A Short history of Lanka

by Humphry William Codrington | 1926 | 48,606 words

Printed Edition 1926 Macmillan and Co., Limited St Martin's Street, London Web Edition 2000 Rhajiv Ratnatunga Pittsburgh. PA USA...

Chapter VIII - The decline of the Portuguese power (1635 AD—1656 AD)

SENARAT had divided his kingdom between his own son Rajasinha, to whom were allotted the `Five Countries above the mountains,' practically the modem Kandy District, with the title of king, and the other sons of Dona Catharina, Kumarasinha and Vijayapala, who obtained Uva and Matale respectively. Kumarasinha was poisoned by Rajasinha before Senarat's death, which took place in 1635, and the youngest prince became sole king as Rajasinha II. (A.D. 1635-1687). The treaty of 1634 was not very strictly observed, and the new sovereign speedily called in the assistance of the Dutch in 1636, offering them a fort at Kottiyar or Batticaloa and guaranteeing the expenses of the fleet.

The authorities of the East India Company at Batavia, who already had their eyes on the Lanka cinnamon trade, seized the opportunity and instructed their Admiral, Adam Westerwold, who was setting out to blockade Goa, to call at Lanka on his return voyage. Meanwhile envoys were sent to Rajasinha, at whose court they arrived in 1637. After some negotiations they in company with three Sinhala went on to join Westerwold off Goa, and were witnesses of an action between the Dutch and Portuguese fleets, in which the latter was worsted in January 4, 1638. The Admiral then decided to send in advance of himself the Vice-Commandeur Coster with a small squadron, which arrived at Trincomalee on April 3.


Kandyan Silver Larin

Meanwhile the Captain General Diogo de Mello was indignant at what he termed Rajasinha's treachery in dealing, with the Dutch, to prevent which he intrigued with the Prince of Matale; he was further incensed by a private quarrel with the king, and invaded his dominions. Randy was burnt, but the Portuguese were cut up and the General himself killed at Gannoruwa on March 28, 1638. As usual a widespread revolt ensued, and the king reduced all the Portuguese territory but did not attack the fortresses Dom Antonio Mascarenhas arrived in May as Captain General (1638-1640), but remained inactive until the end of the year, when on receiving reinforcements he set out to recover the low-country for the Crown of Portugal, in which he succeeded early in 1639.

Coster appeared before Batticaloa on April. 8, 1638, and prepared for an attack on the fort. He was joined on May 10 by Westerwold, and a few days later Rajasinha made his appearance with an army. The repeated orders of the king of Portugal issued as early, as 1617 for the proper fortification of Trincomalee and Batticaloa had been ignored by the local Government, and as a result the garrison was compelled to surrender on May 18. Westerwold now entered into a treaty with the king.

This was signed on the twenty-third and provided for a practical monopoly of the export trade of Lanka by the Dutch: in return for the assistance given by them to the king, who moreover bound himself to pay all expenses and to hold no communication with the Portuguese. By the third article, which later gave rise to much trouble, all Portu guese forts captured were to be garrisoned by the Dutch, provided that the king did not require them to be de molished. This proviso appeared in the Portuguese copy signed by him; it was absent, however, from the Dutch

Shortly afterwards Westerwold left for Batavia, leaving Coster behind at Batticaloa.Trincomalee capitulated on May 2, 1639, the royal forces only appearing after the Dutch had entered the fort. The king then desired that Colombo should be taken. The Council at Batavia, in spite of their unfavourable opinion of Rajasinha's trust worthiness decided to comply with his wishes, but held it necessary to enter into a more binding agreement, by which all forts taken should be held by the Dutch. The fleet dispatched for the purpose under the command of Philip Lucasz, with Coster as Vice-Admiral, arrived at Trincomalee in December, only to find that the garrison had been deliberately starved by Rajasinha.

Early in January 1640 the fleet sailed for Colombo, but see that it was hopeless to carry the place owing to failure of Rajasinha to appear landed the troops near Negombo, where they were joined later on by the Sinhala. Negombo was taken on February 4, and was garrisoned by the Dutch, at which Rajasinha took umbrage and retired. Coster, however, succeeded in inducing the king to enter into a new agreement; in this it was settled that when the Portuguese had been completely expelled from Lanka the Dutch should retain only one fort, but that they should hold Negombo and the other forts until all the expenses, of the war had been paid, and that Colombo, when captured, should be demolished unless the king decided that it should be kept as a fortress, in which case it was to be garrisoned by the Dutch. The king's indebtedness in this year amounted to 310,790 pieces-of-eight.

