Letter of the Supreme Government to Susuhunan Amangkurat II (r. 1677-1703), 20 April 1697

Introduced M. C. Ricklefs, Professor Emeritus, The Australian National University

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The late 17th century was a time of very considerable tension between the VOC and the court of Kartasura. The VOC had intervened in 1677, in the midst of the Trunajaya war, to support the Mataram dynasty in defending its hold on the throne. This intervention rested upon agreements, particularly in February and July 1677, by which the king was obliged to repay all of the costs of the VOC and to provide various commercial concessions to the benefit of the Company.

Amangkurat II (reigned 1677-1703) succeeded to the throne in 1677. At this time, he had been forced to flee the court with his father Amangkurat I (who died during the flight and was buried at Tegal Wangi). Therefore he was a new monarch who had no court, no kingdom, no treasury and no army. The VOC intervention was thus crucial in military terms and assisted the new monarch in the end to gather supporters and to defeat Trunajaya’s armies. Amangkurat II personally stabbed the captured Trunajaya to death at the end of 1679.

The king established a new court at Kartasura in 1680. By the end of 1681 most remaining opposition to him had been defeated. But the VOC now found that the agreements of 1677 were not implemented. The king evidently distrusted the Company and sought to limit its influence in his affairs. So the Company’s costs were not repaid and it was frustrated in implementing its commercial rights.

By 1685 the Company had decided that it needed to send a special emissary to Kartasura to attempt to settle all outstanding issues. The man chose to head this embassy was Capt. François Tack, whom Amangkurat II had already encountered in embarrassing circumstances. At the fall of Trunajaya’s capital at Kediri in 1678, the victorious Javanese and Company forces looted the place. This included the Mataram treasury, which Trunajaya had taken with him to Kediri and which, until it was looted by the troops, could have been the source from which Amangkurat II might have repaid the VOC. Amidst the looting, Capt. Tack discovered the ‘golden crown of Majapahit’ – a legacy from Java’s greatest pre-Islamic kingdom, which was treasured by the dynasty, although it was not one of the sacred holy regalia (pusaka) of the kingdom. Rather than returning this with appropriate dignity to Amangkurat II, Tack arrogantly told the king that he was prepared to sell him the crown for 1000 Spanish Real (a very large amount at that time). Amangkurat II agreed and thereby regained the golden crown, but later proved unwilling to pay this debt. (The crown was last seen in public in 1739, when Pakubuwana II wore it on a royal progress to Mataram. It was presumably lost forever in the double sackings of the court of Kartasura in 1742.) In 1682, Tack commanded the VOC force that conquered Banten, a role that also made him the object of suspicion in the court of Kartasura.

As tensions rose between Kartasura and Batavia, the latter faced other difficulties in the presence of robber bands that threatened the security of Batavia itself. Among these were escaped Balinese slaves; the most prominent was a man called Surapati, about whom many legends arose, many of them not to be trusted. He was to become the most hated and feared of all the Company’s enemies. In 1683 Surapati was allowed to enter the VOC’s military service, but the following year he and his followers turned on 39 Company soldiers and killed about half of them. A VOC force of 800 men was sent out to attack ‘the murderous Surapati’ and indeed inflicted heavy losses. Surapati and his surviving followers fled eastwards and found a welcome at Kartasura. There an anti-VOC party led by the Patih (chief administrative officer) Anrangkusuma saw in Surapati a useful tool for dealing with the Company and its unwelcome demands on the trade and finances of the kingdom. The Company insisted that the king capture Surapati but he refused to do so.

As various tales circulated, the court awaited the arrival of Capt. Tack at the head of a VOC mission. When he arrived at the court in February 1686, his party was attacked by Surapati’s Balinese band and by Javanese disguised as Balinese. There is much confusion in the records of the time, but it is reasonably clear that the king himself was party to this plot. Some 75 European soldiers, including Tack, were killed.

Surapati left the court and went east, establishing his authority over Pasuruan and later expanding his control westward into Kartasura territories. After a time, Angrangkusuma also left Kartasura. In March 1686, what remained of the VOC garrison at the court was withdrawn to the coast, taking Tack’s body with them. There was now no VOC presence in Kartasura.

