Mindon Min (reigned 1852-1878) was the most able—and modern—of the Konbaung kings, the last Burmese dynasty. Eight years after his death, however, that portion of Burma still under Burmese rule fell to Britain as a result of the Third Anglo-Burmese War.
Half brother of King Pagan Min, who occupied the throne at the start of the short Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, Mindon Min was opposed to the war and, with others, displaced Pagan and sought to achieve an honorable settlement with the British and to minimize the possibility of further Burmese territory falling under British control. The 1852 war had resulted from provocative behavior by the governor of a Burmese province and had given the British just the pretext they wanted to extend their presence in Burma.
Mindon Min, who had left the Buddhist monkhood for the throne in a sincere bid for peace, signalized his goodwill by releasing all Europeans imprisoned by the Burmese. Such a gesture hardly halted the momentum of dynamic British imperialism, however, and Britain acquired as a consequence of its second war with the Burmese the rest of Lower Burma (to add to what it had obtained in the First Anglo-Burmese War a quarter century earlier) including the delta region and territory extending beyond Prome and Toungoo.
The spirit of the Burmese in Burmese-and British-ruled Burma was much sapped by the loss of so much territory in two successive wars. King Mindon Min sought to counter this loss of morale by three means: pursuit of correct and nonprovocative relations with the British, modernization of his backward country's economy, and establishment of the Burmese-ruled portion of Burma as a major world center of the Buddhist faith.
In 1871, Mindon Min, scholarly as well as devoutly religious in his Buddhism, convened at Mandalay (to which he had moved the Burmese capital) the fifth international synod, or council, of the world's Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhists—which further heightened his stature in the eyes of his countrymen. He also modernized the administration of government by establishing a European-style system of fixed salaries in place of the traditional way of assigning districts for the upkeep of officials. And he inaugurated a coinage system and improved communications.
The murder of the heir apparent to the Burmese throne in 1866 caused King Mindon not to designate another successor, and in a country without an orderly monarchical succession pattern, this was probably the greatest mistake of his regime. When Mindon Min died in 1878, a palace plot placed on the throne the extraordinarily unqualified Prince Thibaw, whose incompetence was to be a factor in the replacement of the Burmese Konbaung dynasty in 1885 by the extension of British colonial rule to all parts of Burma.
The Burmese historian Maung Htin Aung treats Mindon Min sympathetically but faithfully in two books, The Stricken Peacock: Anglo-Burmese Relations, 1752-1948 (1965) and A History of Burma (1967). The greatest of the Konbaung monarchs is also viewed favorably by the English historian D. G. E. Hall in two of his works, Burma (1950; 3d. ed. 1960) and Europe and Burma (1945). Mindon Min's rule is described and evaluated, too, by John F. Cady in A History of Modern Burma (1958) and by Dorothy Woodman in The Making of Burma (1962).