Eustachius De Lannoy
Eustache Benoît (Eustachius Benedictus) de Lannoy (also spelled "Lennoy" and sometimes called 'Captain De Lannoy') (1715, Arras – 1 June 1777, Udayagiri Fort) was a French-born naval commander of the Dutch East India Company, who was sent by the company to help establish a trading post at Colachel, Southern India, but was defeated at the Battle of Colachel by the Travancore army under Maharaja Marthanda Varma in 1741, and subsequently became a valiant and successful commander of the same foreign army that had defeated him. His role as military commander of the Travancore army was instrumental in the later military successes and exploits of Travancore under Marthanda Varma.
Battle of Colachel
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In August 1741, de Lannoy arrived at the port of Colachel, near the southern tip of India, as commander of a naval fleet, sent by the Dutch East India Company, or Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), with the objective of capturing Travancore from Marthanda Varma, the King who was not on friendly terms. It was the world's first Joint stock company and the largest multinational company at the time. It was a very rich corporation and had its own naval-fleet to protect its trade and maritime establishments.
The company was interested in acquiring and monopolizing the trade of pepper and other spices from the Malabar kingdoms, which was sold by it in the European markets at exorbitant prices. Earlier negotiations with the Travancore Government under the king Maharaja Marthanda Varma had proved futile, and it was thus decided to use military pressure to subdue the king since Marthanda Varma was bent on annexing the Kingdoms to the north of his country. The Dutch Governor of Ceylon had installed a Princess in a small northern kingdom called Elayidathu Swaroopam Kottarakkara against the wishes of Marthanda Varma, in spite of a severe warning issued by him to Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff, the Dutch Governor of Ceylon to look after their own affairs and not interfere in the affairs of that kingdom. An enraged Marthanda Varma attacked and annexed the kingdom, whereas the Princess escaped to Cochin and lived there under the protection of the Dutch. Van Imhoff wanted to teach Marthanda Varma a lesson. The Dutch were uneasy about the growing business and political clout of the English company who had a trading post and fort at Anjengo in Travancore. They assessed the situation and acted. It was with these intentions that a powerful Dutch naval force was dispatched from the nearest Dutch settlement of Galle in Ceylon.
Once the Dutch army landed at Colachel they initially conquered the lands from Colachel to Kottar near Nagercoil including the rich village of Eraniel, where the original palace of the Travancore Dynasty was situated. Their next aim was to proceed to capture Kalkulam, the capital. But soon the Travancore forces arrived from the North under the direct command of Marthanda Varma and his Minister and Commander of the army Ramayyan Dalawa. The two forces met at Colachel on 10 August 1741. Captain de Lannoy’s military contingent was superior in that, it had firearms and artillery and was better equipped and trained, but was no match to the tactics and aggressiveness used by the Travancore forces at the Battle of Colachel. Further the Dutch were helpless against the cavalry of Travancore. The local legends state that, in accordance to the orders of the Maharajah, the local Christian fisherfolk who remained loyal to the Maharajah, had made cannon replicas, diverting the attention of the Dutch. This battle is important as it marked the decline of Dutch influence in India. From then onwards, the Dutch Company was confined to the role of a trading company. Prior to this defeat, the Dutch had been interfering in all the domestic disputes of the local Royal houses and trying to amass power. They had their representatives in almost all the kingdoms of Malabar as advisors to the rulers.
Captain de Lannoy and twenty-four other Dutch officers were taken prisoner, while the rest of the Dutchmen either retreated to their ships or were killed. Donadi, de Lannoy’s lieutenant was also captured.
Appointment as a Travancore Army Commander
The Dutch prisoners expressed their willingness to serve the Maharaja of Travancore. De Lannoy was entrusted with the job of training a Regiment of the army in European tactics of war and discipline. Captain de Lannoy performed this task to the entire satisfaction of Marthanda Varma and the Maharaja appointed him as one of his Generals. Donadi also was given a high military post.
De Lannoy organized the Travancore army on European lines, introduced gunpowder and firearms, hitherto not used in the kingdom, and increased the regiments and improved defence fortifications. In the process, he earned the trust of the king, who conferred many privileges on him. De Lannoy was a skilled military strategist, and together with the tactics of the Dewan of Travancore, Ramayyan Dalawa, and statesmanship of the king Maharaja Marthanda Varma the combined skills of the threesome proved very effective in the future military exploitations and annexations of the Northern kingdoms up to Cochin over a period of time and in the defeat and annexation of Quilon, Kayankulam, Kottarakkara, Pandalam, Ambalapuzha, Edappalli, Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor with Travancore.
Forts built under De Lennoy’s supervision
De Lannoy built the Nedumkotta, a line of fortifications in the North of the Kingdom, known as the Travancore Lines. This fortification proved immensely useful in defending the kingdom against the attacks of Tipu Sultan and other marauders. It was erased by Tipu Sultan in an act of revenge for having been defeated in his attempt to subdue Travancore in 1789. It had a length of 40 km and extended from the sea near Vypeen Island to the Ghats. Just before returning to Mysore after his failed attempt, he spent six days to demolish the Lines which he called 'the Contemptible Wall'. He had sworn to demolish it earlier after his failed attempt to breach it on 28 December 1789, and lost 2000 soldiers in that single night, due to the spirited defence by the Cadres, for the loss of just a few soldiers of Travancore.
