Saturday Magazine
Migomu Rala’s role in ceding Trincomalee from the Sinhala King to the Danes – Part I

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.

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".

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 the second extract about a Marcelis Boschower, who was better known as Migomu Rala, a Dutch Ambassador to the Kandyan court of King Senarat.