Konbaung dynasty

Konbaung dynasty

The Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885), sometimes called the Alaungpaya Dynasty or the House of Alompra by the British colonial rulers) was the last in the history of the Burmese monarchy. 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, and Burma owes its existence as a nation state to this monarch Fact|date=September 2007.

Rise and fall

An expansionist dynasty, the Konbaung kings waged campaigns against Manipur, Arakan, Assam, the Mon kingdom of Pegu and the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, thus establishing the Third Burmese Empire. Subject to later wars and treaties with the British, the modern state of Burma 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. [cite web|url=http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg/docs/wps/wps06_064.pdf|author=Pamaree Surakiat|month=March | year=2006|title="The Changing Nature of Conflict between Burma and Siam as seen from the Growth and Development of Burmese States from the 16th to the 19th Centuries"|publisher=Asia Research Institute|pages=8,11,25|format=PDF]

In the defence of its realm, the dynasty fought four wars successfully against the Qing Dynasty of China which saw the threat of the expansion of Burmese power in the East. In 1769, despite his victory over the Chinese armies, King Hsinbyushin sued for peace with China 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 Dynasty then opened up its markets and restored trading with Burma in 1788 after reconciliation. Thenceforth peaceful and friendly relations prevailed between China and Burma for a long time.

Facing a greater threat however from powerful Western nations, the Konbaung Dynasty tried to modernize the kingdom. Europeans 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 Min, seized the throne and had the queen, her brother, Bagyidaw's only son, his family and ministers all executed. Tharrawaddy made no attempt to improve relations with Britain.

His son Pagan Min, 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.Fact|date=July 2008 During his reign, relations with the British became increasingly strained. In 1852, the Second Anglo-Burmese War broke out. Pagan Min was succeeded by his younger brother, the progressive Mindon Min. King Mindon attempted to bring Burma into greater contact with the outside world, and hosted the Fifth Great Buddhist Synod in 1872 at Mandalay, gaining the respect of the British and the admiration of his own people.

King Mindon died before he could name a successor, and Thibaw, a lesser prince, was manoeuvred onto the throne by one of King 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.Fact|date=March 2008

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


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.cite book|url=http://web.soas.ac.uk/burma/4.1files/4.1Symes.pdf|author=Michael Symes|year=1800|title=An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, sent by the Governor-General of India, in the year 1795|publisher=W. Bulmer & Co.|location=London|page=26|format=PDF] Captives from Manipur 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. [Findlay, p.277 [http://books.google.com/books?id=tcZoUGGw3ssC&pg=PA277&dq=%22Sieur+de+Bruno%22&sig=ACfU3U2BBEi5DpildJXAmhWkXNCF5H5Pmw] ] 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). [Findlay, p.277 [http://books.google.com/books?id=tcZoUGGw3ssC&pg=PA277&dq=%22Sieur+de+Bruno%22&sig=ACfU3U2BBEi5DpildJXAmhWkXNCF5H5Pmw] ] ["Southeast Asia" By Keat Gin Ooi, p.611 [http://books.google.com/books?id=QKgraWbb7yoC&pg=PA611&lpg=PA611&dq=Milard+Ayutthaya&source=web&ots=3VqRFfc9WX&sig=A9IqeM4TmWOhj0yO85ZisybiyLk&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result] ]

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 Mandalay, 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 Amarapura.


Realizing the need to modernize, the Konbaung rulers tried to enact various reforms with limited success. King Mindon with his able brother Crown Prince Ka Naung 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.


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, Naypyidaws, were:

* Shwebo (1752-1760)
* Sagaing (1760-1764)
* Ava (Innwa) (1764-1783, 1823-1841)
* Amarapura (1783-1823, 1841-1860)
* Mandalay (1860-1885)


The rulers of the Konbaung Dynasty styled themselves as "Min", or King.

*These kings retained as their titles the names of the towns they were given to "eat" or become the lord of as royal princes. Also note that 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":

cquote| The Birmans, under their present monarch (Bodawpaya), are certainly rising fast in the scale of Oriental nations; and, it is hoped, that a long respite from foreign wars, will give them leisure to improve their natural advantages. Knowledge increases by commerce; and as they are not shackled by any prejudices of casts, restricted to hereditary occupations, or forbidden from participating with strangers in every social bond, their advancement will, in all probability be rapid. At present so far from being in a state of intellectual darkness, although they have not explored the depths of science, or reached to excellence in the finer arts, they yet have an undeniable claim to the character of a civilised, and well instructed, people. Their laws are wise and pregnant with sound morality; their police is better regulated than in most European countries; their natural disposition is friendly, and hospitable to strangers; and their manners rather expressive of manly candour, than courteous dissimulation: the gradations of rank, and the respect due to station, are maintained with a scrupulosity which never relaxes.A knowledge of letters is so widely diffused, that there are no mechanics, few of the peasantry, or even the common watermen (usually the most illiterate class) who cannot read and write in the vulgar tongue. Few, however are versed in more erudite volumes of science, which, containing many Shanscrit terms, and often written in Pali text, are (like the Hindoo Shasters) above the comprehension of the multitude; but the feudal system, which cherishes ignorance, and renders man the property of man, still operates as a check to civilisation and improvement. This is a bar which gradually weakens, as their acquaintance with the customs and manners of other nations extends; and unless the rage of civil discord be again excited, or some foreign power impose an alien yoke, the Birmans bid fair to be a prosperous, wealthy, and enlightened people.



* Findlay, Ronald and O'Rourke, Kevin H. (2007) "Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium" [http://books.google.com/books?id=tcZoUGGw3ssC&pg=PA277&dq=%22Sieur+de+Bruno%22&sig=ACfU3U2BBEi5DpildJXAmhWkXNCF5H5Pmw]
* 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.

ee also

* History of Burma

External links

* [http://www.lib.washington.edu/asp/myanmar/pdfs/YI0012A.pdf Life at the Burmese Court under the Konbaung Kings] Dr Yi Yi, Historical Research Department, Rangoon, 1982
* [http://anglicanhistory.org/asia/burma/forty/18.html Forty Years in Burma] John Ebenezer Marks, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1917
* [http://www.royalark.net/Burma/konbaun1.htm The Konbaung Dynasty] Christopher Buyers
* [http://www.irrawaddymedia.com/article.php?art_id=3011 The Last Queen of Burma] Kenneth Champeon, "The Irrawaddy", July 2003
* [http://www.irrawaddymedia.com/article.php?art_id=1967 Ayutthaya and the End of History:Thai Views of Burma Revisted] Min Zin, "The Irrawaddy", August 2000
* [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/02/11/wburma211.xml A rare meeting with the last of Burma's royals] "The Daily Telegraph", Feb 26 2008
* [http://uk.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUKBKK8341620080310 Myanmar's last royal laments a crumbling nation] "Reuters", Mar 10 2008

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