The Giyanti Agreement and the Untold Story of Prince Tirtakusuma


The discussions about the Giyanti Agreement or the Mangkubumen War, which erupted roughly three hundred years ago in Java, revolve around three key figures: Raden Mas Said (later titled Prince Mangkunegara I), Prince Mangkubumi (later Sultan Hamengku Buwana I), and Susuhunan Pakubuwana II of the Surakarta Palace. One of these figures, Prince Mangkunegara I, is extensively chronicled in the magnum opus of historian Merle C. Ricklefs, “Sambernyawa: The Story of the Struggle of an Indonesian National Hero, Prince Mangkunegara I (1726–1795)” (2021). However, this book also reveals several “minor” yet significant figures from the Giyanti period, one of whom is Prince Tirtakusuma.

Prince Tirtakusuma, often referred to in Javanese philological sources as Prince Pancuran, nearly ascended to rule the Mataram Islamic Kingdom. According to Babad Panambangan, Tirtakusuma’s real name was Raden Mas Ngali. He was the son of Prince Mangkunegara Sepuh, the son of Sunan Amangkurat IV, and a Madurese princess named Raden Ayu Rana Asmara. As the eldest son, Mas Ngali played a pivotal role in the life of his half-brother, Raden Mas Said.

Around 1728, following the death of his beloved wife, R.A. Wulan (the mother of R.M. Said), Prince Mangkunegara Sepuh fell into deep melancholy. Concurrently, Sunan Pakubuwana II, feeling threatened by the charismatic and beloved Mangkunegara Sepuh, conspired with Patih Danureja to trap him. They slandered Mangkunegara Sepuh, accusing him of seducing one of the Sunan’s concubines. Consequently, the Sunan requested the VOC (Dutch East India Company) to exile Mangkunegara Sepuh off Java Island, a request that was initially declined by the company. As a compromise, Mangkunegara Sepuh was exiled to Batavia under VOC house arrest and allowed to bring only one wife, one son, and several followers. Thus, Mas Ngali, the eldest son, accompanied his father to Batavia in 1728.

In Batavia, young Mas Ngali was separated from his siblings and served his father. Misfortune struck again when Mangkunegara Sepuh was exiled to Sri Lanka, while Mas Ngali was ordered to remain in Batavia. Renamed Tirtakusuma, the young prince was placed in Pancuran, now known as Pancoran in South Jakarta. Here, Prince Tirtakusuma frequently attempted to return to his homeland but was continuously thwarted.

Tirtakusuma’s longing to return to Mataram was exploited by the VOC to intervene in the kingdom’s politics. The 1743 treaty between the VOC and Mataram Kingdom marked the beginning of this exploitation. The VOC offered assistance to Sunan Pakubuwana II, whose palace had been captured by rebels, in exchange for the northern coastal region of East Java. This offer was a trap, aiming to depose Pakubuwana II if he refused. Surprisingly, Pakubuwana II accepted, thwarting the VOC’s plan to install Tirtakusuma as a puppet king.

Following the Panaraga Agreement, Tirtakusuma actively corresponded with Raden Mas Said, who was involved in the Geger Pacinan rebellion. According to the Babad Giyanti and Babad Panambangan, Tirtakusuma repeatedly urged his brother to cease rebelling against Mataram and the Company. Ricklefs (2021) notes that Tirtakusuma’s closeness to his brother was exploited by the VOC, who sent negotiation letters to R.M. Said, often including personal letters from Tirtakusuma.

The VOC’s strategy peaked on May 11, 1753, when they attempted to return the body of Prince Mangkunegara Sepuh to R.M. Said. Prince Tirtakusuma accompanied the funeral procession as a “negotiation dowry.” During the negotiations in Semarang, R.M. Said insisted on becoming the King of Mataram and demanded the return of his father’s body and his brother Tirtakusuma. The VOC only agreed to return the body, as Tirtakusuma himself refused to reunite with his brother, opting to stay in Semarang.

While Ricklefs suggests Tirtakusuma’s reluctance indicates loyalty to the VOC, the Babad Giyanti offers a different perspective. Tirtakusuma once warned his brother, “Do not negotiate with the company; do not be like me, who was deceived; do not be like me, who has been bewitched by the company.” This suggests Tirtakusuma remained loyal to R.M. Said and distanced himself to support his brother’s rebellion.

Four years after Tirtakusuma’s move to Semarang, R.M. Said ascended the throne as Adipati Arya Mangkunegara I and established the Mangkunegaran Principality. Tragically, Tirtakusuma did not live to see his brother’s success, having passed away in Semarang a few years earlier.

The story of Prince Tirtakusuma, often overshadowed by the more prominent figures of the Giyanti period, reveals the complexities and human dimensions of historical events. His life, marked by exile, political manipulation, and unwavering loyalty, adds depth to our understanding of this tumultuous era in Javanese history.