70 Breeds of Empire the Siamese attitude to horses.
First of all he relates that the members of that embassy had brought fine quality Arabian- and Indian-bred horses with them, and it would have been very burdensome to transport them back to Persia. ‘Of necessity these horses became gifts to the Siamese king’s estates.’ The Siamese apparently had no interest in these ‘fairy-like beauties’, and although they knew the real market value of the horses they paid low prices for them (presumably a prerogative of royal ‘monopolism’).
The Persian source goes on to describe briefly the Siamese way of training their horses, which was to teach them to lower their heads in deference to their riders.
Also, Siamese cut the manes and tails of their horses because they considered it bad luck for both rider and horse for the animals to have long manes and tails.23 The royal chronicles of Ayutthaya, too, would seem to offer plenty of evidence for the use of horses in traditional Siamese warfare.
From the episodes dealing with the reign of King Naresuan alone, for instance, there are data which says that horses were used in reconnaissance and news-bearing, as well as in battle.
During a war against the Burmese, King Naresuan advised his men at Martaban to station 20–30 fast horses so that they might take turns to take news to the main army.
Horses were used in greater numbers than elephants, even, in the army assembled to invade Cambodia.
That force comprised 100,000 men, 800 elephants, and 1,500 horses.24 The Burmese armies had horses as well as elephants in their cavalry.
A key part of King Alaungpaya’s armies which invaded Siam in 1760 were the Manipuri horsemen, who later formed the rearguard as the invasion forces withdrew.25 Siamese sources other than the royal chronicles contain plenty of references to horses too.
While the chronicles mostly refer to horses in the context of military campaigns, the Testimony of Khunluang Wat Pradu Songtham testifies to the existence of stables for the king’s horses on the walled island-city of Ayutthaya.26 A Dutch document concerning the succession dispute of 1703 which to all intents and purposes was testimony given by a Siamese courtier at the court of King Sua, recounts how the king and his half-brother Chao Phra Khwan rode horses to the funeral of their father King Phetracha.
Chao Phra Khwan was encouraged to ride a horse, being given ‘the best horse from the king’s stables’, and was later lured to his death while riding in the vast grounds of the Royal Palace.
A group of his half-brother’s most trusted courtiers dragged him down from his mount and ‘executed’ him with sandalwood clubs.
The prince’s killing left the way clear for Phrachao Sua to enjoy his rule as king.
The whole episode shows that Siamese court culture, at by the end of the seventeenth century, had become to some extent a ‘horse culture’.27 There are old Siamese horse-riding and horse-identification manuals still extant, though these probably date from the early to mid nineteenth 5.
Javanese Horses for the Court of Ayutthaya 71 century rather than the Ayutthaya period proper.
But at least in the matter of the valuation of horses, the standard was exactly the same during the late Ayutthaya and the early Bangkok periods.
The Siamese in olden days seemed to attach a very great significance to the colour of the horses.
The illustrations in the old manuals clearly differentiate between the colours of various ‘types’ of horses, rather than on their physical or structural characteristics.
Much importance is also given to the classification, in a strict order corresponding roughly with social hierarchy, of various kinds of horses.
They do not, however, allude to the provenance of horses.
On the matter of the horses’ colour, the manual states that a horse which has a white body and a black head was deemed to be fit for a king, along with a black horse which had a white tail, or all-white and all-black horses.
No explanation for these preferences is given by the manuals.
A secondary class of horse could nevertheless have sterling qualities of endurance and courage too.
Less extraordinary specimens were classified as being of the third and fourth class.28 The illustrated Siamese manuscripts depicting seventeenth century royal processions by land and by water, thought to be copies of the Wat Yom ordination hall murals, show few horses.
Curiously enough, horses appear only as part of the water or royal barge procession, twenty horses progressing on land beside the more illustrious of the barges.29 The emphasis of the land procession was on elephants and infantry, and no horses are depicted, contrary to data in seventeenth century western sources such as Schouten and Van Vliet.
A royal procession at the Phra Phutthabat (Buddha’s Footprint) shrine in 1737 was said to have included four Persian horses, and other horses mounted by the king’s retinue.
King Borommakot himself, however, was on elephant-back.30 The Siamese had always used horses for transportation, warfare,31 and ceremonial purposes, long before the coming of either the Persians or the Europeans to Siam.
But where did Siam’s horses come from, since there seems to have been no native breed? For the earlier, pre-1600 period, there has been no detailed research, and it is difficult to know where to find data for such a study.
But for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the VOC sources may provide some illumination.
The Dutch data come from three main sets of archival materials.
The most informative and detailed sources are the letters and reports of the VOC merchants stationed in Ayutthaya and the letters of the phrakhlang minister (in the Overgekomen Brieven en Papieren series).
The Generale Missiven or general letters of the GovernorsGeneral and Council of the Indies, and the Batavias Uitgaand Briefboek or letters from Batavia to the various VOC offices in Asia, are also very useful sources in the study of the trade in Javanese horses. 72 Breeds of Empire Buying Horses for King Narai (1656–1688) The earliest Dutch sources to mention the buying of horses for the Ayutthaya court date from the early 1680s, during the reign of King Narai.
However, an earlier source states that in 1651 the VOC Governor-General Carel Reniers sent ‘two Javanese horses’ as gifts to King Prasatthong’s favourite Okya Sombatthiban.32 Around 1681–1682 the King of Siam (Narai) sent a vessel containing a party of horse-buyers to purchase horses in the Cirebon area of northern Java.
According to Chaophraya Phrakhlang (Kosa Lek)’s letter, the Siamese ship was on its way from Batavia to Cirebon when it was attacked and burnt by the Javanese.
The court therefore asked Batavia to look into the problem.33 The Siamese must have started to become increasingly wary of sending their own vessels to buy the horses, because they came to rely more and more on the Dutch.
The area around the pasisir towns on the ‘East’ or north coast of Java seems to have been a popular place to buy horses.
In 1683–1684, the Sultan of Jambi asked the VOC for passes to enable his men to go to buy horses on the East Coast of Java.
The sultan wanted 40–50 riding horses for use in the ‘tournoybaan’.
In 1685 the Sultan also purchased some 50 horses, though this time his men were said to have gone to the island of Bangka off the Sumatran coast.34 In 1715 the Sultan of Banten was still interested in buying horses from areas further east on Java.
He sent his brother and uncle to Cirebon, on the East Coast of Java, to buy horses during that year.35 As late as 1726 a ‘Kjahi Astradipana’ from Palembang went to Cirebon to buy horses.36 It is not mentioned in any contemporary sources why King Narai wanted to buy Javanese horses.
A couple of possible clues may be that the king employed ‘Moors’ (‘Mughals’ and Persians) as his horse-guard, and that in the reign of King Phetracha (1688–1703) horses were required for the king’s ‘cuirassiers’.
Perhaps King Narai’s horse-guards wanted new horses on a regular basis, or wanted to improve the quality of the king’s horses through crossbreeding with superior specimens.
According to La Loubère, King Narai already had ‘a dozen of Persian’, gifts from the King of Persia which by 1687 had already depreciated in value.
The Siamese king ‘[o]rdinarily … sends to buy some Horses at Batavia, where they are all small and very brisk, but as resty as the Javan people are mutinous.’ When La Loubère stopped by in Batavia on his way to Siam, he found two Siamese there ‘to buy two hundred Horses for the King their Master, about a hundred and fifty of which they had already sent away for Siam.’37 A letter from the phrakhlang minister to the Governor-General and Council dated Chulasakkarat 1045/6 (1683) asks Batavia to supply the 5.
Javanese Horses for the Court of Ayutthaya 73 Siamese court with thirty stallions and thirty mares.
The minister explains that the court did not send people to buy horses in Java anymore, because it caused the VOC to incur losses.
This was possibly a piqued Siamese reaction to VOC complaints about expenses.
But it did not prevent the Okphra Kosathibodi in 1684 (presumably the acting phrakhlang following the death of Kosa Lek in 1683) from asking for the Governor-General’s cooperation in helping a group of the king’s men previously sent to fetch sixty horses from Java.38 However risky the enterprise was, the Siamese were at this stage still occasionally sending their own ships to buy and transport the horses, probably in order to be less reliant on the Dutch.
There had been two junks sent to transport horses from Java to Siam with the Siamese embassy to Batavia of 1685–1686.
A ‘Gravaminas’ or list of grievances presented to the Governor-General and Council in Batavia by the Siamese ambassadors shows that sending ships and buyers to Java to procure horses for the king was something that happened on a regular basis.
But Governor-General Van Goens had earlier written to the phrakhlang requesting that the Siamese court desist from sending ships to buy horses in Java: the Siamese were coming into direct competition with the VOC by selling textiles in Java, and were anyway making losses on their voyages.
Van Goens offered to help King Narai procure whatever horses he wanted from Java.
The Siamese court, therefore, asked that the Company send thirty stallions and thirty mares to Ayutthaya.
According to a VOC general letter of May 1684, these sixty horses had not been obtainable.39 It was perhaps very difficult to obtain mares from the parts of Java controlled by the court of Mataram.
The Siamese court was nothing if not persistent in its pursuit of goods desired by the king.
This perseverance eventually brought about positive results.
There is no record of whether horses were taken back to Siam on the king’s ships in 1685–1686, but a letter dated December 1686 mentions about 39 horses being sent to Siam per the Walstroom on 23 May of that year.
The VOC ship also took back to Siam the Siamese king’s envoy Okluang Chula, who had bought these horses while discharging his diplomatic duties in Batavia.40 The following year the Siamese court and the VOC arrived at an arrangement which was to prove the model for later horse-buying activities.
The VOC authorities in Batavia advanced money to the king’s horse-buyers (probably the ones La Loubère encountered), and also transported the horses to Siam.
In 1687 the sum of money advanced was 1,609 rials.
During that year 67 horses bought by the king’s men were sent on VOC vessels to Siam.41 In this way the Siamese court obtained the requisite number of Javanese horses, while at the same time the Dutch did not have to worry about any Siamese 74
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