On This Day

A Palace Assassination that Altered Myanmar’s History

By Wei Yan Aung 2 August 2019

YANGON—It was 153 years ago today that the Prince of Kanaung, the younger brother and heir apparent of King Mindon, was assassinated in Mandalay, changing the course of Myanmar’s history.

In an unsuccessful palace coup on Aug. 2, 1866, Prince Kanaung was beheaded by the princes of Myingun and Myinkhondaing, both King Mindon’s sons, at a cabinet meeting in the palace. A minister and some officials were killed along with Kanaung, who was just 36 at the time.

King Mindon, however, managed to escape the assassination. Rebel forces led by the two princes fired at the palace with guns and cannons for the whole evening. But royal forces finally crushed the revolt, and the two princes fled to Yangon, which had already fallen to the British.

Kanaung was known as a reformist crown prince and was idolized by the people. He initiated a number of modernization programs together with his brother. Under his direction, dozens of students were sent to Europe, including for military training. Modern factories were built, including those for arms and ammunition, as well as coins.

After the unsuccessful coup, however, a civil war broke out between forces loyal to the king and rival princely factions, causing Kanaung’s modernization efforts to lose momentum.

The power struggle escalated after the death of King Mindon in 1878, and the whole country eventually fell into the hands of the British.

Prince Lin Bin, the son of Kanaung, was a prominent figure in the anti-colonial movement. In 1978 his granddaughter June Rose Bellamy (better known in Myanmar as Yadana Nat Mel) married General Ne Win, the military strongman who had staged a coup in 1962. Their marriage only lasted a few months and Yadana Nat Mel, who is also a great granddaughter of Prince Kanaung, now lives in Italy.