Kingdom of Chiang Mai

Kingdom of Chiang Mai
Tributary state of Siam
Capital Chiang Mai
Languages Lanna language
Religion Theravada Buddhism
Government Monarchy
Lord Ruler
   1802–1813 Kawila (1st)
  1871–1897 Inthawichayanon (7th)
Historical era Modern history
   Installation of Kawila 1802
   Became part of the Monthon Phayap 1899[1][2]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Rattanakosin Kingdom
Today part of  Thailand

Kingdom of Rattanatingsa or Kingdom of Chiang Mai (Thai: นครเชียงใหม่; full name: รัตนติงสาอภินวปุรีสรีคุรุรัฎฐพระนครเชียงใหม่; rtgs: Rattana Tingsa Aphi Nawa Puri Si Khuru Rattha Phra Nakhon Chiang Mai) was the vassal state of the Siamese Rattanakosin Kingdom in the 18th and 19th century before being annexed according to the centralization policies of Chulalongkorn in 1899. The kingdom was a successor of the medieval Lanna kingdom, which had been under Burmese rule for two centuries until it was captured by Siamese forces under Taksin of Thonburi in 1774. It was ruled by the Tipchak dynasty and came under Thonburi and was later a Bangkokian tributary.

Liberation from Burmese Rule

Prince Kawila of the Tipchak dynasty, son of Saopha Chaikaew of Nakhon Lampang, and Phraya Chabaan, a Lanna noble, plotted the liberation of Lanna cities from Burmese authorities and decided to request support from King Taksin of Thonburi in 1774. Taksin sent Phraya Chakri (later Phutthayotfa Chulalok) and Phraya Surasi (later Maha Sura Singhanat) to capture Chiang Mai. The joint forces took Chiangmai and Lampang. Phraya Chaban was installed as Phraya Luang Vachiraprakarn the Lord of Chiang Mai; King Chaikaew died the same year, to be succeeded by his son Kawila as the King of Lampang. Kawila’s sister, Sri Anocha, was married to Phraya Surasi.

The Burmese tried their best to recover their lost territories. The attacks were so immense that Vachiraprakarn decided to evacuate the city, and moved his people to Lampang in 1776.

In 1782, Phraya Chakri, now Somdet Chao Phraya Maha Kasatseuk, suppressed a rebellion at Thonburi and crowned himself Phutthayotfa Chulalok the King of Siam at Rattanakosin Island (commonly called Bangkok). As his brother-in-law, Phutthayotfa Chulalok made Kawila the Lord Min Vachiraprakarn of Chiang Mai in 1782 as a Siamese tributary.

Lord Min Vachiraprakarn evacuated the people of Lampang to stay at Vieng Paxang until sufficient resources had been gathered to move to Chiang Mai in 1796. Lord Min Vachiraprakarn pursued the policies of manpower recovery[3] as he invaded the neighboring states to gather the people into Chiang Mai and Lampang, including the Shan States, Kengtung, and Chiang Hung. In 1799, the court of Chiang Mai renamed the city Rattana-ingsa. Min Vachiraprakarn constructed auspicious animal monuments around the cities.

A vassal to Bangkok

In 1802, Phutthayotfa Chulalok elevated Min Vachiraprakarn as King of Chiang Mai presiding over Lanna states (Principalities of Lampang, Lamphun, Nan, and Phrae) but as a Siamese vassal. In 1804, King Kawila retook Chiang Saen from the Konbaung dynasty. Also, Kawila went on various campaigns against Burma and sent the captives to Bangkok.

The Chiang Mai succession was strictly regulated by Bangkok. After the death of a king, the Uparaja retained the status as a prince until he visited the King of Bangkok that he would be elevated to the king. As the result, the reign of Chiang Mai kings were not continuous as the Uparaja usually spent at least a year going to Bangkok.

Chiang Mai sent tributes to Bangkok triennially. The tributes included valuable forest products like teak. Chiang Mai also provided troops and manpower to Bangkok on military campaigns, including the Rebellion of Anouvong in 1824. Also, Chiang Mai was the main base for the Siamese efforts to expand into Shan states.

The degree of Chiang Mai's control over its subordinate states varied on the course of history. Under Kawila, his fresh installment by Rama I enforced Chiang Mai control over the principalities. However, the principalities then gained autonomy as strong symbolic justification from Bangkok was not granted. In the mid-19th century, control of Chiang Mai resumed under Mahotrapratet due to the encouragement of Rama III.

Siamese interference in Chiang Mai's internal affairs remained sporadic.[4] In 1870 however, the Siamese regent Chaophraya Si Suriyawong intervened in Chiang Mai's royal succession, lifting Chao Inthanon (also known as Inthawichayanon) to the throne rather than the old king's logical successor who was viewed as less friendly towards Bangkok.[5]

Western arrival

After the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, the British Empire had Control of Burma and its influence was penetrating into the Shan states. For the first time, the woodlands of Lanna were revealed to the West, its deep inland position having barred it from the sight of European traders during the Ayutthayan period. The first missionaries arrived in 1868 and established schools that educated the children of Chiang Mai in English and Lanna script. Printing was introduced.

British companies arrived to exploit the valuable teak resources, including British Borneo Company (arrived in 1864), Bombay Burma Company (1889), and Siam Forest Company.[6] The British brought Burmese and Karen workers into Lanna. They also came into conflict with Chiang Mai royalty over profits as the British tried to impose a system of land ownership over the traditional land-grant system. Most of the cases were judged in the courts at Bangkok and, due to inferior legal knowledge, King Inthawichayanon had to pay heavy indemnities to the British.[7]

Gradual annexation to Siam

British indemnities were a burden to Bangkok government, which had to lend money to Chiang Mai for the debt. The Bangkok court considered the Western influences a threat, and didn't want the Chiang Mai court to have independent relations with Western powers. After concluding the first Anglo-Siamese "Chiang Mai Treaty" in 1873, Chulalongkorn sent Phra Narinthra Rachaseni as a Royal Deputy to Chiang Mai to ensure the compliance of Siam's obligations vis-à-vis the United Kingdom (i.e. protection of the border, of British investments and observance of concessions).