The fleet now sailed southwards, and Galle was stormed on March 13, the Sinhala again arriving too late to take part in the fighting. The king was still dissatisfied with the Dutch, and Coster followed him to Kandy in the hope of bringing about a better understanding. Nothing came of the negotiations, and Coster leaving in disgust was murdered on his way back to Batticaloa by the Sinhala. The king, though he expressed his regret, clearly was better pleased to see the Dutch and Portuguese fight each other than to give the former loyal assistance and ensure the fall of Colombo, which was then feasible. The position of the Dutch in the Island between the Sinhala and the Portuguese was not happy.

The Captain General Dom Philippe Mascarenhas (1640-1645) arrived with reinforcements and retook Negombo on November 9, 1640. The Portuguese, thought not strong enough to besiege Galle, encamped in the neighbouring country and towards the end of the year reduced to obedience the Four and Seven Korales, while Rajasinha held Sabaragamuwa.


Things went still better in their favour owing to the civil war, which broke onto in 1641 in the Kandyan territory between the king and Vijayapala. The latter, however, was compelled to fly to Colombo, but, instead of being kept as a weapon against Rajasinha, was sent to Goa in compliance with an old order of the king of Portugal that heathen princes were not to be restored unless converted to the Christian faith; he died in exile in 1654. His removal to Goa may have been due to his intrigues with the Dutch in 1643.

From June 1642 Galle was closely blockaded by land, Rajasinha giving his allies no assistance, until February 1643 when news was brought of the treaty of peace lasting ten years entered into between the Dutch and John IV., the first of the restored native dynasty of Portugal, which had thrown off the Spanish yoke in December 1640. But the Dutch under Jan Thyszoon (1640-1646) claimed the country round Galle as the appurtenance of the fortress, though they were not in possession. The matter was referred to Goa, and the Viceroy refusing to comply with the Dutch demands the war continued. Towards the end of the year the Dutch were reinforced; in January 1644 they retook Negombo and made an attempt on Colombo, but failed.

Later on in the year orders were received from Portugal to give up all territories belonging exclusively to the forts held by the Dutch at the time of their publication at Goa; a truce to last for eight years was signed on November 10, 1644, and the agreement as to the details at Colombo on January 10 following. The Portuguese thus lost far more than they would have bad hostilities ended in 1643 for the Dutch now obtained part of the Seven Korales in the neighbourhood of Negombo as well as the whole of the Matara disavany or province south of the Bentota River. The boundary between the present Western and Southern Provinces dates from this treaty.

Rajasinha, from whom the Company had suffered more than from the avowed enemy, was most indignant at the partition of what he considered as his dominions between the two European powers, the more so as they had concluded on March 9, 1645, a treaty for mutual protection against the highlanders. The Dutch endeavoured to pacify him, but he demanded the withdrawal of their troops from the Seven Korales to Negombo. In May Thyszoon declared war, goaded to this step by Rajasinha's depredations, but did not enjoy much success.

His action was disapproved of at Batavia, and he was superseded as Governor in 1646 by Joan Maatzuyker (1646-1650). Van der Stel was dispatched in May to withdraw the troops to Negombo, but unluckily coming into coffision with the royal forces, who had advanced so far with the connivance of the Portuguese, imprudently, provoked an encounter, in which he and almost all their men lost their lives. The Dutch' garrison in the Seven Kora]es surrendered and were taken prisoners to Kandy.

The king now demanded the destruction of Negombo, regardless of Coster's treaty and of his own desire expressed the previous year that the place should be held by the Dutch. Maatzuyker took `a firm attitude and openly enquired whether Rajasinha wished peace or war: the former he declared to be impossible unless the prisoners were restored.

In 1647 an ambassador was sent to the Court but without result; the Portuguese were negotiating with Rajasinha, who entered into an alliance with them in spite of Maatzuyker's threat that if the Dutch went to war with the Portuguese they would hold the fortresses taken in the flame of the States General and not in that of the king.

