Aspects of the Embassy to Siam 1685: The Chevalier de Chaumont and the Abbé de Choisyby Michael Smithies
The Chevalier de Chaumont was the devout and unbending ambassador of Louis XIV to King Narai of Siam in 1685, and the Abbé de Choisy, famous for his gambling debts and transvestite exploits, was his unlikely coadjutant. The improbable purpose of the embassy was to convert Narai to Catholicism and secure better trading terms; it failed on both counts. Both ambassadors left records of their embassy, and Choisy in his writings returned to the theme of this ultimately futile embassy just before he died in 1724.
Chaumont’s account of his embassy has not appeared in English since 1687, when an abridged and sometimes inaccurate translation was published in London. It is now published in English for the first time in complete form, making use of the earlier translation but restoring the cuts made in it and correcting its deviations from the French original.
Choisy’s account of the embassy had to wait until 1993 before an English translation appeared, but the two confidential memoranda he wrote on board ship on the return journey to France, dealing with religion in Siam and commerce in the Indies, were only published in French in complete form in 1995; these appear here in English. They are complemented by an integrated memoir, here called‚ ‘Reflections on the Embassy to Siam’‚ formed by two sometimes identical texts dealing with the embassy to Siam which appeared in the last volume of his ‘History of the Church’‚ published the year before his death, and his posthumous ‘Memoirs to serve for a History of Louis XIV’.
These texts constitute key documents in the French involvement and ultimate fiasco in Siam in the period 1685–1688, and remain fascinating reading today. They come with an introduction and footnotes to assist the reader in the complexities of the issues raised, along with illustrations by Jacques Dumarçay.