Rama I

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Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok
the Great
King Rama I
Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke portrait.jpg
King of Siam
Reign 6 April 1782 – 7 September 1809
Coronation 6 April 1782
Predecessor Taksin of Thonburi
Successor Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai (Rama II)
Vice King Maha Sura Singhanat
Isarasundhorn (Rama II)
Born (1737-03-20)20 March 1737
Ayutthaya, Kingdom of Ayutthaya (Siam)
Died 7 September 1809(1809-09-07) (aged 72)
Grand Palace, Bangkok, Kingdom of Siam
Spouse Queen Amarindra
Issue 42 sons and daughters with various consorts
House Chakri Dynasty
Father Thongdi (later Somdet Phra Prathom Borom Maha Rajchanok)
Mother Daoreung
Religion Buddhism

Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Thai: พระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลก), born Thongduang (Thai: ทองด้วง) and also known as Rama I (20 March 1737 – 7 September 1809), was the founder and the first monarch of the reigning House of Chakri of Siam (now Thailand). His full title in Thai is Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paramoruracha Mahachakkriborommanat Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Thai: พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรโมรุราชามหาจักรีบรมนารถ พระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลก). He ascended the throne in 1782, after defeating a rebellion which had deposed King Taksin of Thonburi. He was also celebrated as the founder of Rattanakosin (now Bangkok) as the new capital of the reunited kingdom.

Rama I was born from a Mon family where his father served in the royal court in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, and had served King Taksin in wars against the Burmese Konbaung dynasty and helped him in the reunification of Siam. During this time he emerged as Siam's most powerful military leader. Thongduang was the first Somdet Chao Phraya, the highest rank the nobility could attain, equaled to that of royalty. In 1782, he took control of Siam and crowned himself as the monarch. The most famous event in his reign was the Burmese-Siamese War of 1785, which was the last major Burmese assault on Siam.


Like other high-ranking figures of old Siam, Rama I's name changed several times during his lifetime, depending on his respective position, and even posthumously the way he was referred to change. His name at birth was Thongduang (also spelled Thong Duang ทองด้วง), family names had not yet been introduced in Siam at that time.

When Thongduang served as deputy governor of Ratchaburi Province during the rule of King Ekkathat of Ayutthaya, he bore the title of Luang Yokkrabat. After the demise of Ayutthaya, the new king Taksin to whom he served as an important military commander, awarded him successively the titles of Phra Ratcharin Chao Krom Phra Tamruat (head of the police department), Phraya Aphaironnarit,[1] Phraya Yommarat, Phraya Chakri and Chaophraya Chakri (minister of the northern provinces). Finally Taksin created him the title of Somdet Chaophraya Maha Kasatsuek, a noble title as high as no Siamese official had born before him, making him quasi-royalty.

When he ascended to the throne in 1782, he took the name Ramathibodi, just like the founder of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. His full title was much longer (Phra Borommarachathirat Ramathibodi Sisin Borommaha Chakkraphat Rachathibodin etc.), intended to demonstrate his universal claim to power like of earlier Siamese kings.

After his death, the people referred to him simply as Phaendin Ton ("the first reign"), to his son as Phaendin Klang ("the middle reign"). Continuing this system consequently, his grandson Rama III would have been "the last reign". To avoid this inauspicious title, he ended this practice by donating two Buddha statues that were placed to the sides of the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaeo and dedicated one each to his father and grandfather. He demanded to refer to his two predecessors using the names of these Buddha statues. The one dedicated to the first Chakri king was named Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok ("the Buddha on top of the sky and the crown of the worlds"). This is how this king is still referred to in Thai history books.[2]

His descendant Vajiravudh (Rama VI) who had studied in England, realised that most Siamese kings' names were difficult to reproduce and remember for Westerners. He therefore disposed to use for all kings of the Chakri dynasty the name Rama together with the respective ordinal number. So this king is Rama I in Western literature. In 1982, 200 years after his accession, the Thai cabinet decided to award him the epithet Maharat ("The Great").

