WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


Marcelis Boschower: Migomu Rala (Prince of Negombo)

A Dutch Ambassador to the Kandyan court of King Senarat


(Ceylon of the Early Travellers was written by H. A. J. Hulugalle in 1965. It has already gone into six impressions and in March this year a translation in Sinhala is being released by Arjuna Hulugalle Dictionaries. The book has fascinating stories of 18 travellers, who had visited Sri Lanka from Roman times to the British period. We give here extracts about a Marcelis Boschower, who was better known as Migomu Rala, a Dutch Ambassador to the Kandyan court of King Senarat./The Island)

Marcelis Boschower was a Dutchman sent by the Prince of the Netherlands and the State-General to conclude a treaty with the King of Kandy for ejecting the Portuguese from Ceylon. But he is better known as Migomu Rala (Prince of Negombo) and the crony of King Senarat.

When his mission had been accomplished and he was about to take his leave of the King, the latter who was much impressed by his skill as a negotiator, would not let him go. Senarat informed the Hollanders that, in order to carry out the terms of the treaty scrupulously, it was necessary that he should have by him someone who could write letters in the Dutch language.

Boschower spent the next three years at the royal court in Kandy. At his own request he was designated Prince of Negombo and was thereafter known as Migomu Rala or Migomu Maharala. He became a power in the land. His influence ended only with his death on board a ship of the Danish fleet that was coming to the aid of the Sinhalese King, after the Dutch had cold shouldered him when he arrived in Holland as the royal emissary, and refused the promised help.

The exploits of Boschower are related by the Dutch writer Philip Baldeus, but there are some fifty documents, called the Remonstrance of Boschower, in the State archives at the Hague, which illuminate the Pooh-Bah career of the man who was Prince of Negombo and who succeeded in bringing a Danish fleet to Ceylon.

Boschower had come out to India as an under-merchant in the ship Zwarte Leeuw, which left Texel in Holland on January 30th, 1610. He was employed by the Dutch East India Company. First at Tengapatam and then at Palikat, when he was selected to bring letters from the States-General and Prince Maurice to Ceylon. He arrived at Kandy on March 8th, 1612 and lost no time in concluding a treaty with the King at Karaliyadde promising to give assistance to the Kandyans against the Portuguese in return for a trading station for the Dutch at Kottiyar on the east coast.

When the King made Boschower Prince of Negombo, he placed on the Dutchman’s head a thin plate of gold, a "nalapatiya," the insignia of an Adigar. Boschower also received from the King lands for his maintenance, and he went about with a large retinue. Among the titles which the King conferred on Boschower, in addition to that of Prince of Negombo, were those of Lord of the Order of the Sun, President of the Supreme Council of War, Second in His Majesty’s Secret Council and Lord High Admiral. He was also appointed President of the King’s Privy Council.

The Ruritanian nature of the Kandyan Kingdom becomes apparent from these high-sounding titles. King Senarat and his successor, the more famous Rajasinghe II, had just enough education to realise that these meant nothing. Senarat studies French seriously and Rajasinghe could read, write and speak Portuguese. Indeed, Sinhalese royalty at this time were closely involved with foreigners. Some of them became Christians for political reasons. Vimala Dharma Suriya, or Konappu Bandara, a brave soldier but an unscrupulous schemer, was known to the Portuguese as Don John of Austria. He was succeeded by Senarat who, as mentioned in the previous chapter, though an ex-Buddhist priest married Vimala Dharma Suriya’s widow, a convent bred daughter of a former king. Their son Rajasinghe II, during whose reign Robert Knox was a captive in Ceylon, was educated by friars.

Boschower was consulted by Senarat on all public matters, and Queen Catherina turned to him in her private grief. When her eldest son was poisoned and she burst out in loud lamentation: "Where is the traitor who has murdered our prince that we might devour him with our very teeth?" - it was Boschower who comforted her. We are told that " the Emperor, fearing a riot, got the Prince of Negombo (Boschower) and the Prince of Uva to quiet the people, saying that the prince fell not by poison but under the effects of a malignant fever." There was a strong suspicion among the people that the King was the poisoner of his step-son.

But it was as a military and Naval commander that Boschower was most useful to the King. One of his first tasks was to command a strong military force to carry the Portuguese fort at Balana by storm. We next see Boschower functioning as the Lord High Admiral.

