Konbaung dynasty

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History of Burma/Myanmar
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Early history of Burma
Pyu city-states (c. 100 B.C.E.–c. 840 C.E.)
Mon kingdoms (9th–11th, 13th–16th, 18th c.)
Bagan Dynasty (849–1287, 1st Empire)
Ava (1364–1555)
Pegu (1287-1539, 1747-1757)
Mrauk U (1434-1784)
Taungoo Dynasty (1486–1752, 2nd Empire)
Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1885, 3rd Empire)
Wars with Britain (1824–1826, 1852, 1885)
British Arakan (1824-1852)
British Tenasserim (1824–1852)
British Lower Burma (1852–1886)
British Upper Burma (1885–1886)
British rule in Burma (1824–1942, 1945-1948)
Nationalist movement in Burma (after 1886)
Aung San
Japanese occupation of Burma (1942–1945)
Democratic period, 1948-1962
U Nu and U Thant
1st military rule (1962–1989)
Ne Win
8888 Uprising (1988)
Aung San Suu Kyi
2nd military rule (1989–present)
Saffron Revolution (2007)

The Konbaung Dynasty, 1752-1885, also known as Third Burmese Empire and sometimes called the Alaungpaya Dynasty, was the last dynasty in the history of the Burmese monarchy. Alaungpaya, a village chief who led a successful rebellion against the Mon overlords, founded the Konbaung Dynasty immediately after the demise of the Nyaungyan or restored Toungoo Dynasty.

An expansionist dynasty, the Konbaung kings waged campaigns against Manipur, Arakan, Assam, the Mon kingdom of Pegu, and the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, establishing the Third Burmese Empire. Subject to later wars and treaties with the British, the modern state of Myanmar can trace its current borders to these events. Threatened by the powerful Western nations who began to set up trading posts in the Irrawaddy Delta region during this period, the Konbaung Dynasty attempted to modernize the kingdom, both intellectually and technologically. 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. The annexation was announced in the British parliament as a New Year’s gift to Queen Victoria on January 1, 1886. Descendants of the youngest daughter of King Thibaw, the last Konbaung monarch, continue to live in Myanmar today.


Rise of the Konbaung Dynasty

During the 1730s and 1740s. the Restored Toungoo Dynasty (1597 – 1792), which was based at Ava, began to disintegrate. A number of bandit chiefs and local leaders, ambitious to take over the Toungoo throne, began to build their own power bases in the north. Among these was Alaungpaya or Alompra or Alaung Mintaya, lit. Future Buddha-King, 1714 – April 13, 1760), founder of the Konbaung Dynasty. He was born Aung Zeya (lit. "Victorious Victory") in 1714 at Moksobo (lit. Hunter Chief, renamed Shwebo and acquiring more titles namely Yan Gyi Aung, Konbaung and Yadana Theinhka), in a small village 50 miles north-west of Ava. From a family of humble rural gentry, he rose to the hereditary chieftainship of his native village. In 1752, the Mon kingdom of Pegu in the south invaded Burma, sacked the capital at Ava. Most of the leading chieftains submitted to the invader, taking the water of allegiance (thissa yei thauk). Alaungpaya, however, of a more independent spirit, not only contrived to regain possession of his village, but was able to defeat a body of Peguan troops that had been sent on a punitive expedition.[1] The Burmese chieftains then rallied against the Mon and marched with Alaungpaya upon Ava, which was recovered from the invaders before the close of 1753. For several years he prosecuted the war with uniform success.