In 1649, however, the king, who in order to prevent the collection of cinnamon by the Dutch had depopulated the Pitigal Kerale, had veered round once more, released the ambassador sent two years before, and negotiated a new treaty, which differed little from that of 1638 save that the Company no longer was to have the monopoly of cinnamon. In this instrument the treaty with Westerwold is rehearsed, with the missing words of the third article duly inserted in the Dutch. In 1650 Maatzuyker was succeeded by Van Kittensteyn (1650-1653).

The Dutch felt no reliance in Rajasinha's good faith, and their position was made more difficult by the king's claim to appoint the Disawas or provincial governors in the territory held by them. As early as 1650 Rajasinha alleged a breach of the new treaty, and the relations between the two allies continued strained until 1652, when hostilities were recommenced with the Portuguese.

The Captain General, Manoel Mascarenhas Homem, who had succeeded Philippe Mascarenhas in 1645, wished to concentrate his forces at Colombo and abandoned Kalutara, which the Dutch at once occupied. The army was suspicious that he intended betraying them to the Dutch, and mutinied at Menikkadawara; it then advanced on Colombo, pursued by the king's forces, and under Gaspar Figucira deposed the Captain General and kept him in custody. Figucira, who held the real power and was a man of energy, attacked the Dutch towards Negombo, on January 8, 1653, defeated them at Anguruwatota in Kalutara District, and then turned on the king in the Four Korales, stationing his forces at Arandara.

On May 10 Francisco de Mello de Castro (1653-1655) arrived to succeed Homem, whom he released; he brought a pardon for the mutineers which they refused to accept, holding that they had saved the Portuguese possessions in the Island. The war continued, generally in favour of the Portuguese, Kalutara falling into their hands after a blockade lasting from July 1653 to March 1654. But the Dutch were only awaiting reinforcements, which at length arrived under Gerard Hulft, Director General of the land and sea forces, in September 1655.

The days of the Portuguese were numbered. On October 14 Kalutara surrendered. The Dutch at once closed on Colombo, and after a desperate resistance, in which the garrison was reduced to famine, Antonio de Sousa Coutinho (1655-1656), was obliged to capitulate on May 12, 1656, after a siege lasting six months and twenty-seven days, to the Governor Van der Meyden (1653-1662), Hulft having been killed on April 10. Rajasinha had only appeared early in 1656. The Dutch clearly were anxious not to have the shifty king too near during the operations; his presence with his army actually contributed little or nothing to the issue of the siege. The defence of Colombo against overwhelming odds was the most gallant feat of the Portuguese in Lanka


The Portuguese Government of Lanka was subject to the Viceroy at Goa. At its head was the Captain General, with his residence at Malwana he was spoken of by the natives as the king of Malwana, with the title of Highness He was assisted by a Vedor da Fazenda, in charge of the revenue, and by an Ouvidor or judge. The `City of St. Lawrence' or Colombo was administered by a Chamber or municipal body.

The country. was divided into four disavanies or pro vinces; each under a Disawa or governor, who possessed much greater powers than under the native kings. These provinces were Matara, including the whole of the pre\esent Southern Province and the Kolonna Korale, the Kalutara District and the Salpiti Korale; the Four Korales, comprising the northern part of the Kegalla District with the Siyane and Hapitigam Korales; the Seven Korales, or the Alutkuru Korale, the whole of the North Western Province, and in theory much of the North Central; and Sabaragamuwa, that is the Three Korales and Bulatgama of Kegalla District, the Howagam Korale, and the Ratnapura District less Kolonna Korale.

The disavanies thus radiated from Kotte. A Disawa of Negombo appears in 1640. Each Korale or division of a disavany was under an Adigar, the later Korale Vidane or Korala, each pattu or subdivision was under an Atukorala, while in each village were mayorals or kariyakaranno, supervised by a Vidane in the case of the royal villages and those granted during pleasure or for a life or term of lives to Portuguese and others. All or almost all the land was held by service tenure, often military in character; there was little revenue in cash.

Royal monopolies were:

  • Cinnamon, first collected by the Balagama people under Rajasinha I. They were organized under the Captain of the Mahabadda;
  • Areca and pepper, which the owners were compelled to sell to the Government at a fixed price;
  • Precious stones, in Sabaragamuwa;
  • Elephants, which were sold in India; and, lastly, the Pearl Fishery.

