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An unexpected excursion: The first account of Spaniards in Ayutthaya (1585)



Although the Portuguese established contact with Thailand soon after their conquest of Melaka in 1511, it was thought that Spaniards did not go there until the disastrous expedition of Diego Belloso in 1596. However, in a little-known manuscript from about 1600 there is an account of an inadvertent visit by a small group of Spaniards in 1585, after they had been blown off course trying to return to Manila from Macao. This includes a description of Ayutthaya, presented here, together with an account of the trials and tribulations they endured in getting back to Manila. The Spaniards had gone to Macao with the Jesuit Alonso Sánchez, ostensibly to sort out a mutiny on a galleon bound for Acapulco, but Sánchez also wanted to pursue his agenda of converting China to Christianity and his reports do not mention this extraordinary adventure of some of his companions.



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1 de Luque, Carlos-Luis de la Vega y, “Pero Diaz, el primer español que llego a China”, Boletín de la Asociación Española de Orientalistas, XI (1975), 7990 at p. 80. See also Rodao, Florentino, “The Castilians discover Siam: Changing Visions and Self-Discovery”, Journal of the Siam Society, 95 (2007), 1–23, at pp. 1112.

2 “que el mayo pasado de mill e quinientos e quarenta e quatro años partió de Patan en un junco de chinos.” (De la Vega, “Pero Diaz”, p. 80.)

3 See e.g. Chapter 7 of Antonio de Morga, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, Vol. 140, Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, translated and edited by J. S. Cummins, 1971. (First published in 1609 Mexico: in the house of Geronymo Balli by Cornelio Adriano Cesar.)

4 João Ribeiro Gaio's account may be found in Souza, George Bryan and Turley, Jeffrey S. (eds and translators), The Boxer Codex: Transcription and Translation of an Illustrated Late Sixteenth-Century Spanish Manuscript Concerning the Geography, History and Ethnography of the Pacific, South-east Asia and East Asia, (Leiden and Boston, 2015), pp. 492501 and Donoso, Isaac, (transcriber and ed.), García, Ma. Luisa, Quirino, Carlos and García, Mauro (translator), Boxer Codex: A modern Spanish Transcription and English translation of 16th century exploration accounts of East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific, (Quezon City, 2016), pp. 214225.

5 This is an exaggeration as the distance is about 70 km.

6 de Campos, Joaquim, “Early Portuguese Accounts of Thailand”, Journal of the Siam Society, 32 (1940), 1-27, p. 3.

7 João de Barros, Ásia da Joam de Barros dos fectos que os portugueses fizeram no descobrimento e conquista dos mares e terras do Oriente. Terceira Decada, Venice, 1563, 6a ediçâo… por Hernani Cidade. Notas historicas… por Manuel Múrias, Divisão de publicaçóes e biblioteca agência general das colónias, 1946, Book II, Chapter V, p. 80: “que tẽem de metal entre outras muitas que há naquele reino, é ũa, que está em um templo da cidade Socotai, que êles dizem ser a mais antigua do reino, o qual ídolo é de oitenta palmos”.

8 See n. 22, p. 12, of Campos, “Early Portuguese”.

9 Campos, “Early Portuguese”, p. 24.

10 [Anonymous], De la historia De las Philipinas, que trata de la conquista de las yslas philipinas desde el gouierno de el adelantado Miguel lopez de legazpi que la començo, Bloomington, Indiana, Lilly Library, Philippine MSS II, [n.d.]. An edition and translation are being prepared by Clive Griffin and John N. Crossley..

11 Lorenzo Pérez, O. F. M., “Un códice desconocido, relativo a las Islas Filipinas, descubierto y estudiado por el Pérez, P. Lorenzo, M”, O. F., Erudición ibero-ultramarina: Publicación trimestral consagrada a la tradición histórica de España y demás naciones de su raza y lengua, 4 (15–16, 1933), pp. 502529, and 5 (17, 1934), pp. 76–108. Boxer's manuscript one-page note is preserved in the descriptive folder of Philippine MSS II in the Lilly Library.

12 Bishop Salazar says two ships went. See Domingo de Salazar, “Carta del obispo de Manila, Domingo de Salazar al Rey Felipe II. Manila, 8 de abril de 1584”, AGI, [Archivo General de Indias, Seville], Filipinas 74, 25, transcribed in Manel Ollé Rodríguez, Estrategias filipinas respecto a China: Alonso Sánchez y Domingo Salazar en la empresa de China (1581-1593), PhD thesis, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, 1998, Vol. II, pp. 190–196 at p. 190.

