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King of Siam 1868-1910


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King Rama V and his Queen

King Chulalongkorn and The Queen Regent Sri Bajarindra



His Majesty King Chulalongkorn, Fifth Rama of the Chakri Dynasty, was born on 20 September 1853, eldest son of Their Majesties King Mongkut and Queen Dhebsirindra. He became King of Siam both Northen and Southern and all its Dependencies, Laos Chiang, Laos Kao, Malays, Kareans etc., etc., etc.,... on 1 October 1868. His Majesty King Rama V came to the throne at the age of 16 and died as one of Siam's most loved and revered kings, after a remarkable reign of 42 years. Modern Thailand may be said to be a product of the comprehensive and progressive reforms of his reign, for these touched almost every aspects of Thai life. The King faced the western world with an eager attitude, and adapted some Western ideas and inventions in progressing Thailand to a modern and up-to-date future.

He was properly prepared to take the throne by his father, King Mongkut, or Rama IV, though at that time the person who would become King would have to be chosen by a Council of Senior Royals and Statesmen. King Mongkut has lefte instructions that he himself would choose his eldest full Royal son. When King Mongkut passed away, Prince Chulalongkorn was 15 and though chosen to be the Fifth Rama, the kingdom was governed by a Regency Council until he turned 18. In between, the prince travelled to India, Singapore and Java to meet the European colonisers so he could learn from then, a turning point at which would eventually save Siam from being colonised.

He was the first King to travel to the Western countries and avoided Thailand from being colonized through careful negotiations with the English, French and Portuguese. He was particularly closed to His Imperial Majesty Tzar Nicholas II of Russia, who visited Thailand once while he was the Tzarevich. King Rama V also travelled extensively throughout his kingdom for he was passionately interested in his subjects' welfare and was intent on the monarchy assuming a more visible role in society. He would often travelled incognito, and joined in local celebrations without anybody realizing he was the King. In this way, he was able to witness the real lives his subjects lead, as well as to see how he could improve the livelihood of his people.

During his reign, communications system was revolutionized, the post and telegraph services were introduced and a railway network was built. Such advances enabled the central government to improve its control over outlying provinces. He also brought in some parts of the democratic system and adapted to his own way of leading his people, as a way of bringing Siam into the modern age. Though Siam was under absolute monarchy during his reign, he saw that without any changes, there could never be a modern Siam. The love for His Majesty King Chulalongkorn has never been erased from his subjects' minds, even to this day.

The King had as his main consorts, 3 half sisters, namely Their Majesties Queen Sri Bajarindra, the Queen Regent, Queen Sri Savarindira, the Queen Grand Mother of HM King Bhumibol, and Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, daughters of His Majesty King Monkut and Somdetch Pra Piyamavadi. He also had other consorts who became royal mothers to his numerous children. All in all, there were 153 consorts, and 77 children. Only 15 Royal Houses decended from his children, saying that there were only 19.5% probability on the survival of a child in those days.

His Majesty passed away on 23 October 1910, at the age of 57 years old.

King Mongkut and his son
The then Prince Chulalongkorn with his father, King Mongkut (Rama IV)
Rama V's 1st Coronation
First Coronation photo of King Chulalongkorn in 1868, taken by Francis Chit
King Rama V in Coronation Robe
Another photo of King Chulalongkorn in full Coronation Robe

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King Chulalongkorn was the first Siamese King to go abroad, and on his two trips to Europe the King managed to create long-lasting friendships with many members of the European Royal Families. In turn, many foreign royals visited Siam as guests of the King, and to learn first hand of an exotic land to the East, ruled by a very learned King who was both amusing as well as enquiring, and very good company as mentioned by many. In his friendship with foreign royals, on equal footing, Siam was able to keep her independance, though in these negotiations, it cost us dearly, paying with cash, rice and land.