In the following years, the court of Amangkurat II gradually disintegrated, as did his influence over the outlying districts of the kingdom. By the 1690s, when the letter in the following document was written, the king had been forced to conclude that he might have need of VOC support – as he had at the start of his reign – and that therefore there would be benefit in ending the hostile relationship with the Company.

The king made some payments towards his debt to the Company in 1694, 1696 and 1699, and promised more. He also proposed that he should send an ambassador to Batavia, and the Company informed him that this would be welcome.

In October 1696, the king’s uncle Pangeran Adipati Natakusuma, led such an embassy. He delivered a letter from the king which was submissive in tone, sought forgiveness for past wrongs and asked for a statement of what he still owed the Company. The letter, however, also emphasised that the kingdom and its people were poor and thus unable to pay large sums. Amangkurat II also asked for Company military assistance. (In late 1698 he wrote to the Company saying that Surapati had taken Madiun and was preparing to attack Kartasura itself.)

The letter which follows was the Company’s reply – sharp, self-righteous and condemnatory.

The letter opened with a pointed version of the usual salutations and praise, expressing the hope that Amangkurat II would govern his good subjects in peace and justice, and drive away all evil persons from his court and kingdom – and the VOC was certain there were many in the latter category.

Natakusuma’s embassy was then mentioned along with the contents of the royal letter it had brought.

Then the Company’s letter proceeded to a long list of all of the king’s failings and all that it righteously demanded of him. It repeated its demand for compensation of all of its costs in aiding the dynasty. Not only had this recompense not been received, said the letter, but to the contrary in 1686 Tack was murdered contrary to the standards of even ‘barbarian and heathen’ peoples. And instead of capturing Surapati, the king allowed him and Anrangkusuma to escape. The Company had also intercepted letters written by Amangkurat II and Anrangkusuma a few days before the killing of Tack to a Minangkabau adventurer named Raja Sakti (Ahmad Syah ibn Iskandar), who was a pretender to the throne of Minangkabau. He had hoped to establish a widely based anti-VOC alliance. Raja Sakti was referred to also in this VOC letter, where he is called Yang Dipertuan.

The king was told that his disloyal officials were wresting control of his kingdom from his hands – a statement that was indeed true – and that some were in correspondence with Surapati. The time would soon come, warned Batavia, when these evil-doers would topple the king from his throne. All of the king’s excuses for not dealing with this crisis were dismissed as ‘frivolous and loose prattle’.

The Company was also in the midst of transferring its north coastal headquarters from Jepara to Semarang, and demanded that the king assist with that and transfer various areas to the authority of Semarang, so that the latter was endowed with sufficient resources. There was also trouble over the VOC garrison post at Surabaya, where Pangeran Lamongan of Keputren (in the letter called ‘Pangeran Keputren’) had closed off access to the interior and, thus, access to food and other supplies. The VOC thought better of the Surabaya lord Angabei Jangrana II who, along with Pangeran Cakraningrat II of Madura, was expanding control over areas of East Java.

As for the royal debt, the Company demanded 1,367,017 Spanish Real, an enormous amount, but offered to accept part of it in the form of rice and other crops.

This was, therefore, not a letter that was seeking reconciliation or compromise. It arrogantly demanded the complete submission of a king who was known to be hard-pressed from several sides, losing control of his court and of his kingdom, and with nowhere else to turn. While Batavia may have thought that Amangkurat II was desperate, it is still hard to imagine that Batavia really expected him to give in. It seems more likely that the VOC felt that, since there was only a small likelihood that the king would accept all of the Company’s demands, it might as well set out its manifold claims against Amangkurat II in extensive, uncompromising detail.

So this letter also reflected a bitter lesson that the VOC had learned – reluctantly – during more than two decades of direct involvement in the Javanese kingdom. That is, that it could cajole, complain, insist and threaten, but in the end, it had no means by which it could, by itself, impose its will on the Javanese court. In reality, the Company could only achieve its aims in the interior of Java if it had local allies to work with.



M. C. Ricklefs. War, culture and economy in Java, 1677–1726: Asian and European imperialism in the early Kartasura period. Sydney: Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with Allen and Unwin, 1993.


M. C. Ricklefs, “Letter of the Supreme Government to Susuhunan Amangkurat II (r. 1677-1703), 20 April 1697”. In: Harta Karun. Hidden Treasures on Indonesian and Asian-European History from the VOC Archives in Jakarta, document 13. Jakarta: Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, 2014.