13 See p. 250 of Alonso Sánchez, “Relación brebe de la jornada que hizo el P. Alonso Sánchez la segunda vez que fué a la China el año 1584”, reproduced in Ollé, Estrategias filipinas, Vol. II, pp. 239-268, at p. 263. Ollé’s sources are AGI, Filipinas 79, ARAH [Archivo Real Academia de la Historia. Madrid], Jesuitas. tomo VII and AMN [Archivo del Museo Naval. Madrid], Colección Fernández Navarrete, II, fol. 253, dto. 8o. This will be referred to as Sánchez, 1585.

14 A kinsman of Gonzalo Ronquillo.

15 In fact both galleons arrived safely as will become evident. It is not clear by what route and exactly when the other galleon travelled.

16 Rodríguez, Manel Ollé, La empresa de China: De la Armada Invencible al Galeón de Manila, (Barcelona, 2002), p. 1.

17 It is generally said that Sinua or Sinoa was a kingdom in Cochin China, surrounding the mouth of the Hue River in present day northern Vietnam. However Brian. Zottoli has suggested that is more plausible that the reference is to the former Champa royal centre in Trà Kiệu, in today's Quảng Nam province, which was where Mạc princes resided by the turn of the 17th century (email of 21 April 2019).

18 The text also says “five leagues” but that is only about 30 km.

19 Called “Tusan” in. the Lilly Historia. 都堂, pronounced “Dū táng” in Hokkien, the variety of Chinese the people in Manila used. This is the title of the viceroy of Guangdong (Canton). See Boxer, Charles R., South China in the sixteenth century: being the narratives of Galeote Pereira, Fr. Gaspar da Cruz, O. P., Fr. Martin de Rada, O.E.S.A. (1550-1575), (London, 1953), p. 371 and the references on p. 387. However Brian Zottoli has pointed out that this term was used at the time by Vietnamese regimes to refer to their own viceroys (email of 21 April 2019).

20 See p. 263 of Sánchez, 1585. This is reproduced partly in Francisco Colín, SJ, Labor evangélica de los obreros de la Compañía de Jesús en las Islas Filipinas, Nueva edición. Ilustrada con copia de notas y documentos para la crítica de la Historia general de la soberanía de España en Filipinas por el Padre Pablo Pastells, S. J., 3 vols, Barcelona: Henrich y Compañía, 1900–04, I, pp. 325–328.

21 Sánchez, 1585, pp. 263 and 265.

22 de la Costa, Horacio Villamayor SJ, The Jesuits in the Philippines, 1581–1768, (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 56.

23 Identified by Antoine Cabaton, translator and annotator, 1916, Le mémorial de Pedro Sevil á Philippe III sur la conquète de l'Indochine (1603), Paris: Imprimerie nationale. (Extract from Bulletin de la Commission archéologique de l'Indochine, 1914–1916), p. 86, as “La partie orientale qui regarde la Chine et le Japon, comprend les royaumes de Jor, et ceux de Pan, Pathania (2), Cambodge, Champa, Sinoa (3), Cachan (4) et Tonkin : ces trois derniers s'appellent en général et communément, Cochinchine.” Footnote (4): Ke-cham, province de Quang Nam, other footnotes omitted. See also p. 122 of Brian A. Zottoli, Reconceptualizing Southern Vietnamese History from the 15th to 18th Centuries: Competition along the Coasts from Guangdong to Cambodia, PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 2011.

24 The Spanish spelling of Farinha.

25 Cuellar had been in the Philippines for some time and was recommended to the later governor, Gómez Peerez Dasmariñas (governed 1590‒3), by Philip II, see “Instructions to Gomez Perez Dasmariñas”, Felipe II, San Lorenzo, 9 August 1589, vol. VII, 141‒172, at p. 150, of Blair, Emma Helen and Robertson, James Alexander, The Philippine Islands 1493–1898, Cleveland, Arthur H. Clark Co. Translated from the originals, edited and annotated. 55 vols, 1903–1909, republished as 55 vols in 19, (Mandaluyong, 1973).

26 Perhaps this is really “Queen of Mạc”, since the phonemes “b” and “m” are easily interchanged. The Mạc were a powerful clan in the region, see Zottoli, Reconceptualizing, p. 84.

27 Soma is the Portuguese word for a junk, in Chinese: 船, Chuán. See Gunn, Geoffrey, World Trade Systems of the East and West: Nagasaki and the Asian Bullion Trade Networks, (Leiden, 2017), p. 77.

28 Brian Zottoli has suggested that the route followed the shipping lanes to Quảng Nam where the ensuing action occurred on and near the Thu Bồn river (i.e. Hội An and Trà Kiệu). (Email of 21 April 2019.)

29 Bancosey is probably Bang Khun Sai at the old mouth of the Phetchaburi River. It appears as Bancosey on 17th century maps. Today it is a small fishing village but may have been more important in an age of coastal trade.

