The Lao People's Democratic Republic is the modern state derived from the former kingdoms of Laos. The political source of Lao history and cultural identity is the Tai kingdom of Lan Xang, which during its apogee emerged as one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Lao history is filled with frequent conflict and warfare, but infrequent scholarly attention. The resulting dates and references are approximate, and are rely on source material from court chronicles which survived both war and neglect, or outside sources from competing neighboring kingdoms in what are now China, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia.
Lao kingship was based upon the mandala system established by the example of King Ashoka. In theory, Lao kings and their successors were chosen by agreement of the king’s Sena (a council which could include senior royal family members, ministers, generals and senior members of the Sangha or clergy), through the validity the king’s lineage, and by personal Dharma through commitment to propagating Theravada Buddhism (the king was literally a Dharmaraja- as one who led by acts of religious virtue). Kingship was not based exclusively on primogeniture or divine right as was common in other monarchies.
The monarchy traces its lineage to Chao Fa Ngum, who founded the Kingdom of Lan Xang in 1353 and beyond that to the mythical Khun Borom who was held as the mythical father of the Tai peoples and the progenitor of the Lao Loum.
Lan Xang endured as a politically unified entity for three hundred years (1353–1694), which was then split into the kingdoms of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Champasak, only to be reconstituted as a unified constitutional monarchy under a French protectorate in 1946. At various times the kingdom Lan Xang fought off invasions from Burma, Siam and the Đại Việt.
The traditional capital of Lan Xang was at Luang Prabang until it was moved in 1560 by King Setthathirath to better administer the growing population and provide security in facing threats from Burma and Siam. Lan Xang entered a Golden Age during the reigns of Visunarat (1501-1520) and Sourigna Vongsa from (1637–94), during these times the cultural and economic power of the kingdom were at their greatest. In 1828 Vientiane was razed by the Siamese, in retaliation for the Chao Anu Rebellion, at which point the kingdom of Vientiane ceased to exist. During the French Protectorate, Luang Prabang was reestablished as the cultural and religious capital, while the French rebuilt Vientiane as the country’s administrative capital.
Kingdom of Vientiane was formed in 1707 as a result of the succession dispute between Sai Ong Hue with his backing from the Vietnamese court at Huế and Kingkitsarat (a grandson of Souligna Vongsa) who was backed by the Tai Lü kingdom of Sipsong Panna. From 1707 until the annihilation of Vientiane in 1828, the kingdom would at various times be in rivalry with the kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Champasak, although they remained loosely confederated by cultural and historic affinity. By the mid-eighteenth century, the individual Lao kingdoms were simultaneously paying tribute to Burma, China, Siam and Vietnam. Following the Rebellion of Chao Annouvong in 1828, Vientiane was destroyed and both the kingdoms of Vientiane and Champasak came under the annexation of Siam.
Sai Ong Hue (Setthathirath II, Trieu Phuc) (1707–35, nephew of Souligna Vongsa)
Ong Long (1735–60, son of Sai Ong Hue)
Ong Boun (Siribunyasarn) (1760–1778, son of Sai Ong Hue)
Interregnum (1778–80, Phraya Supho appointed governor by Siamese, led by General Taksin)
Vientiane falls and is sacked by the Siamese (1779)
Ong Boun (Siribunyasarn) (1780-1781, son of Sai Ong Hue, returns as vassal to Siam)
Nanthasen (1781–94, son of Siribunyasarn, returns Pra Bang to Vientiane, vassal to Siam but recalled for plotting rebellion)
Inthavong (1795–1804, son of Siribunyarsarn, vassal to Siam)
Anouvong (1804–28, son of Inthavong, led rebellion against Siam)
Vientiane falls again to the Siamese (1828) The kingship of Vientiane ends and all territories are annexed to Siam. General Ratchasuphawadi oversees the depopulation of the kingdom and forced relocation to Isaan. The city itself was leveled leaving only Wat Si Saket standing, along with the partial ruins of the Ha Pra Keo, That Dam Stupa, and That Luang Stupa.
In 1867, Louis de Carne a part of the Francis Garnier exploratory mission noted that: “A flourishing capital has been annihilated in our own days, and an entire people has, in some sort, disappeared, without Europe even having suspected such scenes of desolation-without even a solitary echo of this long cry of despair having reached her.”
With the division of Lan Xang, the city of Luang Prabang recovered its prestige as a royal city, since the capital had moved to Vientiane with Setthariarath in1560. The city was a growing center for religion and trade, but remained politically weak and would be sacked by the Burmese in 1764. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the Kingdom endured as a vassal to China, Siam, Burma, and Vietnam. In 1828 following Chao Anu’s Rebellion the kingdom was annexed by Siam. Despite their vassal status the Kings of Luang Prabang exercised a degree of autonomy, but lacked the security apparatus to effectively defend the kingdom (which may have been used in rebellion, as had been done in the kingdoms of Vientiane and Champasak). As a result, throughout the mid-19th century Haw pirates from China were able to invade.
The Muang of Xiang Khouang was a semi-autonomous region in Laos in what is now Xiang Khouang province. The Phuan (Pu’on) monarchy claims descent from Khun Borom and were part of the Lan Xang mandala. Geographic isolation and frequent warfare produced periods where the Phuan kings tried to assert more authority, but the region remained only a key vassalage for surrounding kingdoms. The region features prominently in the 18th and 19th century as valuable coalition piece for the rival kingdoms of Vientiane and Champasak. Xiang Khouang was a trade frontier, and also frequent point of invasion, and so has more cultural influences from China and Vietnam.
Kham Sanh (1651–88, father to Ken Chan the Pearl of Tran Ninh)
Kam Lan (1688–1700, son of Kham Sanh)
Kham Sattha (1723–51, grandson of Kam Lan, tributary to Vietnam, Luang Prabang, and Vientiane)
Ong Lo (1751–79)
Noi (Southaka Souvanna Koumar) (1803–31, nephew of Somphou, executed by Emperor Minh Mạng of Vietnam)
Xiang Khuoang annexed as Tran Ninh province in Vietnam (1832)
Po (1848–65, son of Noi, vassal to Siam and Vietnam)
Ung (1866–76, son of Noi, Haw pirates invade Xiang Khouang in 1874)
Khanti (1876–80, son of Ung, vassal to Siam)
Kham Ngon (1880–99, French protectorate ends autonomy)
^[(Simms, Peter and Sanda, The Kingdoms of Laos: Six Hundred Years of History, Curzon Press, Surrey. 1999. ISBN 0-7007-1531-2. (pg. 217); Le Boulanger, Paul, Histoire du Laos Francais: Essai d'une Etude chronologique des Principautes Laotiennes, Plon, Paris. 1931 (pg.31); Dommen, Aurthur, J., Conflict in Laos: The Politics of Neutralization, Pall Mall Press, London. 1964. (pg. 64); Hall, D.G.E., A History of Southeast Asia (4th ed.), Macmillan, London, 1994. ISBN 978-0333241646 (pg. 81)]