Titles and styles
  • 1737-1758: Nai Thongduang (นายทองด้วง)
  • 1758-1768: Luang Yokkrabat of Ratchaburi Province (หลวงยกกระบัตรเมืองราชบุรี)
  • 1768: Phra Ratcharin (พระราชริน)
  • 1768-1769: Phraya Aphairanarit (พระยาอไภยรณฤทธิ์
  • 1769-1770: Phraya Yommarat (พระยายมราช)
  • 1770-1778: Chao Phraya Chakri (เจ้าพระยาจักรี)
  • 1778-1782: Somdet Chao Praya Maha Kasatsuek etc. (สมเด็จเจ้าพระยามหากษัตริย์ศึก พิฤกมหิมา ทุกนัครระอาเดช นเรศรราชสุริยวงษ์ องค์อรรคบาทมุลิกากร บวรรัตนบรินายก)
  • 1782-1809: Phra Bat Somdet Phra Borommarachathirat Ramathibodi Sisin Borommaha Chakkraphat Rachathibodin etc. (พระบาทสมเด็จพระบรมราชาธิราชรามาธิบดี ศรีสินทรบรมมหาจักรพรรดิราชาธิบดินทร์ ธรณินทราธิราช รัตนากาศภาษกรวงษ์ องค์บรมาธิเบศ ตรีภูวเนตรวรนายก ดิลกรัตนราชชาติอาชาวไศรย สมุทัยดโรมนต์ สกลจักรวาฬาธิเบนทร์ สุริเยนทราธิบดินทร์ หริหรินทราธาดาธิบดี ศรีวิบูลยคุณอักนิษฐ ฤทธิราเมศวรมหันต์ บรมธรรมิกราชาธิราชเดโชไชยพรหมเทพาดิเทพนฤบดินทร ภูมินทรบรมาธิเบศโลกเชฐวิสุทธิ รัตนมกุฏประเทศคตา มหาพุทธางกูรบรมบพิตร)
  • Posthumously renamed by King Rama III as: Phra Bat Somdet Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok (พระบาทสมเด็จพระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลก)
  • Posthumously renamed by King Mongkut as: Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paramoruracha Mahachakkriborommanat Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok (พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรโมรุราชามหาจักรีบรมนารถ พระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลก)
  • Posthumously renamed by King Vajiravudh (for use by Westerners) as: Rama I
  • Posthumously renamed by the Thai cabinet in 1982 as: Phra Bat Somdet Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok Maharat (พระบาทสมเด็จพระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลกมหาราช)
Further information: Rama (Kings of Thailand)

Early life[edit]

An Ayuttayan aristocrat[edit]

Thongduang was born in 1737 in the reign of King Boromakot of Ayutthaya. His father was Thongdi, a Mon noble serving the royal court (posthumously raised to Somdet Phra Prathom Borommahachonnok – "the grand primordial father") who was Phra Akson Sunthonsat (Royal Secretary of northern Siam, Keeper of the Royal Seal). Phra Akson Sunthonsat was also a descendant of Kosa Pan, the leader of King Narai's embassy to the French court.[3][4] His mother, Daoreung (original name Yok), was part-Chinese.[5][6][7] Thongduang had six other siblings.

Thongduang at a young age entered the Royal Palace as one of the royal pages of King Uthumphon, where he met his childhood friend Taksin. In 1757, aged 21, he became a monk temporarily, in accordance with Siamese custom. In 1760, he married Nak, daughter of a town patron in Samut Sakorn. He was later appointed the Luang Yokkrabat (deputy governor) of Ratchaburi Province by King Ekkathat in 1758.

Service under Taksin[edit]

On the eve of the fall of Ayutthaya, Phraya Wachiraprakan (later King Taksin) had foreseen that the fall of the city was certain. Wachiraprakan decided to break the siege of the city of Ayutthaya by the Burmese army and establish a new base outside. Phraya Ratchaburi also joined this venture. In 1767, Ayutthaya under King Ekkathat fell to Burmese invaders, the city was completely destroyed; burned and looted. Local warlords rose up to establish their supremacy in the absence of a central authority.

Despite the fall of Ayutthaya, Taksin and his men in the same year managed to capture Chantaburi and Trat. During this time Phraya Ratchaburi became one of Taksin's six ministers[8] and together with Phraya Pichai they were regarded by Taksin as his two most valuable generals.

Military leader[edit]

Swiftly Taksin made a strategic plan and under it recaptured Ayutthaya in one year. In 1768 Taksin crowned himself and founded the Kingdom of Thonburi on the west bank of the mouth of the Chao Phraya river, using Thonburi as a new capital. Under the new Thonburi regime, Thongduang was appointed head of the royal police department, bearing the title Phra Ratcharin. After subjugating the warlord of Phimai with his brother Bunma (at that time called Phra Mahamontri, the future Maha Sura Singhanat), he was raised to Phraya Aphairanarit.

