|King Mingyino of Toungoo|
When the Shan captured the city of Prome in 1532, an ally and just across the river from a Toungoo city, King Tabinshwehti decided to go to war to unite Burma under his leadership, beginning with an attack on the Hanthawaddy kingdom south of Toungoo. This was the largest city-state of the many which grew up in the aftermath of the fall of the Pagan Kingdom of Burma and being located on the coast was very wealthy as a center of trade. This made it an attractive target but also a difficult one and the war would last from 1534 to 1541. Initials attacks were unsuccessful so the Toungoo resorted to subterfuge to spread division and distrust in the enemy camp. This tactic was highly successful, causing the Hanthawaddy leadership to turn on each other and many of their most accomplished ministers were executed on suspicion of being disloyal. This sufficiently weakened the Hanthawaddy for the Toungoo forces to win a stunning victory over them at the Battle of Naungyo despite being outnumbered. This gave Toungoo a great deal more wealth and power and caused many of the other leaders of the region to come on side and pledge allegiance to King Tabinshwehti.
|Postcard of Toungoo|
All of Lower Burma was now under the control of Tabinshwehti as well as access to the sea, trade routes and the money to employ his own (usually Portuguese) mercenaries and their modern weaponry. At this point, he turned his attention back to Upper Burma and the city of Prome, launching an offensive against it on November 19, 1541 after the end of Buddhist Lent. After pushing the defenders and their allies inside the city walls, the Shan Confederation forces arrived under King Thohanbwa but they were unable to break through the Toungoo lines. More reinforcements were called for but Toungoo forces ambushed them and wiped them out, leaving Prome isolated. Finally, on May 19, 1542 King Minkhaung surrendered Prome to King Tabinshwehti. This victory greatly alarmed the Shan Confederation and they assembled a massive invasion force from across the seven states to crush Toungoo once and for all. Despite having the larger army, they were unable to defeat Tabinshwehti who had a respectable and veteran force of 12,000 troops, a 9,000-man flotilla and Portuguese weapons and mercenaries. After a month of combat, the Shan forces retreated and the Toungoo gave chase, expanding their reach all the way to old Pagan (or Bagan).
|Remains of Bagan|
Unfortunately, for those who like to see a clear moral cause behind every dispute, this conflict depends entirely on which side you are on as to who is in the right and who is in the wrong. For Burma, the Siamese attacked and captured their city of Tavoy and King Tabinshwehti retaliated. For Siam, this city already belonged to them and the Burmese were simply exploiting a time of internal conflict for the Kingdom of Ayutthaya to expand the Toungoo empire. In any event, even with his very talented chief lieutenant Bayinnaung leading the way, this war was not a success for King Tabinshwehti and the Siamese successfully repelled his invasion, Queen Suriyothai famously dying in the climactic battle. It was not, however, a catastrophic defeat for the Burmese and they would be back before too much time had past under Bayinnaung. That, unfortunately for him, would not be a victory that King Tabinshwehti would live to see.
Despite his sorry end, King Tabinshwehti had achieved a great deal for Burma and is still highly revered to this day, regarded as a saint or a sort of god, one of 37 in the Burmese national pantheon. He is famous for being a great leader, a successful warrior, a courageous man who started his campaign of conquest by attacking the strongest rival rather than the weakest. He united almost all of Burma under his leadership and laid the foundation for the even greater victories that would come after him, a period in which Burma would dominate everything between India and Vietnam. Ultimately, King Bayinnaung would accomplish more in terms of territorial expansion, yet none of it would have been possible without the campaigns of King Tabinshwehti. It is thus entirely fitting that he should be a hero of Burmese history and an example of what great heights Burma is capable of achieving.