"The Prince of Negombo, Admiral and Naval Captain General", says Baldeus, "had at the request of the Emperor fitted out a fleet consisting of three galleys and three yachts with which they were ordered to go on a cruise to intercept and capture the enemy’s vessels navigating between Cape Comorin and Ceylon, with instructions not to give quarter to the Portuguese or any enemies of the State (save the women, children and slaves as the slaves might be usefully employed on board their galleys). This fleet sailed from the harbour at Kottiyar with the Prince of Uva as Admiral and Wanduge Naihamy as Vice-Admiral." Evidently the expedition was a success.

On receiving information that an assault on the King’s domains was impending Migomu Rala inspected the frontiers and, while doing so, discovered some traitors who were duly arrested and executed. The Portuguese attacked again at Balana. Migomu Rala and his colleague, the Prince of Uva, distinguished themselves on this occasion too, and were "received in Kandy with great honour."

In 1613 the Queen fell seriously ill. She sent for the Prince of Uva, who was a relation, and Migomu Rala (Boschower), "to whom she unburdened herself and in all secrecy spoke of her affairs, and with the consent of the King, appointed the Princes guardians over her children."

With tears rolling down her cheeks she said: "A Christian, I have worshipped idols. I have offered sacrifices to the devil, and yet I know well the truth. I see the devils who surround me and want to strangle me." Boschower then said: "Permit me to remind Your Majesty that no devil can do anything against a Christian who repents of her sins and deplores her past life. Calm yourself and pray God, in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, to have pity on your soul."

The Queen was now calm and asked them to pray with her. Boschower recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. As she was dying she said to the two Princes, "You, my lords, be true to your promise, for I go hence, Oh God save my soul."

Now it was the turn of the King to be ill. He called a Council of the chiefs and asked them to choose a guardian for his two sons. The nobles nominated the Prince of Negombo and the Prince of Uva. Their choice was accepted by the Crown Prince who said: "These will be my guides and when I am old enough my chief councillors." The King revealed to them the places where he had secured his treasure.

All this success could not but have gone to Boschower’s head. He was issuing proclamations in the name of the King and playing a dominant role in every department of the affairs of the kingdom.

Meanwhile the Dutch authorities in India were becoming more than a little tired of their envoy’s antics. He had not been sent by them to Kandy to blossom into a Sinhalese prince but to promote trade. They now sent a merchant, Gysbrecht van Suylen by name, to Kandy on a mission of inquiry.

His instructions included the following direction: "You shall there secretly inform yourself regarding the person Marcelis Michelsz Boschower, as well as his behaviour, in order, in case you return to give us a report thereon, and if he himself comes, to advise us thereof in writing."

As for the Prince of Negombo he was no doubt feeling a trifle home-sick. He was trying to justify his actions in a correspondence with Wemmer van Berchem, director of the Company at the Coast. This correspondence soon resolved itself into a one-way traffic of unprecedented vituperation. Berchem was, strictly speaking, Boschower’s superior. But the latter was not unmindful of his own princely status.

Here is an example, by no means the most extreme, of his epistolary style: "Yea, you were not ashamed to relate your rascally deeds to the skipper, Evert Jansz, how that you rebuked the persons who sailed with you with the three ships because they could not, on account of your living, keep house with you, for which cause they put you several days in irons... I understand that at present you are there keeping almost public bawdy-house and wasting and squandering the Company’s money."

The Dutch authorities in India were naturally annoyed with Boschower who, in their opinion, had become too big for his boots. Their chief, Hans de Hase, wrote to King Senarat informing that "we have written to our friend Marcelis that he should immediately convey himself hitherwards, in order once for all to learn from him by word of mouth all the conditions of your majesty’s territories. Your majesty will please to despatch him hitherwards as speedily as possible."

The King, no doubt on the promptings of his faithful Migomu Rala, wrote to Prince Maurice of Orange requesting him "to consider the said Migomu Maharala, your honour’s obedient vassal, as recommended in all negotiations."

To Hans de Hase he wrote: "In that your honour has written that I am to send Migomu Maharala thitherwards to you in order to give you a complete report of me as well as the condition of all my territories, and has sent in his place until his return the person Ghysbrecht van Suylen, you must understand that the said person is agreeable to me. But at the departure and sending away of the aforesaid Migomu Maharala, I feel myself very grieved and distressed, not knowing what I am to presume from the same, as for three years I have been, as I am also at present, unwilling to give him any leave. As at present he strongly wishes to betake himself thitherwards I must allow him. I learn from your honour’s letter of his certain return hitherwards with assistance against the Portuguese, in which I am firmly trusting that your honour will practice no falsehood, or deceit, but will send the said Migomu Maharala hitherward for the service of his princely excellency."