After the campaign to subdue the lord of Fang in 1769, Thongduang was raised to Phraya Yommarat and in the next year became Chao Phraya Chakri – the Samuhanayok (chief minister of the northern provinces). Chakri commanded the Siamese troops in the wars against Burma and went on to subjugate Cambodia. His brother Bunma (who by that time held the title of Phraya Anuchit Raja), accompanied him in various campaigns. Chakri and his brother were sent to the north to Lan Na in 1774 to free the kingdom from Burmese rule with the help of Phraya Kawila, a prince from Lampang. In 1776, he conquered Khmer Pa Dong (around modern Surin). He was assigned the task of conquering Lao kingdoms in 1778 and all the three kingdoms (Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Champasak) fell to the Siamese in the same year. He was eventually raised to Somdet Chao Phraya Maha Kasatsuek, the first official to ever hold this rank.

Ascension as King[edit]

Mural of the epic Ramakien, written by the King, the Thai version of the Ramayana, on the walls of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Grand Palace, Bangkok.

In 1781, he went on the campaigns against Cambodia, only to return prematurely due to the instability of Thonburi. The rebellion of Phraya San had broken out and the rebels deposed King Taksin. Some sources report that Taksin was consigned to a monastery. After arriving in Thonburi in 1782, Chao Phraya defeated the Phraya San with his forces. Later sources widely reported that the general eventually executed the ousted Taksin, contradicting to some earlier sources. He then seized power and made himself King, establishing the Chakri Dynasty, which continues to rule Thailand to this day.

General Maha Kasatsuek crowned himself on 6 April 1782. Soon after, he decided to move the capital of Siam to the east bank of the Chao Phraya river for several reasons, including its better strategic location and a desire to promote his legitimacy by starting from a clean slate. He decided to name his new capital "Rattanakosin" ("Keeping place of the Emerald Buddha"). Rama I also raised various members of his family to royalty. He appointed his brother Surasi (Anuchit Raja) or Maha Sura Singhanat as the "Front Palace" (conventional title of the viceroy and heir apparent) and his nephew Thong-In or Anurak Devesh as the "Rear Palace".

The King had 42 children. Ten of these were born to Queen Amarinda, the others by various concubines. The Queen's children included Prince Isarasundhorn, later King Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (Rama II) (whom the King appointed as Front Palace after the death of Maha Sura Singhanat in 1803), Prince Maha Senanurak and Prince Maha Sakdi Polsep.

Foreign Policy and War[edit]

Vietnam and Cambodia[edit]

In 1784-1785, the last of the Nguyễn Lords, Nguyễn Ánh, convinced Rama I to give him forces to attack Vietnam, which was then under the control of the Tây Sơn brothers. However, the joint Nguyễn-Siam fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Rach Gam–Xoai Mut in the Mekong Delta region. Nguyễn's appeal for Siamese assistance enabled the Siamese to exert considerable political influence over Nguyễn's court. Mac Tu Sinh, the son of Mạc Thiên Tứ and his Siamese wife, was raised among the Siamese, and held office as the governor of Hà Tiên until his death in 1787. Ngo Ma, a general of Siamese descent, was appointed as its acting governor in Mac's place.[9] Nguyễn Ánh also took refuge in Siam at the King's court waiting for the opportunities to defeat Tây Sơn. These episodes demonstrated Rama I's willingness to extend Siamese power beyond his Kingdom.

In Cambodia, King Reamraja of Cambodia was deposed in 1779 and the throne was given to his son, the young Ang Eng. However, the pro-Vietnamese policies of certain Cambodian aristocrats under Ang Eng alarmed Rama I. As a result, Rama I had Ang Eng captured and deported to Bangkok, where he became Rama's adopted son to implant pro-Siamese sentiments on him. Rama I also imposed Chao Phraya Abhaya Bhubet as the Regent of Cambodia.

Nguyễn Ánh secretly left for Vietnam in 1787, leaving Rama I a note. Nguyen managed to recapture Saigon by 1788 and later ascended as Emperor Gia Long in 1802.[10] (Thai; Phrachao Vietnam Ya Long)

Statue of Rama I at the Phra Phutthayotfa Memorial Bridge, Bangkok (1932)

In 1794, upon Ang Eng's majority, Rama I reinstalled him as the Narairaja III of Cambodia. The area around Siemreap and Battambang was annexed by Siam, and were governed by Abhaya Bhubet. However, Rama I allowed these territories to be ruled in accordance with Cambodian traditions.