Many other forts like the Vattakottai Fort facing the sea near Kanyakumari, the Savakkotta, and the Marunnu Kotta or Ammunition fort, both being hill-forts near Padmanabhapuram, were built under de Lannoy’s supervision. Udayagiri Fort, very close to the fortified capital of Padmanabhapuram, was a military training centre and barracks. Originally a mud-fort, it was re-built as a stone fort as per the design of one Thykattu Namboothiri prior to the Battle of Colachel and de Lannoy who was imprisoned there was later allowed to reside there with his family and a church was built for him inside, by the King. The fort had a big foundry and different types of weapons including cannons and ammunition were manufactured there.
De Lannoy is also credited with the erection of some other small forts and tunnels.
Life at Udayagiri and death
As a Christian, de Lannoy was prohibited from entering the king’s palace at Padmanabhapuram so he resided primarily at Udayagiri Fort, or De Lannoy Kotta (de Lannoy’s Fort) as it is known locally, where he also built a small chapel for his family and other Christians.
At some point of his military career, de Lannoy got well acquainted with Neelakanta Pillai, a Nair palace official, who after learning of Christian traditions and beliefs through de Lannoy, converted to Christianity. As they both had influential roles under the king, they got well acquainted. Neelankanta Pillai took the baptised name of Devasahayam Pillai. The Roman Catholic church under Pope Benedict XVI made Devasahayam Pillai a beatified layman of the church in 2012, and he is likely to be made a saint in due course. Thus, de Lannoy had an important role in the christian life of the Blessed Devasahayam Pillai.
Captain de Lannoy’s military skills and loyalty were recognised not only by the king and his state officials, but also by the subjects of Travancore, who called him by the nom de guerre "Valiya Kappithaan ", meaning 'The Great Captain'.
De Lannoy died in 1777 and was interred in the chapel within the Udayagiri Fort. The English translation of the Latin inscription on his tombstone runs:
"Stand Traveller! Here lies Eustachius Benedictus De Lannoy: who was Commander of the general Travancore Army and for nearly thirty-seven years with the greatest faithfulness served the King, to whom by the strength and fear of his armies he subjugated all kingdoms from Kayangulam [Kayamkulam] to Cochin. He lived 62 years and 5 months and died first day of June 1777. May he rest in peace."
Relevant places of interest
- De Lannoy’s tomb is located at Udayagiri Fort, on the present-day Nagercoil–Trivandrum highway, near Thuckalay. Udayagiri Fort is now also a bio-diversity park maintained by the Department of Forests, Kanyakumari division.
- Padmanabhapuram, the capital of Travancore during the time of Marthanda Varma, is close to Udayagiri Fort, near Thuckalay.
- Colachel, where de Lannoy first landed as Commander of the Dutch fleet, is a seaport in present-day Kanyakumari District. There is a war memorial commemorating the victory over the Dutch.
- Vattakottai Fort ("Circular Fort") is a seaside fort, very close to Kanyakumari, the southern tip of Peninsular India.
- Thovala Fort, near Aramboly about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from Nagercoil on the Nagercoil-Tirunelveli highway, the remains of the eastern defence line of Travancore, a continuous fort between two mountains, Thaekku Mala (Teak Mountain) on the south and Thadaka Mala on the north, blocking the Aramboly Pass can be seen. It was demolished by the British in the 1800s. Beyond Thaekku Mala, the Line extends south up to the seashore at Cape Commorin, the last few kilometers are protected by bastions for one or two cannons placed 100 metres (330 ft) apart.
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- Koshy 1989, p. 61.
- Menon, Sreedhara (1996). A survey of Kerala History. Madras: S. Viswanathan printers and publishers. pp. 263, 287.
- Aiya, V. Nagam (1906). Travancore State Manual. Travancore Government Press.
- Koshy, M. O. (1989). The Dutch Power in Kerala, 1729-1758. Mittal Publications. ISBN 978-81-7099-136-6.
- M. DE LANNOY, "Een Zuidnederlander in dienst van de Radja van Travancore : Eustache Benoît de Lannoy (1715-1777)", in C. KONINCKX ed. Vlamingen overzee. Flamands en outre-mer. Flemings overseas, Brussels: Paleis der Academiën (Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, Wetenschappelijk comité voor maritieme geschiedenis), Collectanea Maritima no. 6, 1995;
- M. DE LANNOY, "European soldiers in the service of Travancore in the eighteenth century", in J. EVERAERT & J. PARMENTIER eds International Conference on Shipping, Factories and Colonization (Brussels, 24–26 November 1994), Brussels: Paleis der Academiën (Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, Wetenschappelijk comité voor maritieme geschiedenis), Verhandelingen van de Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, Speciale Uitgaven no. 37, 1996;
- M. DE LANNOY, The Kulasekhara Perumals of Travancore. History and State Formation in Travancore from 1671 to 1758, Leiden: University of Leiden, CNWS publications No. 58, 1997. Travancore Archaeological series Vol VI, A.S. Ramanatha Ayyar Cultural Publications Department 2003.