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The Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885), sometimes called the Alaungpaya Dynasty or the House of Alompra by British colonial rulers, was the last in the history of the Burmesemarker monarchy. It was also known to be the second largest Burmese Empire in its history. Alaungpaya, a village chief who led a successful rebellion against the Mon overlords, founded the dynasty that followed immediately after the demise of the Nyaungyan or restored Toungoo Dynasty. Burmamarker owes its existence as a nation state to this monarch.


Rise and fall

An expansionist dynasty, the Konbaung kings waged campaigns against Manipurmarker, Arakan, Assammarker, the Mon kingdom of Pegumarker and the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, thus establishing the Third Burmese Empire. Subject to later wars and treaties with the Britishmarker, the modern state of Burmamarker can trace its current borders to these events.

Alaungpaya's second son, Hsinbyushin, came to the throne after a short reign by his elder brother, Naungdawgyi (1760-1763). He continued his father's expansionist policy and finally took Ayutthaya in 1767, after seven years of fighting.

The traditional concept of kingship in southeast Asia which aspired to the Cakravartin Kings or 'Universal Monarchs' creating their own Mandala or field of power within the Jambudipa universe, along with the possession of the white elephant which allowed them to assume the title Hsinbyushin or Hsinbyumyashin (Lord of the White Elephant/s), played a significant role in their endeavours. Of more earthly import was the historical threat of periodic raids and aiding of internal rebellions as well as invasion and imposition of overlordship from the neighbouring kingdoms of the Mon, Tai Shans and Manipuris.

In the defence of its realm, the dynasty fought four wars successfully against the Qing Dynastymarker of Chinamarker which saw the threat of the expansion of Burmese power in the East. In 1770, despite his victory over the Chinese armies, King Hsinbyushin sued for peace with Chinamarker and concluded a treaty in order to maintain bilateral trade with the Middle Kingdom which was very important for the dynasty at that time. The Qing Dynastymarker then opened up its markets and restored trading with Burma in 1788 after reconciliation. Thenceforth peaceful and friendly relations prevailed between Chinamarker and Burmamarker for a long time.

Facing a greater threat however from powerful Western nations, the Konbaung Dynasty tried to modernize the kingdom. European began to set up trading posts in the Irrawaddy delta region during this period. Konbaung tried to maintain its independence by balancing between the French and the British. In the end it failed, the British severed diplomatic relations in 1811, and the dynasty fought and lost three wars against the British Empire, culminating in total annexation of Burma by the British.

In 1837, King Bagyidaw's brother, Tharrawaddy, seized the throne and had the chief queen Me Nu, her brother, executed. Tharrawaddy made no attempt to improve relations with Britain.

His son Pagan, who became king in 1846, executed thousands - some sources say as many as 6,000 - of his wealthier and more influential subjects on trumped-up charges. During his reign, relations with the British became increasingly strained. In 1852, the Second Anglo-Burmese War broke out. Pagan was succeeded by his younger brother, the progressive Mindon. Mindon attempted to bring Burma into greater contact with the outside world, and hosted the Fifth Great Buddhist Synod in 1872 at Mandalaymarker, gaining the respect of the British and the admiration of his own people.



Mindon died before he could name a successor, and Thibaw, a lesser prince, was manoeuvred onto the throne by one of Mindon's queens and her daughter, Supayalat. (Rudyard Kipling mentions her as Thibaw's queen, and borrows her name, in his poem The Road to Mandalay) The new King Thibaw proceeded, under Supayalat's direction, to massacre all likely contenders to the throne. This massacre was conducted by the queen.

The dynasty came to an end in 1885 with the forced abdication and exile of the king and the royal family to Indiamarker. The annexation was announced in the British parliament as a New Year gift to Queen Victoria on 1 January 1886.

Although the dynasty had conquered vast tracts of territory, its direct power was limited to its capital and the fertile plains of the Irrawaddy valley. The Konbaung rulers enacted harsh levies and had a difficult time fighting internal rebellions. At various times, the Shan states paid tribute to the Konbaung Dynasty, but unlike the Mon lands, were never directly controlled by the Burmese.

Society

During Konbaung rule, society was centred around the Konbaung king. The rulers of the Konbaung Dynasty took several wives and they were ranked, with half-sisters of the king holding the most powerful positions. The Konbaung kings fathered numerous children, creating a huge extended royal family which formed the power base of the dynasty and competed over influence at the royal court.It also posed problems of succession at the same time often resulting in royal massacres carried out in such a way that royal blood must not be shed.

Burmese society was highly stratified during Konbaung rule. Under the royal family, the nobility administered the government, led the armies, and governed large population centres. The Konbaung Dynasty kept a detailed lineage of Burmese nobility written on palm leaf manuscripts, peisa, that were later destroyed by British soldiers. At the local level, the myothugyi, hereditary local elites, administered the townships controlled by the kingdom.

