King Senerat (1604-1635)



Senerat (1604 - 1635) was a firm, resolute king. Historians have not given him the recognition he deserved. Senerat succeeded Wimaladharmasuriya as the ruler of Udarata. He was Wimaladharmasuriya‘s cousin. He married Dona Catherina, widow of Wimaladharmasuriya. Dona Catherina was the great grand daughter of the first ruler of Udarata, Senasammata Vickramabahu. The marriage strengthened Senerat’s position as king.

Udarata prospered under Senerat. There was considerable trading activity, especially with Indian merchants. Elephants were sent to Tanjore. Portuguese records refer to a convoy of 600 tavalam bulls belonging to the king. Senerat encouraged agriculture. He repaired tanks and brought distant lands under the plough... He supported Buddhism. Some of the cave decorations at Dambulla were done in his time. Senerat settled Sinhalese in abandoned lands. He also allowed a small number of immigrants from South India and Bengal to come in. The widows of those who fought at Randeniwela were provided with lands. In 1626, the Portuguese expelled the Muslims from Kotte. The Muslims ran to Senerat who settled some four thousand of them in Batticaloa as farmers. That is how the Muslims came to reside in the East.

Senerat opposed Portuguese rule but did not rush to war. He wanted join up with a rival European power first. He entered into a treaty with the Dutch East India Company in 1612. Nothing came of this. Then, Senerat’s representative went to Denmark and negotiated with the newly formed Danish East India Company. .Senerat signed a treaty with the Danes in 1618 but nothing came of this either, except that the Danes built a fort in Trincomalee and some of the Danes went to live in the Udarata. These Danes later helped Rajasinha II in his negotiations with the Dutch.

Senerat realized that the Udarata needed a period of peace in order to recover its strength. He therefore engineered a treaty with the Portuguese in 1617. He timed it well. He supported a rebellion which arose in Portuguese territory. Then when the Portuguese were sufficiently weakened he dropped the rebels and offered to negotiate. His first messenger was killed by the Portuguese, but eventually the two groups met. The offer of a treaty was ‘gratefully accepted.’ Senerat’s discussions with the Dutch in 1612 had scared the Portuguese. The negotiations took three months. The Udarata representative had not been given the power to negotiate. Senerat suggested amendments to the draft proposals of the Portuguese and the Portuguese had to meet twice purely to discuss the amendments sent by Senerat.

The 1617 treaty granted Senerat the whole of the eastern seaboard including the ports of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, also Nuvarakalaviya, Panama, and Wellawaya. The south eastern coast, west of the Walawe Ganga now came under his control. . This gave Senerat considerable position and power. When the Portuguese started to build a fort at Trincomalee, in 1623, they sent an emissary to Kandy to persuade Senerat to permit this. Senerat was able to withstand a rebellion lasting from 1617 to 1620, led by those opposing the treaty with the Portuguese. He took strong action against chieftains who contemplated joining the Portuguese.

Senerat brought his sons into the administration as soon as possible. He made Maha Asthana (later Rajasinha II) his heir and gave Uva and Matale to the other two sons, Vijepala and Kumarasinghe. From 1620, the three sons participated in the administration. In 1628 Maha Asathana was recognized as the ‘prince of Kandy’. Senerat waited till his sons grew up and then, in 1628, he went to war against the Portuguese. Senerat had once been a monk, but he also had years of experience leading troops in war. Senerat and his sons exerted pressure on the Portuguese on all fronts, probing their defences and looking for a vulnerable point. .They repeatedly attacked Kotte, specially the outlying provinces of sathara and sath korales.

Senerat wished to bring the whole island under his rule. With this in mind, he arranged marriages for two of his sons, with the nieces of Jaffna’s ruler, Sankili. The nieces were living in Tanjore. Senerat invaded Jaffna in 1628. Jaffna fell but the Portuguese won it back in 1629. Senerat tried to get Kotte through intrigue. In 1626, Senerat negotiated with sympathisers inside Kotte, in order to take Kotte from inside when the Portuguese started on their next invasion of Kandy. This plan failed to take off.

But in 1630, when the Portuguese decided to invade Kandy, the Sinhalese waited till the Portuguese went into Badulla, deep in the interior, then ambushed and routed them at Randeniwela. CR de Silva says all credit for Randeniwela should go to Senerat. Randeniwela was Senerat’s greatest success. Senerat then turned on Colombo. Kotte had risen against the Portuguese when the Randaniwela defeat became known. When Senerat came down he found that except for Colombo fort, the low lands were already in Sinhala hands. Malwana fort had been the first to fall, then Sabaragamuwa. Menikkadawara fort was simply handed over. Kalutara fort was deserted, the Portuguese had run away. Negombo fort was still in Portuguese hands, so the Sinhalese besieged it till end of 1631.

Senerat’s plan to take Colombo from inside failed, someone sneaked. So he had to take Colombo from outside. The armies of Matara, Sabaragamuwa, sath and sathara korales were brought together. Each division was strengthened by a detachment of Udarata troops .The overall command lay with Senerat and his sons. Supplies and reinforcements were obtained twice within the first three months from Kandy. Senerat besieged Colombo from October 1630 to January 1632, keeping the Portuguese confined to a small area around Colombo. The Sinhalese had built two great stockades six miles east of Colombo on either side of the Kelani river and could not be dislodged from them. They used coconut trees outside the fort as snipers posts.

In 1632, the situation changed. The Portuguese received reinforcements from Goa, Cochin and Malacca and the siege came to an end. The Sinhalese destroyed Portuguese villas and coconut plantations as they retreated. .The treaty of 1634 which came thereafter was a victory for the Portuguese and defeat for Senerat. It gave more to Portuguese and less to Senerat. Senerat lost the fourteen korales he had held since 1630, as well as Batticaloa, his one remaining port. However, Senerat retained the right to use Batticaloa for trade. Senerat complained that he had not given permission to agree to vassalage. He got ready for war, but at the last moment called it off and accepted the treaty.The writings of T.B.H. Abeyasinghe, C.R. de Silva, L.S. Dewaraja, K.W. Goonewardena, S. Kiribamune, C. Gaston Perera and P.E. Pieris were used for this essay.

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