In 1754 the Peguans, to avenge themselves for a severe defeat at Kyaukmyaung, killed the last Toungoo King, Maha Damayazadipati, the captive king of the fallen Nyaungyan Dynasty of Burma. The Heir Apparent claimed the throne, supported by the Gwe Shans, but Alaungpaya resisted, being determined to maintain his own supremacy. In 1755 Alaungpaya conquered Dagon and renamed it Yangon (meaning 'The End of Strife').[1] Prome rebelled against the Mon and supported Alaungpaya, enabling him to seize the lands of the delta. Though the Mon were supported by the French, he destroyed Pegu in 1757 and executed their last king, Binnya Dala. His invasion and conquest of Pegu established his position as one of the most powerful monarchs of the East. Before a year had elapsed the Peguans revolted; but Alaungpaya at once quelled the insurrection. The Europeans were suspected of having instigated the rising, and the massacre of the British at Negrais in October, 1759, is supposed to have been approved by Alaungpaya after the event, though there is no evidence that he ordered it.

The Siamese were also suspected of having aided and abetted the Peguan rebels. Entering their territory, Alaungpaya laid siege to the capital Ayutthaya, but he was badly injured when a cannon exploded while he was watching it being loaded, prompting a hasty retreat by his Burmese forces. Alaungpaya died of his wounds on May 11, 1760, before they reached the River Salween. [1]


Alaungpaya was succeeded by his eldest son, Naungdawgyi (literally "Royal Elder Brother," born August 1734, died November 28, 1763). Born Maung Hlauk and later made Prince of Debayin, he was crowned on July 26, 1760 at Sagaing, and ascended the Peacock Throne at Moksobo (later renamed Shwebo) on February 9, 1761. Several rebellions broke out during his short reign. After Naungdawgyi had two generals from his father’s army, who had given him offense during his father's reign, called to his presence and executed, another general, Myat Htun, returning from the siege Ayutthaya, seized Ava in 1760 with 12,000 men, planning to restore the Toungoo Dynasty. Naungdawgyi laid siege to the city with 100,000 men.

In September, 1760, two months into the seven-month siege, he received the British envoy Captain Walter Alves, whose mission was to demand reparations for the Negrais massacre of October 1759 and to wind up the affairs of the British East India Company. Although the king refused to consider his demand, he was anxious to resume trade as he was in urgent need of munitions. Some English prisoners were still in Burmese hands, and Alves had to make another journey to Ava in 1761-1762 for two men and property he had left behind. Naungdawgyi gave Alves a letter to the Governor of Bengal and Madras, strongly urging him to reopen trade, but the British had decided to sever ties with Burma as trade was deemed unprofitable and the threat from French rivalry had ceased to exist for the time being.[2][1]

Minhkaung Nawrahta, a brother of Alaungpaya and Viceroy of Toungoo,whose hospitality and assistance Alves had greatly appreciated before traveling to Ava, was the next to rebel. Naungdawgyi marched with an army accompanied by his brother Hsinbyushin and laid siege to Toungoo for three months. Although the ringleaders were put to death, Naugdawgyi spared his uncle and kept him a prisoner at Ava. Next Talabaan, a Mon general of Pegu, who had enjoyed clemency at the hands of Alaungpaya and been sent to his native Martaban, rose up in a rebellion which was easily subdued. Another rebellion by the Mon was crushed by the Viceroy of Pegu.[3] Naungdawgyi was intolerant toward religious infringement of any kind or of any disrespect to the Buddhist Sangha. A second conviction of drunkenness would incur a death penalty, and killing animals was strictly prohibited. People generally spoke of him favorably, and he did attempted to improve the state of the kingdom during his short reign.[3]

Naungdawgyi died at the age of 29 in November 1763 and was succeeded by his brother Hsinbyushin. His son and heir Phaungkaza Maung Maung was only two months old at the time.


Hsinbyushin (1736 - July 10, 1776; literally "Lord of the White Elephant") is best known for his invasion of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya. In 1764, he went eastward, claiming the cities of Chiang Mai and Vientiane. The Ayutthaya capital fell again into Burmese hands on April 1767, and Hsinbyushin sent thousands of prisoners back to Burma. The wanton destruction wrought by the invading Burmese army at this time moved one Thai chronicler to comment that "the king of Hanthawaddy (Bayinnaung) waged war like a monarch, but the king of Ava (Hsinbyushin) like a robber."[1]

This conquest began the tradition of absorbing Thai elements into Burmese culture, which is most pronounced in music and literature. However, the Burmese reign over Ayutthaya was brief; Taksin, an Ayutthaya general, drove out the Burmese, who had a conflict on another frontier in the north with the invading Chinese army of the Qing Dynasty, and were unable to sustain two wars simultaneously.