The Disawas possessed civil, including judicial, as well as military jurisdiction over the natives of the country. Further, a tribunal of the Captain General's `banacas' (banneka or basnayaka) or secretaries assisted him in the disposal of such cases as came before him. Every year what may be called assizes were held in the country, for the primary purpose of collecting the marala or death duty, one maralleiro for each disavany appointed by the Bandigerala, originally perhaps a treasury officer, visiting his province, assisted by two interpreters of the laws, a sheriff and a secretary. Under the native kings, if there were no male heir to a service holding, the whole eseheated to the Crown; otherwise it was heritable on payment of one-third of the movables of the deceased. This last share was that taken by the Portuguese in the former ease also, Christians being exempted from this impost.

The assizes dealt not, only with the estates of deceased persons, but also with civil and criminal matters, such as debt, theft, and murder. If the murderer was arrested within sixty days the General or Disawa condemned him to death offhand, but had no power to do so after the elapse of that period, when the criminal could confess at the assizes and compound. No such privilege, however, existed where a low caste man had killed one of high caste. Questions of caste such as irregular marriages also came before the assizes, and the ordeals of oil, red hot iron, and the like were in use. A sanctuary existed. at Galle for all crimes save treason, false coining, and murder of a sheriff or judge. The system of criminal jurisprudence should be compared with that prevailing in the tenth century.

In military matters the Captain Major of the Field was the chief Portuguese officer under the Captain General; his headquarters were at Menikkadawara. The principal fortresses were Colombo, Galle and Jaffna. The Portuguese troops wore either casados or married men, only called upon in an emergency, and the soldados, `whose. discipline practically disappeared in time of peace, all who then were little better than brigands. This is not surprising, `as at one time service in Lanka was an alternative to prison. The native levies or Lascarins were under the Disawa, and under the supreme command of the Vikramasinha, the Senevirad of earlier times.: He alone under the kings of Kotte with the exception of the royal family was allowed the use of a palanquin. The Lascarins, who served for fifteen days at a time, were armed with swords, bows and arrows, spears or muskets.

The artilery attached to these levies consisted of gingals; these were light portable pieces of ordnance, somewhat after the fashion of an enormous pistol supported in front by two. legs and throwing a ball of some four to twelve ounces in weight, and were fired by the gunner in a sitting posture. The Portuguese do not seem to have employed elephants in warfare, though these beasts were used by Rajasinha I. in besieging Colombo, and, with swords and knives fastened to their trunks, were wont to lead the van of the Sinhala army.

Jaffna was under a separate administration, subject however to the Captain General, the chief officers being the Captain Major of the Kingdom, the Factor and the Ouvidor. Mannar was under a Captain, who lost much of his importance when Jaffna was conquered.

In ecclesiastical affairs the Island formed part of the diocese of Cochin, whose Bishop governed through a Vicar Genral. The first missionaries were Franciscans, but shortly after 1600 the Jesuits, the Dominicans, and the Augustinians came into the field in addition to the secular clergy. The Franciscans had been given the temple villages by Dharmapala in 1591, but were deprived of them by the civil authorities, whose indifference and opposition to the enterprise of the clergy was a matter of grievance. In the three Franciscan' Colleges,' attached to `the monasteries, there were taught religion, good manners (viores), reading, writing and arithmetic, singing, and Latin. There were also parish schools; of these in Jaffna the Franciscans had twenty-five and the Jesuits twelve. The latter Order also had colleges in Jaffna and Colombo for higher education. All education was free.

So much has been published as to the iniquities of the Portuguese that little remains to be said. Corruption and peculation prevailed in all departments of the administration. The Sinhala had chosen to abide by their own laws at the meeting at Malwana in 1597. These were never codified, and much of the tyranny and violence suffered by the people was due to the Portuguese under the influence of avarice carrying out the native system of government to its logical conclusion, regardless of the restraining influence of custom.

For example, areca undoubtedly was a monopoly of the last Kandyan kings, and we have seen in the tenth century that fruit trees could be cut down in the villages: both these rights were carried to excess by the new lords to the total impoverishment of the people. Under the old government the chiefs had a wholesome fear of the king, who, if a strong ruler, suffered no tyrant but himself; under the Portuguese every lord of a village, nay, every petty headman, assumed powers which would not have been tolerated before. It must be remembered that the worst enemies of the villager often were his own fellow-countrymen; the Vidanes were as bad as any Portuguese village lord, and the Lascarins in 1636 actually prayed for Portuguese instead of Sinhala Mudaliyars and Arachchis, a prayer curiously reminiscent of a similar request by the people at Kandy in 1815.

