Tensions and Experimentations of Kingship King Narai and his Response to Missionary Overtures in the 1680s

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Alan Strathern

Abstract

Following a piece published in the previous issue of this journal analysing the nature of sacred kingship in 17th century Ayutthaya, this article proceeds to show how these tensions in the performance of royal office shaped King Narai’s response to Christian proselytism in the 1680s. This involves a consideration of his increasing residence in Lopburi; his fractious relationship with the Buddhist monastic order; his desire to innovate in the field of astrology and chronicle writing; the appeal of French culture and monarchical grandeur; and the possibility that his metaphysical worldview underwent a significant shift towards deism. With the exception of the latter, for which the evidence is dubious, all these themes helped stimulate hopes among the French that his conversion was indeed a real possibility. This was largely an illusion: while Narai chafed within the confines of his role, and remained curious and cosmopolitan in his tastes, there was no great structural crisis which the French could take advantage of, and nor were they able to precipitate one.

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