The Burmese army's defensive campaign successfully penetrated southern China, only to be stopped by negotiation with their Chinese counterparts. The Qing Dynasty of China which saw the expansion of Burmese power in the East as a threat. After waging four unsuccessful wars against the Konbaung Dynasty (1765 - 1769) and losing three of his Viceroys including his son-in-law Ming Jui in battle, the Qianlong Emperor eventually established diplomatic relations with the Burmese. 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 treaty was negotiated in 1770 between generals of the two countries, establishing formal trade and diplomatic missions. The negotiations were conducted by the Burmese commanders, but the terms of the treaty were not referred to the Hsinphyushin for sanction. King Hsinphyushin was furious at his generals who signed the treaty. To appease his anger, the generals of Burmese army invaded the Indian kingdom of Manipur, an action which was regarded as a threat by the British.[1]

In 1788, after reconciliation with Burma, the Qing Dynasty opened up its markets and restored trading with Burma, establishing peaceful and friendly relations between China and Burma.

Hsinbyushin fathered 18 sons and 23 daughters. He died after a long illness in Ava on July 10, 1776, and was succeeded by his son Singu Min. The Kingdom of Ava, as it was known at the time, continued to politically dominate the Shan States, Laos, and the Lanna Kingdom.


Bodawpaya (literally "Royal Grandfather," March 11,1745 - June 5, 1819), the sixth king of the Konbaung Dynasty was the fourth son of Alaungpaya. He was proclaimed king after deposing his nephew Phaungkaza Maung Maung, son of his oldest brother Naungdawgyi, at Ava. Bodawpaya moved the royal capital back to Amarapura in 1782. He was titled Hsinbyumyashin (Lord of the White Elephants), although he became known to posterity as Bodawpaya in relation to his successor, his grandson Bagyidaw (Royal Elder Uncle), who in turn was given this name in relation to his nephew Mindon Min. He fathered 62 sons and 58 daughters by about 200 consorts.

Also known as Bodaw U Waing, he invaded Arakan in 1784, sending his royal armies led by his son, the Heir Apparent Prince of Debayin, father of Bagyidaw and Tharrawaddy Min, across the Western Yoma range of mountains. The capital of Arakan Mrauk U was captured on January 2, 1785. The Mahamuni Buddha image, among other treasures such as the Khmer bronze statues, were brought back to mainland Burma; these can still be seen in Mandalay. Twenty thousand captives were brought back to serve as slaves to pagodas and temples, along with the nobility of Amarapura. Once Arakan was annexed as a province of Burma, her borders became contiguous with British India. The Arakanese revolted in 1794, and the British Governor of India Sir John Shore (later Lord Teignmouth) sent Captain Michael Symes on an embassy, fully equipped to gather as much information as possible about the country, to the Court of Ava, as the kingdom was still known to the outside world.[1] Bodawpaya unsuccessfully invaded Ayutthaya in 1785 and 1808. The Governor of Tavoy revolted in 1791 with the aid of the Siamese, but a punitive expedition sent by Bodawpaya by sea laid siege, ending in peace negotiations in 1793 and the ceding of the Tenasserim coast to the Burmese.[4]