In the army the total lack of discipline in time of peace and the peculation of their pay by their superiors turned soldiers into armed highway robbers. The constant wars added to the harassing of the people by perpetual services led to the depopulation of much of the country, and at the end of the Portuguese rule the Disavany of Matara could only supply 1500 Lascarins against 4000 under De Azevedo. The popular discontent was not allayed by the destruction of the temples, an unwise proceeding in the unsettled state of the country, though it is only fair to say that in certain cases, such as that of the Munnessaram. pagoda, the temples were destroyed in retaliation for the burning of churches.

But there is another side to the picture We must put a De Sa against a De Azevedo. The clergy, though they were keen on the service of His Majesty as well as on the service of God, usually were on the side of the people against their oppressors. The fact that their converts, as in Japan, retained the Christian religion in spite of lack of clergy and active persecution by the Dutch, speaks much in their favour, and such a result cannot have come from a nation wholly bad. In another sphere to the Portuguese is due the introduction of chillies, tobacco, and a number: of foreign fruit trees. And one cannot withhold admiration for the pluck and endurance with which a few hundred men, fighting in a tropical climate, succeeded in reducing so large a territory. It is interesting to speculate what the history of Lanka would have been had the Portuguese not ventured to India. There seems to be little doubt that the kingdom of Vijayanagar would have collapsed earlier than it did, and that the south of India and with it possibly Lanka would have fallen under Muhammadan rule.


Portuguese Lanka

We hear much of `Sinhala perfidy' in the Portuguese writers. Their complaint, however, does not seem to come into prominence until the reduction of the low-country by the Portuguese after the death of Rajasinha I., when the inhabitants, whose sympathies naturally lay with the native dynasty, were harried by the Kandyans if they remained faithful to Portugal, and by the Portuguese if they sided with Kandy. The charge is far more true in the case of the Kandyan Government, on whose word no reliance was to be placed; even here it may be held that treachery was the refuge of the weaker power. But this characteristic was evident in the Kandyan dealings with the Dutch, who put up with much for the sake of peace and is shown in its worst form in the massacre of the British troops in 1803

According to De Queyroz the kingdom of Kandy comprised the principalities of Uva, Matale, Gampola, Batticaloa, Panama, Kottiyar, and at one time Trincomalee, of which the last four were held by Vanniyars; the Disavanies of Tisrispattu, Pansiyapattu or Dumbara, Udunuwara and Yatinuwara, all in the neighbourhood of the capital; and the territories of Bintenna, Wellassa, and Maturata, administered by Vidanes,


For general history see Raj., Be Q., and Rajasinha's letters published in J.R.A.S., C.B. xviii. No. 55; also Baldaeus, Beschryvinj van het Machtige Eyland Ceylon; `Beknopte Historic' (J.R.A.S., C.B. xi. No. 38); De Opkomst van het Nederlandesh Gezag over Gelion, W. van Geer, Leiden, 1895.

The date of Senarat's death is given in various Sinhala verses; different months are given, but all agree as to the Saka year 1557. The Jornada do Reino de Huua states that he was fifty-eight years old at his demise in 1635. According to this work Senarat `absolutely was the best captain, the best king, and the best man whom the Chingalas knew'; he was learned, liberal and kind to the poor, and most valiant. For Vijayapala's letter to the Governor of Pulicat received on January 22, 1643, see Dag Register, 1643, 1644 (Department van Kolonien). The treaty of, March 9, 1645, was for mutual protection against the highlanders, who invaded and devastated the cinnamon lands: chasing the inhabitants out of their villages; all dealings with the king of Kandy were forbidden (Opkomst).

For the city of St. Lawrence see the Donation of Dharmapala (Orientalist, iii. p. 196). The details as to the provinces of Matara, the Seven and Four Korales, and Sabaragamuwa are given in De Q. pp. 25-36; he also gives much information as to the kingdom of Kandy and the various principalities, pp. 45-56. The Disawa of Negombo is mentioned by De Q.. p. 705. The administrative system is dealt with by Ribeiro and by De Q. book vi., and considerable light is thrown on it by the petition of 1636 (De Q. pp. 834 if.). The Kandyan monopoly of areea is described in Correspondence of the Board of Commissioners vol. 521, June 9 and July 24, 1816, January 7 and 8 1821; In connection with the possibility of Muhammadan rule in Lanka see Documentos Rernettidos, i. 57.

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