Friday, October 2, 2009

XIII. Of the Women of the Palace, and of the Officers of the Wardrobe.

The King of Siam's Chamber; Of the late Queen his Wife and his Sister; Of the Princess his only Daughter; The King of Siam takes the Daughters of his Subjects for his Palace, when he pleases. He has few Mistresses; The Queen's House; Her Magazine and her Ships; Of the Succession to the Crown, and the Causes which render it uncertain; The occasion which rendered the Hollanders Masters of Bantam; Of the Succession to the Kingdom of China; Of the King of Siam's Wardrobe.

As to the King of Siam's Chamber, the true Officers thereof are Women, 'tis they only that have a Priviledge of entering therein. They make his Bed, and dress his Meat; they cloath him, and wait on him at Table: but none but himself touches his Head when he is attir'd, nor puts any thing over his Head. The Pourveyors carry the Provisions to the Eunuchs, and they given them to the Women; and she which plays the Cook, uses Salt and Spices only by weight, thereby never to put in more nor less: A practice, which, in my opinion, is only a Rule of the Physicians, by reason of the King's unhealthy disposition, and not an ancient custom of the Palace.

The Women do never stir out but with the King, nor the Eunuchs without express Order. 'Tis reported that he has eight or ten Eunuchs only, as well white as black. The late Queen was both his wife and his Sister, was called Nang Achamahisii. It is not easie to know the King's Name, they carefully and superstitiously conceal it, for fear lest any Enchantment should be made on his Name. And others report, that their Kings have no Name till after their death, and that it is their Successor which names them, and this would be more certain against the pretended Sorceries.

Of Queen Achamahisii is born, as I have related in the other Part, the Princess, the King of Siam's only Daughter, who now has the Rank and House of a Queen. The King's other Wives (which in general are called Tchaou Vang, because that word Tchaou, which signifies Lord, signifies likewise Lady and Mistress) do render Obedience to her, and respect her as their Sovereign. They are subject to her Justice, as well as the Women and Eunuchs which serve them; because that not being able to stir out, to go plead elsewhere, it necessarily follows that the Queen should judge them, and cause them to be chastised, to keep them in peace. This is thus practised in all the Courts of Asia; but it is not true neither at Siam, nor perhaps in any part of the East, that the Queen has any Province to govern. 'Tis easie also to comprehend, that if the King loves any of his Ladies more than the rest, he causes her to remove from the Jealousie and harsh Usage of the Queen.

At Siam they continually take Ladies for the service of the Vang, or to be Concubines of the King, if this Prince makes use thereof. But the Siameses deliver up their Daughters only by force, because it is never to see them again; and they redeem them so long as they can for Money. So that this becomes a kind of Extortion, for they designedly take a great many Virgins meerly to restore them to their Parents, who redeem them,

The King of Siam has few Mistresses, that is to say eight or ten in all, not out of Continency, but Parsimony. I have already declared, that to have a great many Wives, is in this Country rather Magnificent, than Debauchery. Wherefore they are very much surprised to hear that so great a King as ours has no more than one Wife, that he had no Elephants, and that his Lands bear no Rice; as we might be, when it was told us that the King of Siam has no Horses, not standing Forces, and that his Country bears no Corn nor Grapes, altho' all the Relations do so highly extol the Riches and Power of the Kingdom of Siam.

The Queen hath her Elephants and her Balons, and some Officers to take care of her, and accompany her when she goes abroad; but none but her Women and Eunuchs do see her. She is conceal'd from all the rest of the People; and when she goes out either on an Elephant, or in a Balon, it is in a Chair made up with Curtains, which permit her to see what she pleases, and do prevent her being seen: And Respect commands, that if they cannot avoid her, they should turn their back to her, by prostrating themselves when she passes along.

Besides this she has her Magazine, her Ships, and her Treasures. She exercises Commerce; and when we arrived in this Country, the Princess, whom I have reported to be treated like a Queen, was exceedingly embroiled with the King her Father, because that he reserved to himself alone almost all the Foreign Trade, and that thereby she found herself deprived thereof, contrary to the ancient Custom of the Kingdom.

Daughters succeed not to the Crown, they are hardly look'd upon as free. 'Tis the eldest Son of the Queen that ought always to succeed by the Law. Nevertheless because that the Siameses can hardly conceive that amongst the Princes of near the same Rank, the most aged should prostrate himself before the younger; it frequently happens that amongst Brethren, tho' they be not all Sons of the Queen, and that amongst Uncles and Nephews, the most advanced in Age is preferred, or rather it is Force which always decides it. The Kings themselves contribute to render the Royal Succession uncertain, because that instead of chusing for their Successor the eldest Son of the Queen, they most frequently follow the Inclination which they have for the Son of some one of their Concubines with whom they are enamour'd.

'This upon this account that the King of Bantam, for example, has lost his Crown and his Liberty. He endeavoured to get one of his Sons, whom he had by one of his Concubines, to be acknowledged for his Successor before his Death: and the eldest Son which he had by the Queen put himself into the hands of the Hollander. They set him upon the Throne after having vanquished his Father, whom they still keep in Prison, if he is not dead: but for the reward of this Service they remain Masters of the Post, and of the whole Commerce of Bantam.

The Succession is not better regulated at China, though there be an express and very ancient Law in favour of the eldest Son of the Queen. But what Rule can there be in a thing, how important soever it be, when the Passions of the Kings do always seek to imbroil it? All the Orientals, in the choice of a Governor, adhere most to the Royal Family, and not to a certain Prince of the Royal Family: uncertain in the sole thing wherein all the Europeans are not. In all the rest we vary every day, and they never do. Always the same Manners amongst them, always the same Laws, the same Religion, the same Worship; as may be judged by comparing what the Ancients have writ concerning the Indians, with what we do now see.

I have said that 'tis the Women of the Palace which dress the King of Siam; but they have no charge of his Wardrobe; he has Officers on purpose. The most considerable of all is he that touches his Bonnet, altho he be not permitted to put it upon the Head of the King his Master. 'Tis a Prince of the Royal blood of Camboya; by reason that the King of Siam boasts in being thence descended, not being able to vaunt in being of the race of the Kings of his Predecessors. The Title of this Master of the Wardrobe is Oc-ya Out haya tanne, which sufficiently evinces that the Title of Pa-ya does not signfie Prince, seeing that this Prince wears it not. Under him Oc-Pra Rayja Vounsa has the charge of the cloaths. Rayja or Raja or Ragi or Ratcha, are only an Indian term variously pronounced, which signifies King, or Royal, and which enters into the composition of several Names amongst the Indians.

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