to Chao Chaiyasetthathirath.
King Photisarath accompanied him to Chiang Mai with a large army including 9 Generals, 2000 war elephants and 300,000 soldiers. After Chaiyasetthathirath assumed rule of Chiang Mai, Phothisarath died in Louang Phrabang. Concerned that if he attended his father's funeral, he might be prevented from returning to Chiang Mai, Chaiyasetthathirat took the Emerald Buddha with him to Louang Phrabang in 1547. He also claimed that taking the statue would allow his relatives the opportunity to venerate the image and make merit.
The Nobles of Lanna felt that Chaiyasetthathirath had stayed away too long, and sought another descendant of Mangrai dynasty to take the throne. They chose a distant relative of Chaiyasetthathirath, the Shan Prince known as Mae ku.
Mekuti, or Mae Ku, may not have had an opportunity to do anything. Chaiyasetthathirath came under serious threat of attack after the Burmese took Chiang Saen, north-east of Chieng Mai, and Bayin-naung's forces gained the position to make an armed attack down the Mekong river. Thus, after twelve years in Luang Prabang, Chaiyasetthathirath moved his residence to Vientiane in the 1560s, taking the Emerald Buddha with him. The image stayed in Vientiane for two hundred and fifteen years until 1778.
King of Lan Xang
After the death of King Photisararath, the nobles of Lan Xang were divided, a group supported Prince Tarua, another group of nobles led by Phya Vieng, Saen Marong and Kwan Darmpa supported Prince Lanchang who was born from an Ayudhya princess. Prince Tarua and Prince Lanchang began to split the Kingdom up between them, when Prince Settathathirath was still in Chiang Mai. Hearing of the news of his half brothers, King Settathathirath quickly returned to Lan Xang leaving the affairs of Chiang Mai under Princess Chiraprabha's leadership, taking with him the Phra Kaew, the Saekkam and the Sihing buddha images.
Settathathirath subdued Prince Tarua in Louang Phrabang, and sent his general Phya Sisatthamatailoke to go fight Prince Lanchang in the town of Kengsah, Prince Lanchang was defeated and fled to Thakhek, where the local Lord had him arrested and sent to Phya Sisatthama. The nobles that supported Prince Lanchang were executed, but Prince Setthatathirath pardoned Prince Lanchang and appointed him as governor of Seanmuang. Phya Sisatthama was thus made Lord of Vientiane, and given the title Phya Chantaburi, who built Wat Chan and Pia Wat that can be still found in Vientiane today. After subduing his half brothers, King Setthathirath united Lanna and Lan Xang under his rule.
Setthathirath hearing of the heroic Queen Suryothai of Ayudhya who fought against the Burmese and was killed, was moved and full of admiration for the Queen, requested the marriage of her daughter Princess Tepkasatri, the King of Ayudhya King Maha Chakkrapat eager to form an alliance with Lan Xang agreed with the request. When the Princess Tepkasatri was being escorted to Lan Xang, Burmese soldiers kidnapped her bringing her back to Hanthawaddy. This act Made King Setthathirath very angry and solidified the union between Lan Xang and Ayudhya.
Death and aftermath
In 1572, a conspiracy between Lord Phya Nakhon and the former abbot of Wat Maximavat, who held personal grudges against Setthathirath, led to the king's murder in the southern frontier of the country. He was 38 years of age.
Because Setthathirath left only a toddler as his heir, prince Noi Hno Muang Keo Koumane, the child's maternal grandfather, a military commander of common birth named Saensurin (or Sene Soulintha), declared himself king. This began a period of turbulence, with different kings ruling unsteadily for short periods, which saw the country finally conquered by Bayinnaung in 1574, and the toddler son of Setthathirath taken to Burma. with a fratricide by a crown prince; with a rebellion led by someone claiming to be Setthathirath-resurrected; and with a nine-year period in which the country had no king. (The Burmese would rule Laos for eighteen years.) Quarrels and conflicts among the feudal nobility and their followings led to disruptions and unrest within the population. With the country in chaos, Prince Noi Hno Muang Keo Koumane was always recognised as the rightful King by the people of Laos who campaigned for his return for many years. They finally succeeded when they sent a delegation to Burma after he had come of age in 1590. Crowned at Vientiane, 1591. Released from captivity in Burma by King Nanda Bayin, he returned to Vientiane where he was crowned in 1591. Declared his independence from the Burmese in 1593, but suffered several attacks from them throughout his reign.
There was little peace in Laos until King Sourigna Vongsa ascended the throne in 1633 (possibly 1637).
|King of Lan Xang
Lorrillard, Michel (1999) "La Succession de Setthathirat : réappréciation d'une période de l'histoire du Lan Xang," Aseanie 4 December 1999, pp. 44–64.
Phothisane, Souneth. (1996). The Nidan Khun Borom: Annotated Translation and Analysis, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Queensland. [This is a translation of a Lan Chang chronicle]
Wyatt, David K. and Aroonrut Wichienkeeo (1995). The Chiangmai Chronicle. Chiangmai: Silkworm Books, pp. 118–127 [This source records the history of Setthathirath as a ruler of both Lan Chang and Chiang Mai]
Wyatt, David K., Thailand: A Short History, New Haven (Yale University Press), 2003. [Concise description of his reign]