During Bodawpaya’s reign, scholarship flourished, due to the discipline and stability imposed by a chapter of Sangharajas, or senior monks, charged with the responsibility of safeguarding the purity of the Sangha. The Order of Monks was unified under the Thudhamma sect, Burma became the custodian of Buddhism in the region, and the upasampada ordination was re-introduced to Sri Lanka, where it established the Amarapura Nikaya. In 1790 Bodawpaya begun the construction of a gigantic stupa called Pahtodawgyi (Great Royal Stupa) at Mingun, which was never finished because of a prophecy that Payagyi lè apeethat, moksoe thonnya kap - "Once the great pagoda has been wrought, the Moksoe dynasty will come to nought." It was meant to have stood 150 meters, tall enough to be seen from Shwebo in the west. An earthquake in 1838 left huge fissures in the structure. It remains the largest pile of bricks in the world. A gigantic 90-ton bell dedicated to the stupa, called the Mingun Bell, was cast between 1808 and 1810.[5]

Bodawpaya was succeeded after his death in 1819 by his grandson Sagaing Min (Prince of Sagaing) who later became known as Bagyidaw (Burmese: ဘက္ရီးတော္; literally Royal Elder Uncle, July 23, 1784 - October 15, 1846). In 1823, he moved the capital from Amarapura back to Ava in 1823. Bagyidaw had been Master-General of Ordnance during the invasion of Ayutthaya in 1808.[6] Under the guidance of General Maha Bandula, he pursued a policy of expansionism, conquering Assam and Manipur and making them tributaries of the kingdom. The British consequently initiated the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826), driving the Burmese forces from Assam, Rakhine, and Manipur. On February 24, 1826, Bagyidaw signed the Treaty of Yandabo, ending the war[1] and ceding Arakan (now Rakhine) and Tenasserim (now Tanintharyi).

John Crawfurd, the first British envoy after the war, failed in his mission of negotiating for a commercial treaty and exchange of Residents between Ava and Calcutta. His successor, Major Henry Burney, won over the king with his charming personality and was able to establish the Residency. His greatest achievement was in settling the dispute between Manipur and Burma over ownership of the Kabaw Valley in Ava's favor; the Manipuris had occupied the region since the war ended with the tacit approval of the Government of India, until Burney concluded from historical records that the Burmese claim was justified. He did not however succeed in returning Tenasserim, which was becoming more of a liability than an asset, at a desired price to the Burmese even when they were informed that the Siamese might bid for the coastal province which once belonged to them.[1]

Bagyidaw became afflicted by bouts of depression after the loss of territory under the Treaty of Yandabo, and was eventually forced to abdicate his throne in favor of his brother Tharrawaddy Min, who had the queen, her brother, Bagyidaw's only son, his family and ministers all executed. Tharrawaddy made no attempt to improve relations with Britain. He raised the standard of rebellion in 1837, repudiating the Treaty of Yandabo and almost starting another war with the British.[1]

The Maha Tissada Gandha Bell donated by Tharrawaddy Min can be seen hung in a pavilion on the northeast terrace of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

Tharrawaddy Min’s son, Pagan Min won the power struggle to succeed his father by having his rival brothers killed.[7] When he became king in 1846, he executed thousands, some sources say as many as six thousand of his wealthier and more influential subjects on trumped-up charges. During his reign, relations with the British became increasingly strained. The Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852) broke out during the reign of Pagan Min, when the governor of Pegu, Maung Ok, forced the captains of two British ships to pay several hundred rupees before being allowed to return to Kolkata. After receiving their complaints, Lord Dalhousie, the governor-general of British India, sent an emissary to the king requesting compensation and the dismissal of Maung Ok. Pagan complied by replacing Maung Ok, but on January 6, 1852, when the new governor declined to meet with a British delegation, all British subjects were evacuated and the coast blockaded. Within days British warships were firing on Yangon. On February 7, Pagan wrote Dalhousie to protest against the acts of aggression. On February 13, Dalhousie sent an ultimatum to the king, demanding the equivalent of £100,000 as compensation for the British war expenses, to be paid by April 1. Pagan chose to ignore the ultimatum, and a few days after it expired British troops invaded Burmese territory. Britain annexed the province of Pegu in December. [7]