Inthawichayanon (r. 1873–1896), last king of a semi-independent Chiang Mai, and father of Princess Dara Rasmi

In July 1883, Chulalongkorn wrote to his Chief Commissioner in Chiang Mai, Phraya Ratchasampharakon:

We consider Chiang Mai as still not belonging to the Kingdom proper because it still is a prathetsarat (i. e. tributary state), but we do not plan to destroy the (ruling) families and to abandon prathetsarat (status). We only want to maintain and hold to the real power; that is to say whatever will be, let it be only that which we allow it to be.... To put it briefly, we want (them) to be like a machine which we will wheel forward or backward as we wish... but it is necessary to do this with a brain and intelligence more than power and force. Do not let (them) think that it is force and oppression. (You) must point out what is beneficial and what is not.
King Rama V (Chulalongkorn), Letter to Phraya Ratchasampharakon, 12 July 1883[8]

Western relations with Chiang Mai became urgent for Bangkok in 1883 when it was rumored that Queen Victoria was going to make herself the godmother of Princess Dara Rasmi of Chiang Mai, Inthawichayanon's daughter. This was perceived as a British effort to take over Lanna. Chulalongkorn sent his brother Kromma-muen Pinit Prichakorn to Chiang Mai to propose the engagement of Dara Rasmi as his concubine.

After a second Chiang Mai Treaty concluded by Siam and Britain in September 1883, Siamese control over Chiang Mai was intensified: a consular court was established, responsible for all cases involving British subjects. Siam assumed the sovereignty in fiscal and judicial matters and installed a six-member council of ministers that initially complemented the traditional native administration without replacing it. However, each of the ministers—who were Northern Thai aristocrats—was "aided" by a deputy minister delegated by Bangkok, who increasingly took over the real power.[9][10]

Dara Rasmi was married to Chulalongkorn in 1886 as a symbol of union of two kingdoms. Dara Rasmi was raised to Princess Consort - a high rank of court ladies only preceded by Chulalongkorn's four queens.

In 1893, Chulalongkorn announced his new provincial administration system (Thai: มณฑลเทศาภิบาล, Monthon Thesaphiban) and provincial status was imposed on the Chiang Mai kingdom in 1899 with the creation of Monthon Phayap ("Northwestern circle"),[1][2] later dividing it into the Monthons Phayap (including Chiang Mai) and Maharat (including Chiang Rai) in 1915. The Lanna rulers (including the prince of Chiang Mai) were reduced to nominal figureheads of their respective city. Inthawichayanon's son, Prince Inthawarorot, then ruled Chiang Mai under the tight control of the central government's representatives. Siamese nobility was installed over the northern provinces, combined with native Lanna's old nobility. This situation may be described as "internal colonialism".[11]

Prince Kaew Nawarat was the last Prince of Chiang Mai, and after his death in 1939 the title was abolished under the government of General Plaek Phibunsongkhram who sought to unify Thailand and suppress regional differences.

The modern descendants of the rulers of Chiang Mai bear the surname Na Chiangmai (Thai: ณ เชียงใหม่) as granted by King Vajiravudh under his 1912 Surname Act.

List of Chiang Mai rulers

Ruler under Thonburi royal

1. Phraya Vachiraprakarn, 1774 - 1776

Chet-ton Dynasty

1. King Kawila, 1782-1813
2. Prince Thammalangka, 1813-1822
3. Prince Khamfan, 1823-1825
4. Prince Phutthawong or Buddhavansa, 1826-1846
5. King Mahotaraprathet, 1847-1854
6. King Kawirolot Suriyawong, 1856-1870
7. King Inthawichayanon, 1873-1896

Figurehead rulers under Siamese administration

8. Prince Inthawarorot Suriyawong, 1901-1909 (Siam annexed Lanna)
9. Prince Kaew Nawarat, 1911-1939 (title abolished)


  1. 1 2 3 Sarassawadee Ongsakul (2005). History of Lan Na. Silkworm Books. p. 201.
  2. 1 2 3 Thanet Charoenmuang (1995). When the Young Cannot Speak Their Own Mother Tongue: Explaining a Legacy of Cultural Domination in Lan Na. Regions and National Integration in Thailand, 1892-1992. Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 85.
  3. David K. Wyatt (2004). Thailand: A Short History (2nd ed.). Silkworm Books. p. 143.
  4. David K. Wyatt (2004). Thailand: A Short History (2nd ed.). Silkworm Books. p. 179.
  5. Barton, Gregory A.; Bennett, Brett M. (2010). "Forestry as Foreign Policy: Anglo-Siamese Relations and the Origins of Britain's Informal Empire in the Teak Forests of Northern Siam, 1883–1925". Itinerario. 34 (2): 65–86.
  6. Quoted in Prakai Nontawasee (1988). Changes in Northern Thailand and the Shan States, 1886-1940. Southeast Asian Studies Program, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 71.
  7. Sarassawadee Ongsakul (2005). History of Lan Na. Silkworm Books. pp. 188, 195.
  8. Volker Grabowsky (2004). Bevölkerung und Staat in Lan Na (in German). Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 197–198.
  9. Peter A. Jackson (2010). The Ambiguities of Semicolonial Power in Thailand. The Ambiguous Allure of the West: Traces of the Colonial in Thailand. Hong Kong University Press. p. 45.

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