King Mindon of Burma

For twenty-five years, King Mindon preserved a peaceful and progressive atmosphere in nineteenth-century Burma.

Portrait of King Mindon on display at Mandalay Palace
Portrait of King Mindon on display at Mandalay Palace

In the century after the establishment of Burma’s last dynasty, by King Alaungpaya in 1752, the fortunes of the kingdom declined from its peak of imperial might. When it seemed reasonable to expect the total eclipse of Burma at the hands of the victorious British army, a new king came to the throne of Ava in 1853 and with him anew hope for survival.

He was King Mindon, whose reign of twenty-five years was, by comparison, a model of good government. Had he been succeeded by a man of equal vision and virtue, Burma, like her neighbour Siam, might have preserved her independence although stripped of her coastal provinces and access to the sea.

The first sixty years of the dynasty was the period of conquest and expansion. The Mons of Pegu were subdued, Ayuthia, the Siamese capital, was sacked in 1767, the Shan States were brought under control and Chinese armies from Yunnan were successfully resisted. Most striking—and perilous—were the Burmese exploits on their western frontier. Under the aggressive but able leadership of King Bodawpaya (third son of Alaungpaya), who reigned from 1782 to 1819, Burmese armies captured Arakan and invested Manipur and Assam. Bengal was threatened.

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