Mindon Min

Pagan Min’s half brother Mindon Min opposed the war; he fled with his brother Ka Naung to Shwebo and raised the standard of rebellion. After a few weeks of fighting, Pagan’s chief minister Magwe Mingyi went over to Mindon’s side and Pagan Min abdicated on February 18, 1853, in favor of Mindon. Mindon allowed Pagan to live, and released all the European prisoners. Mindon sued for peace with the British but refused to sign a treaty ceding Burmese territory.[7]

Mindon Min (Burmese: မင္းတုန္းမင္း; born Maung Lwin July 8, 1808, in Amarapura, died October 1, 1878 in Golden Palace, Ava) was the penultimate king of Burma from 1853 until he died at age 70, and was one of the most popular and revered kings of Burma. He spent most of his reign trying to defend the upper portion of his country from British encroachments, and to modernize his kingdom. King Mindon founded the last royal capital of Burma, Mandalay, in 1854. His young brother Crown Prince Ka Naung proved to be a great administrator and modernizer. During Mindon's reign, scholars were sent to France, Italy, the United States, and Great Britain, in order to learn about the tremendous progress achieved by the Industrial Revolution. Mindon introduced the first machine-struck coins to Burma, and in 1871 also hosted the Fifth Great Buddhist Synod in 1872 at Mandalay, gaining the respect of the British and the admiration of his own people. He had already created the world's largest book in 1868, the Tipitaka, 729 pages of the Buddhist Pali Canon inscribed in marble, each stone slab housed in a small stupa at the Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill. In 1871 Mindon also donated a new htee ('umbrella' or crown gilded and encrusted with precious diamonds and other gems) to the 343-foot tall Shwedagon Pagoda, which is located in British-held Rangoon, although he was not allowed to visit this most famous and venerated pagoda. With the opening of the Suez Canal, Mindon assembled a flotilla of steamers to facilitate trade with the British.

His brother Crown Prince Ka Naung is still remembered by the Burmese as an avid modernizer, who would go to the factories early on cold winter mornings with a blanket wrapped around him, just to talk to the mechanics about how the machines ran. He was in charge of the Royal Army, as was customarily required of Burmese crown princes, and he imported and manufactured guns, cannons and shells.

On June 18, 1866, Princes Myin Kun and Myin Khondaing, sons of King Mindon who were jealous because they had not been named his successors, staged an unsuccessful palace rebellion, backed by the British who were alarmed by Ka Naung's modernization of the Burmese Royal Armies. Crown Prince Ka Naung was assassinated. The two princes fled to British Burma, and were granted asylum by the British.

King Mindon himself escaped violence in an extraordinary manner, which the Burmese regarded as a sign of his hpon (karma, a sum of past good deeds that affect one's present life). He ran into the very person who was assigned to kill him, and whom he recognized. On encountering the king face-to-face, the assassin dropped his sword and fell on his knees from force of habit. The assassin promptly offered the king a piggy-back ride and escaped towards the barracks of his loyal guards.

The rebellion made Mindon very reluctant to name a successor to Ka Naung, for fear of civil war. One of his queens, Hsinbyumashin, dominated his last days of King Mindon. She organized the execution of almost all possible heirs to the throne, so that her daughter Supayalat and son-in-law Thibaw could become queen and king. One after another, members of the royal family of all ages and both genders were mercilessly executed, after being tricked into coming to visit the dying king on the pretext that he wanted to bid them farewell.

End of the Konbaung Dynasty

Thibaw Min (born “Maung Pu,” January 1, 1859 – December 19, 1916; or simply Thibaw, Theebaw, or Theobaw (referred to as Thibau by George Orwell in Burmese Days)), Mindon's son from a lesser queen, succeeded him after his death in October, 1878. Thibaw had been born in Mandalay and studied briefly in a Buddhist monastery. His father Mindon Min made him prince of the northern State of Thibaw (now Hsipaw). He was married to two of his half-sisters; the younger of which, Supayalat, was known to have a substantial influence on him.

