*Diogo Veloso a Portuguese in Cambodia
* Portuguese in President Lincoln's Foreign Legion
Coming soon - research
Diogo Veloso, of Amarante - A Portuguese native in Cambodia
The presence of the Portuguese in Asia during the sixteenth century is marked by
many historical figures whose adventures were so extraordinary that they appear to us
today to border on the fantastic.
Among these, Diogo Veloso, a man from Amarante, a small town in the north of
Portugal, left a permanent Portuguese mark in the kingdom of Cambodia. His
adventures, now forgotten in Portugal, deserve to be told. Unfortunately, some of the
facts surrounding his life have not been adequately recorded or studied.
Let us summarize what we do know about this famous personage, who was clearly so
proud of his native town that in all contemporary documents he is referred to as 'Diogo
Veloso, of Amarante'.
The first reference to Cambodia to reach Portugal appears in 1511, when Afonso of
Albuquerque conquers Malacca and writes to King D. Manuel about the kingdom.
Tome Pires, in Suma Oriental, describes the country and its products in some detail.
Fernão Mendes Pinto in Peregrinacao and Camoes in “Os Lusiadas” also speak of
Cambodia. But how did our Diogo Veloso end up there?
The Dominican Friar Caspar da Cruz, a native of Evora, was the first missionary to
depart from Malacca for Cambodia, in September 1555. From his letters it is clear that
he came into contact with Portuguese merchants already there. The work of the
missionaries, however, was not particularly fruitful, due to a combination of a deeply
Buddhist population and hostile local authorities.
The frequent wars between the kings of Cambodia and Siam led the monarchs of both
countries to attempt to attract the services of Portuguese soldiers, whose courage and
expertise with firearms were well known throughout the Orient.
King Satha of Cambodia (1570-1596) employed many Portuguese soldiers. This is
how, in 1582 or 1583, Diogo Veloso arrived in Cambodia. Various sources hint that he
was born in Amarante in either 1558 or 1559. With him were Pantaleao Carneiro of
Lisbon, Francisco Machado, Francisco Sa Grego and certainly many others. But Diogo
Veloso soon proved his exceptional worth and climbed the military hierarchy, gaining
the King's high regard in the process. We know that he spoke the Khmer language
and that he married the cousin of the King - two details that reveal the high social
position he had reached.
In 1592, some Spaniards arrived in Cambodia from Manila in the Philippines. One of
these, Bias Ruiz de Herman Gonzales, believed to have been born in Ciudad Real,
was to become Veloso's lifelong companion and to share with him the trust of the King.
The following year, faced with the threat of invasion by the Siamese, the King of
Cambodia sent Veloso and Blaz Ruiz to Manila with a letter, written on July 20th 1593
on a thin sheet of gold, asking for help from the governor of the Philippines, Gomez
Peres Dasmarinas. The governor replied offering to mediate between the two parties
in conflict. Killed shortly afterwards, he was succeeded by a son, Luiz Peres
Dasmarinas, who himself sent a letter with Veloso, signed in Manila on February 8th
When Veloso and his companions returned to Cambodia, they found that the country
had been invaded by the King of Siam. There were a series of battles and they were
taken prisoner, with Veloso being injured in the process. All of the captured
Portuguese and Spanish soldiers were sent to Siam. Diogo Veloso was forced to
march over land, together with the priests Jorge de Mota, Luis da Fonseca and
Gregorio Ruiz. Bias Ruiz followed aboard a Siamese ship. During the sea voyage, the
prisoners revolted, captured the crew, and dropped them ashore. Led by Bias Ruiz
they then changed course for Manila.
Veloso was taken to Ayuthia, the capital of Siam. By the time he arrived, however, he
had worked his charm on the King, who decided to free him and send him to
accompany a Siamese Embassy that was leaving for Manila. Upon reaching Malacca,
Veloso learned about the rebellion and escape of Bias Ruiz. Gaining strength from the
Portuguese fortress nearby, he refused to carry on his journey with the Siamese. Soon
after, armed with a letter from the Bishop of Malacca, D. Joao Ribeiro Gaio, he
departed for Manila, arriving on June 1st 1595. Together with Bias Ruiz, he attempted
to convince the local authorities to intervene in Cambodia, on the side of King Satha
who they assumed was still on the throne. The governor agreed to sign a treaty on
August 3rd 1595, together with Veloso, who was now acting as an Ambassador for the
King of Cambodia. This treaty endorsed the deployment of Spanish forces into
Cambodia and stated that the King and Queen should be converted to Catholicism.
Did Veloso, who had been separated from his King for such a long period of time, have
the authority to sign such a document? It seems that the question never entered his
mind. For him, the important issue was clearly the urgency of obtaining troops to be
sent in to help free Cambodia.