First Kandy-Dutch War – 1665-1675

Extract from Chryshane Mendis's MA Thesis titled "Fortifications and the Landscape: A GIS Inventory and Mapping of Kandyan and Dutch Fortifications in Sri Lanka" , 2020, University of Amsterdam.

First Kandy-Dutch War – 1665-1675

While both sides were settling to the uneasy stalemate since the late 1650s, the rebellion of 1664 within the Kandyan kingdom disrupted this atmosphere between the two sole political entities of the island by upsetting the territorial boundaries, creating a dynamic element[1] in the political tension between the two until the death of Rajasinghe.

In December 1664 a rebellion broke out in Kandy and the king having escaped, took refuge in Hanguranketa and wrote to the Dutch on January 5, 1665 to come to his aid, by land through the Seven Kōralēs, Four Kōralēs and Sabaragamuva and by sea to Batticaloa and Kottiyar,[2] the latter probably to prevent the rebels from fleeing the island or seeking outside assistance. The nature of the Dutch reply to Rajasinghe’s letter is to be found in the policies of the Dutch Governor Ryklof van Goens the Elder (1660-1661, 1663, 1664-1675), who dominated the Dutch policy for Ceylon in these initial years. Van Goens had been arguing for an expansionist policy[3] in the country, much to the disapproval of the Batavian authorities.[4] Van Goens viewed the rebellion as the vulnerability of Kandy and the weakness of Rajasinghe, that he had lost his hold on the people and was militarily weak. This was seen as a perfect opportunity for consolidation of the complete coastal districts and for an expansion inwards, to secure the best cinnamon producing areas, and to keep at bay Kandy as a power being able to cause problems. Although the rebellion had ended very shortly, the Dutch were eager to use the opportunity and finally took action as late as April 1665.

Two armies moved from Colombo to Ruvanvälla and from Galle to Bibilēgama where stockades were erected. The instructions were to maintain good relations with the people and to encourage them to migrate to the lowlands.[5] However as no resistance was observed, it turned into an outright annexation of these lands, even moving as far as Sabaragamuva (Ratnapura) and fortifying it as well. In 1667 they moved as far as Arandara and Alauva and fortified these as well. Although in 1668 the people of the Mäda, Kadawattē and Attakalan Kōralēs revolted and Dutch garrisons evacuated, the posts were reoccupied when the uprisings died down. On the east in September 1665 they occupied Trincomalee for the second time[6] and fortified it as per the letter of the king.

This was an almost effortless expansion as Rajasinghe offered no resistance against this forceful annexation of his territories. This further raised the confidence of the Dutch in the loss of power of the king.

In 1668 a second wave of expansion on the eastern coast was carried out. The Dutch occupied Batticaloa[7] and Kottiyar but their authority did not expand beyond the forts. However by 1670 it is reported that the people of these areas ‘offered themselves’ to submission as they claimed the king had ceased administration in these districts; yet within few months the districts revolted but again was subdued.

In 1669 an expedition from Galle subdued the lands from the Walave River to Arugam Bay in the south east of the island where the important salt pans were located. This was a move to control Kandy by restricting their important salt supply and as a means of gaining a salt monopoly. For this, Yāla, Māgama and Arugam Bay were fortified with military posts. Thus by mid-1670 they had completed the effortless expansion. By this expansion, the Dutch were able to take the former territory of the Portuguese lost to Kandy in the 1650s. Consolidation of these new lands was done by appointing local officials to positions of high authority under promise of loyalty and exemptions of taxes.[8] Map in Fig. 05 gives a comparison of the extent of the Dutch territories before the war and in 1670 at their maximum expansion.

It is unknown as to why Rajasinghe was silent all this while[9] but in August 1670, the Kandyans took the offensive on all fronts. They first sieged the fort of Arandara which surrendered and the garrison was taken prisoners. Subsequently the garrisons of Ruvanvälla, Sabaragamuva and Bibilēgama were evacuated including all other posts thus within the first few weeks of the Kandyan assaults, they had retired to their pre-1665 frontiers. However, the Dutch reorganized the army and drove the Kandyans back. On the east, the Dutch were reduced once again only to the forts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. In 1671 the Dutch sent two ambassadors to Kandy for the release of the prisoners but to no avail.

The year 1671 for the most part remained a lull in the war. In March 1672 a large French fleet entered Kottiyar bay in Trincomalee possibly on prior invitation from Kandy and with agreements between the two, they began to build a fort on an island in the bay. However, a lack of proper agreement on the terms and a food shortage in the fleet forced them to sail out to Coromandel in South India leaving a garrison behind. The Dutch fleet soon moved into the bay and captured the garrison. Using this failed French episode, the Kandyans renewed their attacks on Dutch territory including instigating uprisings, however the Dutch were able to repulse these and even reoccupied former posts. In July 1672 they marched into Sitāvaka  and Idangoda and fortified these places. Kandyan attacks in the east continued such as besieging the fort at Chinnecalatte[10] and destroying of buildings in the island of Puliantivu[11] but were forced back. As a counter move, the Dutch imposed a trade blockade on Kandy but was called off in May 1673. The year1674 was less eventful with light raids and uprisings. In August 1675 the Kandyans launch the third and largest offensive. The attacks from the Seven Kōralēs forced the lascorins[12] to abandon posts at Topture, Tuntote and Arandara. Further the important fort at Bibilēgama which had been probably reoccupied in about 1674 was besieged and taken. The fall of this fort opened up the road to Mātara, however, the Kandyans did not pursue. Once again the Kandyan offensive had died down and the Dutch were able to reoccupy Sitāvaka.[13] That however was executed by Governor Rijcklof van Goens the Younger (1675-1679), who had succeeded his father in 1675.[14] The authorities in Batavia and the Directors in the Netherlands having been frustrated by the never ending promises of father and son Van Goens, decided in 1679 to enter a new policy of appeasement, sacked Van Goens and appointed Laurens Pijl (1679-1692) who was instructed to end the costly war – that however took some time. In the meantime annual embassies to Kandy became the new political tool of appeasement diplomacy.

[1] Arasaratnam, S., 1958. Dutch power in Ceylon 1658-1687, p.25

[2] The harbor in Kandyan hands close by to Trincomalee

[3] Arasaratnam, 1958 p.30

[4] The High Government (Hoge Regering), representing the Gentlemen Seventeen, the central board of directors in the Netherlands.

[5] Arasaratnam, 1958. p.33

[6] The first time being in 1639 when they initially took it from the Portuguese and handed over the post to Kandy in 1643.

[7] Batticaloa was first occupied by the Dutch in 1638 but was handed over to Rajasinghe in 1643 to be demolished.

[8] Arasaratnam, 1958 p.37

[9] Ibid p.53

[10] A fort located few kilometers south of Batticaloa between the present day villages of Kallar and Koddaikallar. See page 62.

[11] One of the islands in the Batticaloa lagoon, which contains the Batticaloa fort.

[12] Lascorins were the native soldiers under the VOC.

[13]Arasaratnam, 1958 p.72

[14] Rijclof Van Goens the Elder left Ceylon to become VOC Governor General in Batavia.


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