At the time of his accession, half of Burma had been under British occupation for 30 years. It was no secret that the new king intended to regain this territory. Relations with the British deteriorated during the early 1880s, when the king began taking steps to move his country closer to the French. Relations deteriorated still further in 1885 over an incident called the "Great Shoe Question," in which the royal court insisted that visiting British dignitaries remove their shoes before entering the palace. The British officials refused, and were banished from the northern capital. Finally, in 1885, Thibaw issued a proclamation calling on all his countrymen to liberate Lower Burma from the British.

The British, using the pretext that he was a tyrant who had reneged on his treaties, decided to complete the conquest they had started in 1824. General Prendergast, with 11,000 men, a fleet of flat-bottomed boats, and elephant batteries, received orders to invade Upper Burma.

They reached the royal city with little opposition. The king and his queen had retired to a summer house in the palace gardens to await the British, with whom they intended to make peace. To distract their minds, the maidens of the Burmese court were dancing, while near at hand stood the royal elephants, laden with treasure and ready for flight. To the royal palace marched the British, to demand the surrender of the Burmese king and his kingdom within twenty-four hours. The blow had fallen at last. It was too late to think of escape. Early next morning King Thebaw was hurried into a bullock-cart with little ceremony, his queen into another, and in the presence of a great crowd of weeping and awestruck subjects, they were conveyed to a steamer on the Irawadi. Here a guard of British soldiers was drawn up: they presented arms on the appearance of the royal prisoners. As their bayonets flashed in the sunlight, the king fell on his knees in abject terror. "They will kill me," he cried wildly. "Save my life." His queen was braver. She strode on erect—her little child clinging to her dress—fierce and dauntless to the last. So the king and queen of Burma were exiled.[8]

The defeat of King Thibaw in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in November 29, 1885, resulted in the total annexation of Burma by the British. The annexation was announced in the British Parliament as a New Year’s gift to Queen Victoria on January 1, 1886. Thibaw, his wife Supayalat and two infant daughters were exiled to Ratnagiri, India, where they lived the rest of their lives in a dilapidated house in virtual isolation. Descendants of the youngest daughter of King Thibaw, Princess Myat Phaya Galay, continue to live in Myanmar today.

Politics of the Konbaung Dynasty

Flag of Burmese Empire

An expansionist dynasty, the Konbaung kings waged campaigns against Manipur, Arakan, Assam, the Mon kingdom of Pegu and the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, establishing the Third Burmese Empire. Subject to later wars and treaties with the British, the modern state of Myanmar can trace its current borders to these events.

The traditional concept of kingship in Southeast Asia, according to which the Cakravartin Kings or 'Universal Monarchs' created their own Mandalas, or fields 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 motivating the expansionism of the Konbaung kings. Konbaung monarchs were also faced with the historical threat of periodic raids and internal rebellions, as well as with invasion and imposition of overlordship from the neighboring kingdoms of the Mon, Tai Shans and Manipuris.[9]

The greatest threat, however, was the powerful Western nations. In response, the Konbaung Dynasty attempted to modernize the kingdom, both intellectually and technologically. 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 Empire.

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.


Konbaung society was centered around the Konbaung king. The rulers of the Konbaung Dynasty took several wives who were ranked, with half-sisters of the king holding the most powerful positions. The Konbaung kings fathered numerous children, creating a large extended royal family which formed the power base of the dynasty and competed over influence at the royal court. Problems of succession frequently resulted in executions and massacres.

Burmese society was highly stratified during Konbaung rule. Under the royal family, the nobility administered the government, led the armies, and governed large population centers. 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. Captives from various military campaigns were brought back to the kingdom by the hundreds and thousands, and resettled as hereditary servants to royalty and nobility or dedicated to pagodas and temples; these captives brought 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.[4] Captives from Manipur formed the cavalry called Kathè myindat (Cassay Horse) and also Kathè a hmyauk tat (Cassay Artillery) in the royal Burmese army.

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 sixteenth 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 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, in the absence of strong central control, used the opportunity to enact new taxes without lowering the old ones. In addition, the duties on foreign exports stifled 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.