Wars with Burma[edit]

Main article: Nine Armies War

Soon King Bodawpaya of Burma started to pursue his ambitious campaigns to expand his dominions over Siam. The Burmese-Siamese War (1785–1786), also known in Siam as the "Nine Armies War" because the Burmese came in nine armies, broke out. The Burmese soldiers poured into Lanna and Northern Siam. Siamese forces, commanded by Kawila, Prince of Lampang, put up a brave fight and delayed the Burmese advance, all the while waiting for reinforcements from Bangkok. When Phitsanulok was captured, Anurak Devesh the Rear Palace, and Rama I himself led Siamese forces to the north. The Siamese relieved Lampang from the Burmese siege.

In the south, Bodawpaya was waiting at Chedi Sam Ong ready to attack. The Front Palace was ordered to lead his troops to the south and counter-attack the Burmese coming to Ranong through Nakhon Si Thammarat. He brought the Burmese to battle near Kanchanaburi. The Burmese also attacked Thalang (Phuket), where the governor had just died. Chan, his wife, and her sister Mook gathered the local people and successfully defended Thalang against the Burmese. Today, Chan and Mook are revered as heroines because of their opposition to the Burmese invasions. In their own lifetimes, Rama I bestowed on them the titles Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Sunthon.

The Burmese proceeded to capture Songkhla. Upon hearing the news, the governors of Phatthalung fled. However, a monk named Phra Maha encouraged the citizens of the area to take up arms against the Burmese, his campaign was also successful. Phra Maha was later raised to the nobility by Rama I.

As his armies were destroyed, Bodawpaya retreated. The next year, he attacked again, this time constituting his troops as a single army. With this force Bodawpaya passed through the Chedi Sam Ong pass and settled in Tha Din Daeng. The Front Palace marched the Siamese forces to face Bodawpaya. The fighting was very short and Bodawpaya was quickly defeated. This short war was called the Tha Din Daeng campaign.

Economics, Culture and Religion[edit]

Monarchs of
the Chakri Dynasty
Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke portrait.jpg Yotfachulalok
(Rama I)
Buddha Loetla Nabhalai portrait.jpg Loetlanaphalai
(Rama II)
Nangklao portrait.jpg Nangklao
(Rama III)
Rama4 portrait (cropped).jpg Mongkut
(Rama IV)
King Chulalongkorn.jpg Chulalongkorn
(Rama V)
King Vajiravudh.jpg Vajiravudh
(Rama VI)
Prajadhipok portrait.jpg Prajadhipok
(Rama VII)
Ananda Mahidol portrait.jpg Ananda Mahidol
(Rama VIII)
Bhumibol Adulyadej portrait.jpg Bhumibol Adulyadej
(Rama IX)

Chinese immigration increased during Rama I's reign, who maintained Taksin's policy of allowing Chinese immigration to sustain the country's economy. The Chinese were found mainly in the trading and mercantile sector, and by the time his son and grandson came to the throne, European explorers noted that Bangkok was filled with Chinese junks of all sizes.[11]

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of the king's many construction projects.

Rama I moved the capital from Thonburi, which was founded by his predecessor Taksin, and built the new capital Bangkok. During the first few years prior to the founding of the current capital, he saw the construction of the palaces and the Chapel Royal. The Chapel Royal or Wat Phra Kaew of which the Emerald Buddha is enshrined is located within his Royal Palace or the Grand Palace. With the completion of the new capital, Rama I held an official ceremony naming the new capital.[12]

In 1804, Rama I began the compilation of the Three Seals Law, consisting of old Ayutthayan laws collected and organized. (From left to right the seals are: 1. The Royal Lion of the Minister of the Interior; 2. The Trunked Lion of the Minister of Defence; and 3. The Crystal Lotus of the Minister of the Port.[13]:p.9/30) He also initiated a reform of government and the style of Kingship.

