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HistoryThe big dates

1686 Reception of the embassy of Siam



1 September 1686

More peaceful than the mission of the Doge of Genoa, the reception of the ambassadors of the king of Siam, Phra Narai, was designed to extend the influence of France. Louis XIV sought a new ally in his struggle against Holland.

The pomp deployed for the reception of the Siamese embassy was a new signal of the glory of the Sun King. Although he had triumphed over Holland with the Treaty of Nimègue in 1678, Louis XIV was still hostile to Dutch trade. He intended to pursue his offensive in the Far East where Holland had trading posts.

In The 17th century, Siam was seen as a great Asian power located between India and China. With its Buddhist tradition, it fascinated Westerners by its tolerance towards other religions, but also by the refinement of its culture. Under the reign of Phra Narai (1657-1688), Western influence expanded rapidly. The king sought an ally in Europe. France was chosen despite the intrigues of the Dutch traders. After a fruitless mission in 1681, a second was sent to France in 1684 and received in pomp by Louis XIV. The king in turn sent a diplomatic mission to Siam in March 1685; it returned to France in June 1686 accompanied by a new Siamese mission.

Received in the Hall of Mirrors as in 1684, the new mission arrived on 1 September 1686. 1,500 people attended. The silver furniture was again displayed on the royal platform. The stakes were high: to obtain the military support of Siam. Although he was suffering from a fistula, Louis XIV received the ambassadors who presented the letter of Phra Narai in a box. Wearing their astonishing pointed hats, they prostrated themselves before the king, as if before a living god. They were authorised to look up at him, contrary to their custom. After handing over the letter, the ambassadors stepped backwards with hands joined. The king allowed them to visit his apartments and gardens. One of the Siamese declared after leaving the Cabinet of Medals that, after the three grandeurs of Man, God and Paradise, he now knew the fourth, Versailles!

The mission did not produce the expected result: Phra Narai was overthrown in 1688 and replaced by a dreadful tyrant, Pitracha, who closed off Siam to Westerners for a long time, except for Holland. The struggle against the Dutch was not over yet…

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