No Title Literal meaning Lineage Reign Notes
1 Alaungpaya Future Buddha-King village chief 1752-1760 founder of the dynasty and the Third Burmese Empire, invaded Ayutthaya
2 Naungdawgyi Royal Elder Brother son 1760-1763 invaded Ayutthaya with his father
3 Hsinbyushin Lord of the White Elephant brother 1763-1776 invaded and sacked Ayutthaya, invaded Chiang Mai and Laos, invaded Manipur, successfully repulsed 4 Chinese invasions
4 Singu Min* King Singu son 1776-1781
5 Phaungkaza Maung Maung Younger Brother (Lord of Phaungka) cousin (son of Naungdawgyi) 1781 the shortest reign in history of just over one week
6 Bodawpaya Royal Lord Grandfather uncle (son of Alaungpaya) 1781-1819 invaded and annexed Arakan, invaded Ayutthaya
7 Bagyidaw Royal Elder Uncle grandson 1819-1837 invaded Ayutthaya with his grandfather, invaded Assam and Manipur, defeated in the First Anglo-Burmese War
8 Tharrawaddy Min* King Tharrawaddy brother 1837-1846 fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War as Prince of Tharrawaddy
9 Pagan Min* King Pagan son 1846-1853 overthrown by Mindon after his defeat in the Second Anglo-Burmese War
10 Mindon Min* King Mindon brother 1853-1878 sued for peace with the British; had a very narrow escape in a palace rebellion by two of his sons but his brother Crown Prince Ka Naung was killed
11 Thibaw Min* King Thibaw son 1878-1885 the last king of Burma, forced to abdicate and exiled to India after his defeat in the Third Anglo-Burmese War

*These kings retained as their titles the names of the towns they were given to "eat," or become the lord of, as royal princes. 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 European account of Konbaung

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," Michael Symes offered the following assessment of the Konbaung kingdom:

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 civilized, 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 candor, 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 civilization 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.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 D.G.E. Hall, Burma (Hesperides Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1406735031).
  2. Capt Walter Alves, "Diary of the Proceedings of an Embassy to Burma in 1760" SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 3(1) (Spring 2005): 8-9, 14-16, 20.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Michael Symes, Michael Symes: Journal of His Second Embassy to the Court of Ava in 1802 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1955).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Michael Symes, An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, Sent by the Governor-general of India, in the year 1795 (Gale ECCO, 2010 (original 1800), ISBN 978-1140928232).
  5. The Mingun Pagoda and Bell Atlas Obscura. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  6. Christopher Buyers, Burma The Royal Ark. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Sanderson Beck, Burma, Malaya and Siam 1800-1950. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  8. M. B. Synge, The Annexation of Burma Growth of the British Empire. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  9. Pamaree Surakiat, "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" Asia Research Institute, 2006.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Charney, Michael W. Powerful Learning Buddhist Literati and the Throne in Burma's Last Dynasty, 1752-1885. Ann Arbor: Centers for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 2006. ISBN 0891480935
  • Hall, D.G.E. Burma. Hesperides Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1406735031
  • Koenig, William J. The Burmese Polity, 1752-1819: A study of Kon Baung politics, administration, and social organization. Michigan papers on South and Southeast Asia, no. 34. Ann Arbor, Mich: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 1999, (original 1990). ISBN 0891480579
  • Pye, Maung Maung. The Last of the Konbaung Kings. Rangoon: Students Digest Press, 1948. ASIN B0094TB890
  • Symes, Michael. An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, Sent by the Governor-general of India, in the year 1795. Gale ECCO, 2010 (original 1800). ISBN 978-1140928232
  • Symes, Michael. Michael Symes: Journal of His Second Embassy to the Court of Ava in 1802. London: Allen & Unwin, 1955. ASIN B0000CJ935
  • Thant Myint-U. The Making of Modern Burma. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 0521780217
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

All links retrieved April 11, 2023.


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