Military captives

Captives from various military campaigns in their hundreds and thousands were brought back to the kingdom and resettled as hereditary servants to royalty and nobility or dedicated to pagodas and temples; these captives added new knowledge and skills to Burmese society and enriched Burmese culture. They were encouraged to marry into the host community thus enriching the gene pool as well. Captives from Manipurmarker formed the cavalry called Kathè myindat (Cassay Horse) and also Kathè a hmyauk tat (Cassay Artillery)) in the royal Burmese army. Even captured French soldiers, led by Chevalier Milard, were forced into the Burmese army. The incorporated French troops with their guns and muskets played a key role in the later battles between the Burmese and the Mons. They became an elite corps, which was to play a role in the Burmese battles against the Siamese (attacks and capture of Ayutthaya from 1760 to 1765) and the Manchus (battles against the Chinese armies of the Qian Long emperor from 1766 to 1769).

Outside of hereditary positions, there were two primary paths to influence: joining the military (min hmu-daan) and joining the Buddhist Sangha in the monasteries. A small community of foreign scholars, missionaries and merchants also lived in Konbaung society. Besides mercenaries and adventurers who had offered their services since the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, a few Europeans served as ladies-in-waiting to the last queen Supayalat in Mandalaymarker, a missionary established a school attended by Mindon's several sons including the last king Thibaw, and an Armenian had served as a king's minister at Amarapuramarker.

Reforms

Burmese court official in 1795.
Realizing the need to modernize, the Konbaung rulers tried to enact various reforms with limited success. King Mindon with his able brother Crown Prince Kanaung established state-owned factories to produce modern weaponry and goods; in the end, these factories proved more costly than effective in staving off foreign invasion and conquest.

Mindon also tried to reduce the tax burden by lowering the heavy income tax and created a property tax, as well as duties on foreign exports. Ironically, these policies had the reverse effect of increasing the tax burden, as the local elites used the opportunity to enact new taxes without lowering the old ones; they were able to do so as control from the centre was weak. In addition, the duties on foreign exports stifled the burgeoning trade and commerce.

Capitals

Under the Konbaung Dynasty, the capital shifted several times for religious, political, and strategic reasons. During such a move, the entire palace complex was taken down and transported on elephants to the chosen site. These capitals were:



Rulers

No Title Literal meaning Lineage Reign Notes
1 Alaungpaya Future Buddha-King village chief 1752-1760 founder of the dynasty and the Third Burmese Empire, invaded Ayutthaya
2 Naungdawgyi Royal Elder Brother son 1760-1763 invaded Ayutthaya with his father
3 Hsinbyushin Lord of the White Elephant brother 1763-1776 invaded and sacked Ayutthaya, invaded Chiang Maimarker and Laosmarker, invaded Manipurmarker, successfully repulsed 4 Chinesemarker invasions
4 Singu King Singu son 1776-1781
5 Phaungka Younger Brother (Lord of Phaungka) cousin (son of Naungdawgyi) 1782 the shortest reign in Burmese history of just over one week
6 Bodawpaya Royal Lord Grandfather uncle (son of Alaungpaya) 1782-1819 invaded and annexed Arakanmarker, invaded Ayutthaya
7 Bagyidaw Royal Elder Uncle grandson 1819-1837 invaded Ayutthaya with his grandfather, invaded Assammarker and Manipurmarker, defeated in the First Anglo-Burmese War
8 Tharrawaddy King Tharrawaddy brother 1837-1846 fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War as Prince of Tharrawaddy
9 Pagan King Pagan son 1846-1853 overthrown by Mindon after his defeat in the Second Anglo-Burmese War
10 Mindon King Mindon brother 1853-1878 sued for peace with the British; had a very narrow escape in a palace rebellion by two of his sons but his brother Crown Prince Ka Naung was killed
11 Thibaw King Thibaw son 1878-1885 the last king of Burma, forced to abdicate and exiled to Indiamarker after his defeat in the Third Anglo-Burmese War


Note: Naungdawgyi was the eldest brother of Hsinbyushin and Bodawpaya who was the grandfather of Bagyidaw who was Mindon's elder uncle. They were known by these names to posterity, although the formal titles at their coronation by custom ran to some length in Pali; Mintayagyi paya (Lord Great King) was the equivalent of Your/His Majesty whereas Hpondawgyi paya (Lord Great Glory) would be used by the royal family.

Early impressions

Michael Symes appeared to display an uncanny prescience when he offered his opinion thus in the preface to his " An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, sent by the Governor-General of India, in the year 1795":

Notes

  1. Findlay, p.277
  2. Southeast Asia By Keat Gin Ooi, p.611


See also



References

  • Findlay, Ronald and O'Rourke, Kevin H. (2007) Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium [109278]
  • Thant Myint-U, The Making of Modern Burma, ISBN 0-521-79914-7
  • William J. Koenig, "The Burmese Polity, 1752-1819: Politics, Administration, and Social Organization in the early Kon-baung Period", Michigan Papers on South and Southest Asia, Number 34, 1990.


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