Rama I was also noted for instituting major reforms in Buddhism as well as restoring moral discipline among the monks in the country, which had gradually eroded with the fall of Ayutthaya. Monks had already dabbled in superstitions when he first came to power, and Rama I implemented a law which required a monk who wished to travel to another principality for further education to present a certificate bearing his personal particulars, which would prove a monk own's legitimacy that he had been properly ordained. The King also repeatedly emphasised in state ceremonies to place devotion to the Buddha, and not over guardian spirits and past rulers, of which vestiges of ancient Animist worship had a persisted among the Thais prior to his rule.[14]

The King also appointed the first Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism, whose responsibilities included the duty of ensuring that Rama I's laws are maintained which was to ensure law and order within the Buddhist Sangha.[15] Rama I's passion for literature, which was also connected with his concern for Buddhist order within the country. He was noted for advocating Thai translation of important Pali works.[16] and Buddhist texts lost in the chaos after the sacking of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767, some were salvaged under the direction of Rama I. He also wrote a Thai version of the Ramayana epos called Ramakian.

Rama I also, renewed the relationship with the Vatican and the Jesuits. Missionaries who were expelled during the Taksin's reign, were invited back to Siam. Catholic missionaries's activities then continued in Siam. Reportedly the numbers of local Catholics increased steadily to thousands as their churches were protected, gaining freedom to propagate their belief again.[17]

Death and legacy[edit]

King Rama I died on 7 September 1809 after a short but acute illness,[18] he was succeeded by his son Prince Isarasundhorn as Buddha Loetla Nabhalai or Rama II.

Siam during the reign of Rama I reached a new height of power not seen since the sixteenth century. Militarily Siam was able to successfully repel Burmese invasions and exerted control over Laos and Cambodia and Vietnam. Culturally Rama I also encouraged cultural works to rehabilitate people after the successive series of wars and built many temples and monuments during his reign. His policies laid the foundation for Siam to expand within the next decades.

In Memoriam[edit]

6 April is Chakri Memorial Day, a holiday to commemorate the founder of the Chakri Dynasty.


  1. ^ Klaus Wenk (1968). The restoration of Thailand under Rama I, 1782-1809. The University of Arizona Press. p. 3. 
  2. ^ Sulak Sivaraksa (1985). Siamese Resurgence: A Thai Buddhist Voice on Asia and a World of Change. Asian Cultural Forum on Development. p. 175. 
  3. ^ Chris Baker, Pasuk Phongpaichit (2005). A History of Thailand. Cambridge University Press. pp. 32 and 288. ISBN 0-521-81615-7. 
  4. ^ The following article was written by King Rama IV of the Kingdom of Thailand in 1855 in response to the British Governor to Hongkong. And another related article from The Nation newspaper on 13 December 1999.
  5. ^ Britannica encyclopedia
  6. ^ Down Sampeng Lane: The Story of Bangkok's China Town
  7. ^ Thailand, doing business in
  8. ^ Clark D. Neher. Modern Thai Politics: From Village to Nation. Transaction Publishers. p. 50. ISBN 0-87073-916-6. 
  9. ^ Nola Cooke, Tana Li (2004). Water Frontier: Commerce and the Chinese in the Lower Mekong Region, 1750-1880. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-3083-3. 
  10. ^ Nicholas Tarling (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 584. ISBN 0-521-35505-2. 
  11. ^ Chris Baker, Pasuk Phongpaichit (2005). A History of Thailand. Cambridge University Press. pp. 32–3. ISBN 0-521-81615-7. 
  12. ^ Urban Council. Sculptures from Thailand: 16.10.82--12.12.82, Hong Kong Museum. University of California. p. 33. 
  13. ^ Dhani Nivat, Prince (1955). "The Reconstruction of Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society (Siam Society Heritage Trust) 43 (1). Retrieved January 17, 2013. First page of the Law Code of 1805 
  14. ^ Nicholas Tarling (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 221–2. ISBN 0-521-35505-2. 
  15. ^ Nicholas Tarling (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 222. ISBN 0-521-35505-2. 
  16. ^ Nicholas Tarling (1999). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 221. ISBN 0-521-35505-2. 
  17. ^ http://www.sspxasia.com/Newsletters/2002/Oct-Dec/Catholic_Church_in_Thailand.htm
  18. ^ Čhunlačhakkraphong (1960). Lords of Life: The Paternal Monarchy of Bangkok, 1782-1932. Taplinger. p. 114. 
Rama I
Chakri Dynasty
Born: 20 March 1737 Died: 7 September 1809
Regnal titles
Preceded by
(of Thonburi)
King of Siam
Succeeded by
Buddha Loetla Nabhalai

See also[edit]