Having spent more than three years in the service of King Senarat, Boschower arrived in Masulipatam in India on June 2nd, 1615. Hans de Hase could not do much for him.

He took Boschower to Bantam, in Java, to negotiate for help for the King against the Portuguese but the Dutch General there, General Reynst, had just died and those in power had no time to think about Ceylon. It was then arranged that Boschower should proceed to Holland to lay the commission with which he had been entrusted before the States General; the Prince of Orange and the directors of the Dutch East India Company.

The authorities in Holland, who believed in doing one thing at a time, were too preoccupied with the situation in Moluccas to want to meddle in the affairs of the Sinhalese. But the Dutch, who were on good terms with Denmark, did not object to Boschower seeking the aid of the Danes. Moreover, Boschower did not make a good impression in Holland. He strutted about as the ambassador of King Senarat, which annoyed the Board of Directors of the East India Company of which he had been an employee.

In Denmark he was received by King Christian IV who noted in his diary: "On November 7th (1617) an ambassador from the King of Celo in India came to Friedrichsburg. On the 8th the King of Celo’s ambassador had an audience with me". The plausible Boschower seems to have wormed his way into favour of the monarch who agreed to be godfather to a son born to him.

As Professor Johann Heinrich Schlegei, Professor and Royal Danish Historiographer in 1771, points out: "In the main one cannot deny the claim of Boschower to be a genuine ambassador from the Emperor of Ceylon. But in minor matters, by which he thought to make his negotiations easier, he was obviously guilty of deceit. He feared that the letters of authorisation with which he was provided might now be sufficient to command the King’s confidence. He therefore manufactured some for himself. They are still preserved among the royal secret archives". The letters purported to give Boschower "full authority to negotiate with other Kings, princes and high personages" if the Dutch proved to be "a hostile and faithless people".

A treaty of alliance between Denmark and the Sinhalese was signed on 30th March 1618 at Copenhagen. Among other conditions the Sinhalese King, as represented by Boschower, promised to further the Christian faith according to the Augsburg Convention. Attached to the treaty was Boschower’s seal with its device of ten coats of arms, with the so-called Order of the Golden Sun and the legend "M. Deyo Piagetty Migomme Bandar".

A Danish expedition under the command of Admiral Ove Giedde consisting of five vessels set sail for Ceylon from Denmark on 29th December 1618. Boschower, his wife and son, were not accorded the honour of sailing on the same ship as the chief commander but on the second largest ship, the David. From the outset there was trouble between Boschower and the Admiral. The latter was by no means a man of amiable character. Their last and most violent quarrel took place at the Cape of Good Hope over Giedde’s instructions that no letters should be sent to Europe from the fleet unless they had first been read and approved by the Council on board the flagship.

Boschower was already a sick man. In the southern regions below Africa the David lost touch with the fleet and arrived in Ceylon before the other ships, so that Giedde did not see it again until May 1620. He was then informed that Boschower and his son had died eight months earlier in Stephen V. Hagens Bay.

King Senarat was grieved to hear of the death of his ambassador. "For as soon as he was informed of it he sent several people to comfort Migomme’s widow, and he also promised Ove Giedde to make a grant to her of some villages in Ceylon for her maintenance. And some of the leading Sinhalese who had known him, came on board the ship David to see the corpse". The widow was allowed to keep some of the property left by her husband and have a maid attend on her. After spending some time in Kandy she left for Tranquibar where she died shortly after.

When Ove Giedde met the King it became only too clear that Boschower had exceeded his instructions and faked letters. Examining the treaty* the King asked what the "Golden Sun" meant in the title of the "Chief of the Order of the Golden Sun" which Boschower had assumed. When he was told that Migomme Rala had himself given this and the whole inscription "he put his hand before his mouth, looked at his council and laughed".

In the last chapter we saw the Danish Admiral, Ove Giedde, off the East coast of Ceylon, in May 1620. His expedition was the outcome of a treaty concluded in Copenhagen between Marcelis Boschower, acting for King Senarat of Ceylon, and Christian IV, the ruler of Denmark. Boschower himself had died during the voyage of the Danish fleet and his remains were buried in Ceylon.

When the Swedish war ended in 1603, Denmark found herself prosperous under her progressive monarch. There were many Danes in the service of the Dutch East Indies Company. At the same time there were Dutch merchants who had been in the East settled in Copenhagen. Among them was Roeland Crape who was in the confidence of Christian IV.