King Chulalongkorn in India King Chulalongkorn visits Java King Chulalongkorn and Shah Abbas II King Rama V in Russia
King Chulalongkorn on a visit to India, 1871 Java, 1896 With Shah Abbas II, Egypt, 1897 With his great friend, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna, 1897
King Chulalongkorn visited Bismarck King Rama V is boarding his yacht King Chulalongkorn in France King Rama V in Germany
King Chulalongkorn visited The Prince of Bismarck in Germany, 1897 King Chulalongkorn is seen boarding the Royal Yacht Maha Chakri, leaving Bangkok for his second European trip, April 1907 At Rambouillet Train Station, France, 1907 King Chulalongkorn in Germany, 1907
King Chulalongkorn with Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia King Rama V and Prince Henry of Prussia King Rama V and Prince Valdemar Duke Johann Albrecht in Siam
One of the first foreign Royal Visit to Siam was by Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia, seen here with King Chulalongkorn and Prince George of Greece and Denmark, 1891 King Chulalongkorn with Prince Henry of Prussia, in Siam, 1898 King Chulalongkorn with Prince Valdemar of Denmark (right) and the then Crown Prince Maha Vajiravudh, in Siam, 1909 Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg on the back of an elephant, during his visit to Siam, 1910
Chakri Order Royal Decoration to Karl Ludwig of Austria King Chulalongkorn's Presentation Notebook King Rama V European Travel pendant
King Chulalongkorn gave many Siamese Orders to foreign monarchs and princes during his visits abroad King Chulalongkorn granted a Royal Decoration to Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria in 1883 King Chulalongkorn's Presentation Notebook, with etched metal front carrying a porcelain painting of the king, given to as gifts. This one was given to a captain of a ship he boarded. King Chulalongkorn's commemorative medal/pendant marking his return from the second European Trip, 1907
King Rama V and Queen Victoria Letters to Queen Saovabha Pongsri Collection of Letters of King Rama V Weighted Ticket of King Chulalongkorn
Many newspapers reported the king's visits to Europe, giving information about Siam and its royal family. Collection of letters written by King Rama V to Queen Sri Bajarindra during his first trip to Europe in 1897 Collection of letters of King Chulalongkorn written to his daughter during the 2nd European Trip An electronic weighted ticket of King Chulalongkorn, Paris, 1907

42 years of rule was and is still considered a very long time for a monarch. And, King Chulalongkorn did so much in those years, marking important pivotal points in the history of Siam. We can be very certain that without King Chulalongkorn, Siam and Thailand today would look very different. We came on the brinks of becoming colonised, by one or more super-powers at the time. As the kingdom is situated between different colonised countries, a wrong move could have divided up the country to share between major players.

King Rama V's will to Chao Chom Manda Cham King Rama V letters Schedule for Prince Henry of Prussia King Rama V's personal note
A will signed by King Chulalongkorn for Chao Chom Manda Cham, mother of Prince Pravitra King Chulalongkorn's letter instructing the farming on Prince Asdang's land A detailed itinerary of the Official Visit of Prince and Princess Henry of Prussia as Guests of the King in 1898 One of King Chulalongkorn's many personal notes
Teachings of King Chulalongkorn

From my personal collection of important papers, including King Chulalongkorn's will to his son, my great-grandfather Prince Pravitra and his mother, Chao Chom Manda Cham, as well as from other notes and letters, they show him as a truly brilliant King and an individual. He thought about his kingdom, people and family all the time, compartmentalising everything so neatly, with the aim of bringing benefits to everyone in the best way possible. I don't think there is any monarch, absolute or constitutional, who has done so much in such a wideranging way, benefiting as many people as possible within his country. It is truly amazing, and yet all is very much overlooked and forgotten. Many Thais only know that the king aboloshed slavery and that's it. It is very sad indeed.

On a very personal note, everyone should accept that facts are facts. We Thais are very lucky to be who we are, and to have what we have today. Out nation is very much intact with our own language, history, culture and identity. And yet most of the time, we take it all for granted. It is important to look back and understand, as well as remember, our own history. Sadly, the Thai people, as well as our government and the education system overlook this important knowledge. We can ultimately learn from the past.

At left is the original teachings handed out to his eldest 4 sons who were sent to be educated abroad in 1885. The English translation can be read through the link, to the commemorative book printed for the funeral of Prince Kitiyakara, eldest son of King Chulalongkorn.

Updated 21 October 2020