Friday Forum: Tyler Lehrer

Tyler Lehrer

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206 Ingraham Hall
@ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

A Portuguese Priest and a Siamese Prince:
Wanderers in the Eighteenth-Century Bay of Bengal and the Fall of Ayutthaya

Tyler A. Lehrer
PhD Candidate and Instructor, Department of History

~ Co-sponsored by the Department of History ~

War rages across the Bay of Bengal in the early 1760s. With the Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Lanka locked in a violent struggle against the Dutch East India Company (hereafter VOC), and the Siamese Ayutthayan Kingdom on the offensive against the encroach of Burmese Konbuang emperors and armies, Sri Lanka-based VOC Governors Jan Schreuder (g. 1757-1762) and Lubbert Jan Baron van Eck (g. 1762-1765) believed that Kandy’s King Kīrti Śrī Rājasiṃha (r. 1747-1782) could be deposed by company forces and replaced with a monarch more compliant with their interests. The king had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt plotted by powerful courtiers and Buddhist monks in 1760, with the conspirators selecting an exiled Ayutthayan monk-prince named Krom Muen Thep Phiphit to replace him in the event the rebellion had been successful. It was to this Siamese monastic prince that the VOC turned as a potential puppet king, launching two unsuccessful missions to the Gulf of Siam in 1762 and 1764 to locate and install him on Kandy’s throne. The company’s attempts to track down Thep Phiphit first benefitted from, but were then led astray, by the advice and interventions of a Portuguese Catholic priest, Fre Manuel de St. Joachim, a longtime missionary in the Portuguese Ayutthayan Diocese before purporting to convert to Dutch Calvinism who served as a functioned as a “fixer” for the VOC’s wartime searches for Thep Phiphit. Drawing on secret company correspondence, political resolutions, ships’ records, and the sworn attestations of de St. Joachim alongside Kandyan and Ayutthayan religious and historical chronicles, I ask what led company agents, like the plotters of 1760 before them, to select Thep Phiphit as a puppet king in their attempts to depose Kīrti Śrī Rājasiṃha, and what role this supposedly “reformed” Catholic priest played in the endeavor. In the midst of their war against Kandy, I suggest that the VOC’s governors and their spies believed that Thep Phiphit’s Buddhist imprimatur and royal blood made him someone that Kandyan courtiers would accept on the throne, and that it was both the involvement of de St. Joachim, as well as the Company’s diplomatic stumbling in a Siamese kingdom in the throes of violent and sudden decline, that doomed the missions to failure on the eve of Ayutthaya’s fall in 1767.

With a background in Buddhist studies, Tyler A. Lehrer is a PhD Candidate and Instructor in Indian Ocean history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His primary research, publication, and teaching areas range across South and Southeast Asian Buddhist lineages, European seaborne empires, transregional and transnational religious and political movements, and gender and sexual normativity in the early modern Indian Ocean.

A recording will be available on the CSEAS YouTube channel following the event.

Co-sponsored by the Department of History.