30 Many of the measurements in this account seem to be gross overestimates.

31 The year is 1585.

32 Ayutthaya. Odia is the spelling in the original. The city was probably originally named Ayodhya, after King Rama's capital, which Europeans often shortened to Yodaya or Odia. The Ayutthaya form, meaning roughly “invincible”, may be a defiant innovation after the fall of the city in 1568.

33 See note 27 above.

34 The Spanish is lago, but presumably the text is referring to the network of rivers that surrounds Ayutthaya.

35 วัด วา อาราม, wat wa aram, from Pali-Sanskrit ārāma meaning pleasure, a pleasant place, and hence the grounds of a temple. “La forma Varela o Barela acostumbra a designar un templo o ídolo budista”, Ollé, Estrategias filipinas, vol. II, p. 22, n. 2.

36 I.e. the new and full moon. Cf. Barros, Ásia. Terceira Decada, (1946 edition), Book II, Chapter V, p. 81: Tẽem algũas festas principais, e tôdas são no princípio da lũa nova, ou quando está chea, e o rezar dêles é en côro, de dia e de noite, a certas horas. (There are some major feasts, and all are at the beginning of the new moon, or when it is full, and they chant their prayers in chorus, day and night, at certain hours.) We have not seen any other reference to a particular Ayutthaya temple for such gatherings.

37 Bhikkhu, Pali-Sanskrit for a monk, but not very commonly used in Siam.

38 They did not understand Buddhism and believed the Buddha images were various gods, so they are asking the wrong question (“What god is this?”) and getting answers that are meaningless. This may refer to the massive Phananchoeng image that used to stand in the open air at the southeast corner of the city (and is now enclosed in a building).

39 The Spanish is arena, which usually means “sand”.

40 About 30 metres.

41 1 cahiz is 12 fanegas each of which is about 55 litres, so a cahiz is about 660 litres (see Cardarelli, François, Scientific Unit Conversion: A Practical Guide to Metrication, (London and New York, 1997), Table 3-79 p. 71.

42 Possibly Wat Lokayasutharam, which has a large (42 metre) reclining Buddha believed to date from the early days of Ayutthaya. It is unclear what suno means.

43 “… de los bracas de m<ader>a de ancho.”

44 About eight metres. This seems too high, but then most numbers seem exaggerated.

45 “The sheer number of gates betrays the city's sense of security in this era”, Baker, Chris, “Final Part of the Description of Ayutthaya with Remarks on Defence, Policing, Infrastructure, and Sacred Sites”, Journal of the Siam Society, 102 (2014), pp. 179210, at p. 179, which mentions eighty-nine gates of various kinds.

46 “varas tossadas” seems strange. They kept braziers on the walls for heating sand and gravel to pour on assailants. Although the writing is clear perhaps this is a scribal error for “valas tostadas” (sc. balas tostadas).

47 Probably referring to Pomphet, “diamond fort”, at the southeast corner.

48 Probably not of glass but some translucent material, perhaps like the capiz shell commonly used in windows in the Philippines.

49 The king is clearly Naresuan. Although there may be some orientalism in the several European accounts of his cruelty, there is clearly also some truth. The most credible account is from Van Vliet, written 4 to 5 decades later, but drawing on indigenous documents. The more dramatic account is by Jacques de Coutre, who was in Siam around the same time as this account; see Borschberg, Peter, The Memoirs and Memorials of Jacques de Coutre, (Singapore, 2014).

50 Naresuan was engaged in wars with Pegu intermittently from the 1580s until his death in 1605.

51 A massive exaggeration, as found in most European accounts of this era. Cf., for example, p. 172 of Fitch, Ralph, “An account of Pegu in 1586—1587”, SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, 2 (2004), pp. 167179, where he recounts that the King of Pegu went to war in Ayutthaya “with three hundred thousand men, and five thousand Elephants”. The total population of Siam may have been around two million in the late seventeenth century.

52 Caravel.

53 Sánchez, 1585, p. 265.

54 Sánchez, 1585, p. 267.

55 The Lilly Historia gives no detail but Sánchez, 1585, p. 267, has a paragraph saying they stayed three or four months in Melaka getting ready for the return to Manila and that they were financially assisted by the royal factor (Román).

56 The one deceased was Maldonado, see above.

57 “mezclámonos del uno en el otro: aquí los abrazos, las alegrías, las lágrimas, las preguntas, las voces, los cuentos de subcesos de una parte y de otra”, Sánchez, 1585, p. 267.

58 “mucho contentamiento”, Lilly Historia, fol. 228v.


An unexpected excursion: The first account of Spaniards in Ayutthaya (1585)



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