A Danish East India Company was formed in 1616 to which Christian had subscribed a considerable sum of money. His example was followed by "many nobles, almost all professors in Copenhagen and various town councillors from the smaller States". Relations between Holland and Denmark were cordial enough for the Danish king to seek an assurance from the States General of Holland that no obstructions would be offered to Danish vessels by the Dutch in the East Indies. A Danish expedition to the East had in fact been decided on nearly two years before Boschower’s arrival, and would have materialised without any treaty with the Sinhalese. Professor Ole Worm wrote on August 18th 1616: "Our merchants are contemplating a voyage to the East Indies, to which our most gracious King will not refuse help. They will be guided by a certain Dutchman who had been sent here at the instance of several citizens of Amsterdam".

The scheme aimed at establishing trade with the principality of Tanjore and Roeland Crape, who was probably its originator, was sent off with a single vessel, The Sound. When three months later, Boschower had concluded his treaty with the Danes, Ceylon became the principal objective and Crape received instructions to inform the Sinhalese King of the impending arrival of Ove Giedde.

Appointed Admiral of an expedition of five ships and Ambassador to the King of Ceylon, Giedde set out from Denmark on December 29th 1618. Christian IV had, at his own expensive, equipped two of the ships, the Elephant and the David. The Company owned the Christian and the Copenhagen. In addition there was a Dutch ship which turned back half away. The ships took cash in a sum of 31,500 rix-dollars, a considerable quantity of tin and lead and carcasses of 283 oxen.

Roeland Crape had arrived in Ceylon five months before Ove Giedde’s ships and brought the Sinhalese King the news of the fleet that was following him. But he ran into trouble soon after. The Portuguese attacked his ship off Tanjore and when it ran ashore only some of the crew were saved. The Naiche of Tanjore took Crape under his protection and maintained him until Giedde’s arrival.

We had a diary of events of the Admiral and a log of his flagship. Professor Johann Heinrich Schlegel, Professor and Danish Historiographer, published these documents in 1771 with an introduction in German. He says: "The MS is very valuable and it is doubtful whether the whole collection of accounts of sea and land voyages in England possesses a similar example i.e., the first voyage of any nation to the East Indies written by the Admiral’s own hand. It is clear that he presented the account just as it was to the Chancellor Friis Von Kragerup, so that he, and through him the King might see the whole account of his voyage". On the last page he says ‘On May 1st 1623 I delivered the above written diary’. The ships which had left Denmark in December 1618 did not arrive in Ceylon until May 1620.

The log of the fleet in Ceylon begins: "On the morning of the 16th May, we saw with great joy the promised land". The Admiral’s ship first stopped at Panawa. Two boats were sent with their crews to the shore to ascertain the state of the country as well as to buy provisions. The people they saw were dressed in Portuguese fashion and thinking that they were in hostile territory, they returned to their ship which then sailed to Pallegama.

On May 24th they had reports that the ships, the David and the Copenhagen, had arrived earlier and were lying three miles from the Elephant, the ship on which Ove Giedde had come. The Boschowers had travelled in the David. The difficulties on trip were not only due to the fact that it was the first voyage undertaken to the East by the Danes but also to the bickering between Giedde and Boschower in the early stages of the expedition. The Admiral was advised by a Council which did not always agree with him. There were many foreign merchants and sailors, particularly Dutchmen, on board, who were frequently troublesome.

The mate of the Copenhagen arrived and reported that Boschower and his son had died eight months previously in. Stephen V. Hagen’s Bay. Ove Giedde also learned of Roeland Crape’s misadventures; and it was soon clear to him that the so called Emperor of Ceylon was not the mighty ruler that he had been represented to be in Denmark. The Admiral, who had to be prepared for the hostility of the Portuguese who held part of the coast of Ceylon, took his ships to Trincomalee to await a reply to a letter he sent to King Senarat. Three weeks later the King’s Secretary and an aged Mudaliyar arrived with a letter from the King. When shown a Portuguese translation of the treaty which Boschower had negotiated in Denmark, they expressed surprise at its contents, and were sure that Boschower had no authority to bind the King to the conditions in the way he had done.

Kandy being in a disturbed state at the time, the King did not wish to receive Ove Giedde at his capital but decided to meet him at ‘Venthanen’ (Mahiyangana?). The Admiral made the journey to the meeting place by way of Mothram, Pallegama, Samanthurai, Patipal, Nilgala, Hocheville and Bibile. He arrived at ‘Venthanen’ on August 16th but, as "the Emperor wished to have his head washed," he could not see him till the next day.

