ARI Working Paper Series
WPS 258 Thailand’s First Revolution? The Ayutthaya Rebellion of 1688 and Global Patterns of Ruler Conversion to Monotheism
Publisher : Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Publication Date : May / 2017
Author/Speaker: Alan STRATHERN
Keywords : Ayutthaya, Siam, Narai, conversion, revolution, sangha, transcendentalism

In the 1680s, King Narai, ruler of the cosmopolitan kingdom of Ayutthaya, was the subject of competing Christian and Muslim attempts to convert him to monotheism. Formal embassies from Louis XIV of France and the Safavid court were received with this purpose in mind – but they were embarrassing failures, and helped precipitate a coup in 1688. This paper will briefly set out how this case fits into a larger project of global comparative history, which explains why the rulers of some societies converted to monotheism and others did not. The theoretical approach adopted here includes a distinction between ‘divinized’ or ‘righteous’ modes of sacred kingship. But the empirical meat of the paper will be an investigation into what drove the uprising of 1688, for arguably it was more than simply a palace coup. After describing the role of the Buddhist monkhood in the affair, it then considers in more detail the evidence for popular involvement in the rebellion, and the way in which it expressed an element of anti-Christianity. As a movement with conservative and restorative aims, 1688 was not a ‘revolution’ in the modern sense, but it may have ushered in a new sense that ordinary people had a part to play in determining the legitimacy of royal contenders. The whole case also presents us with some clues as to why it was so hard to convert Buddhist kings.