On the morning of the 17th Giedde was escorted to Senarat by a large crowd of people with music. After presenting his credentials, Giedde put forward his proposal, having previously given it to his interpreter to translate into Portuguese. The King then said that he could not understand what Boschower had done and what agreements he had made.

Boschower had in Denmark paraded the titles "Prince of Negombo, of Kukul Korale etc., Chief of the Order of the Golden Sun, President of the High Council and the War Council, second in the Secret Council, Admiral, and Captain General of the Sea in the Empire of Ceylon". The King had every reason to laugh at this tomfoolery, but he was taken aback by the claims made by the Danes on the basis of the so called treaty. He was in no position to pay the 100,000 rix-dollars demanded of him for ammunition and the soldiers. But he offered to make an agreement with Denmark, such as he had done previously with Holland. He also agreed to send ambassadors to Denmark. A new treaty was accordingly drawn up on August 25th in Portuguese. The copy in the Danish archives shows that Senarat signed in Sinhalese.

The most important article of the new treaty was the formal cession of Trincomalee to the Danish throne. The only reservation made was that, should the Sinhalese king capture from his enemies other lands and fortresses which would be as advantageous to the Danes as Trincomalee, an exchange may be effected. Meanwhile the King of Denmark promised to allow Senarat’s subjects to "visit the pagodas until God Almighty shall enlighten them". From the Danish point of view the treaty was advantageous but it does not appear that the Danes had either the men or the resources to build an Eastern trading empire as the Dutch. French and British were able to do, notwithstanding the view of their historian, Schlegel, that "if it had not been for other circumstances prejudicial to their interests which nullified the agreement almost at once, the Danes would have obtained a monopoly of the trade in one of the finest countries of Asia and the Portuguese would not have had the power, nor the Dutch even the desire to hinder them. These circumstances were, partly, the weakness of the fleet which was intended to prepare the way for their future fortunes and, partly, the military preparations which Denmark was obliged to make immediately after Ove Giedde’s return in view of the unrest in Germany, and the war which broke out in 1625."

Giedde took his leave of the King on August 23rd and left Ceylon in the following month for the Coromandel coast. From there he sent Erich Grubbe, a Danish nobleman, with gifts for the Sinhalese king and a reminder that the terms of the treaty should be carried out without delay.

Giedde himself returned to Ceylon for a brief stay in March 1621 when he found that, although nothing had been done to build a fortress, Grubbe had assumed the prefix "Don", in imitation of the Portuguese, and had struck a new coin (a larin) with the inscription Don Erich Grubbe. He had been in charge of Danish affairs in Ceylon for only a few months. The Danish soldiers Grubbe had left behind had become unruly and plundered their own ship the Patience. The ship Christian had been sunk in the Bay of Trincomalee. Martin Finche, the man whom Giedde sent with letters to the King never delivered them. Thereupon Grubbe was sent, but he did not return until after the Admiral sailed for Denmark.

Two letters from the King, brought by a Mudaliyar, disclosed that he was asserting that he was relying on Danish support even though thereby he was exposing himself to the annoyance of the Portuguese. He begged Giedde to be his ambassador at the Danish court as he could not send an ambassador from Ceylon. On the 13th May, Giedde sent a letter to the King stating that "no ruler in the world would do for another ruler what my lord at great personal disadvantage had done for him. And for this the Emperor had shown my Lord not the smallest courtesy. But if he wished to obtain any aid from my lord again, he must at once send a great and worthy reward, both to signify the gratitude he owed him and to induce him to send further aid and succour". After giving small gifts to the chief at Pallegama he "sailed away in the name of the Lord", on 1st June 1621. The return journey was quicker than the outward voyage for he landed at Karmsund in Norway on February 1622.

Two Danish ships, the Pearl and the Jupiter, arrived in Ceylon on March 8th 1624. Mads Ramussen, a Danish priest, who was in one of them, has left behind an account of the voyage. He says that one can smell the romantic scents of Ceylon at a distance of sixteen miles over the sea. But the ships did not remain long in Ceylon. In fact the Portuguese were now in possession of Trincomalee and as early as 1622 they had built a fortress there and armed it with cannon from the Christian wrecked in 1621. In 1627 they annexed Batticaloa and built a fortress. But the Dutch were again attracted to Ceylon, and in 1637 they made a treaty with Rajasinha II, the son of Senarat, and in the next year won a great victory over the Portuguese.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka