Royalty: Kings & Queens,  Prince's & Princess's    page 6

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King Rama IV  Phrachomklao

(King Mongkut)  1851 - 1868

Born in Bangkok on October 18th, 1804 King Monkut entered a monastery shortly before the accession of his elder half-brother King Rama III and spent 27 years as an abbot before mounting the throne as king a unique situation in the history of any country. He was the first Thai King to learn the English language and entered into correspondence with foreign rulers.

In  particular Queen Victoria of England, the Pope and the American President. King Mongkut (Rama IV reigned 1851-68) was the first of two successive outstanding rulers whose willingness to modernize and to establish friendly relations with the Western powers enabled their country to escape colonial conquest. Before succeeding his brother on the throne, Mongkut served 27 years as a Buddhist monk learned to speak English and studied Western history and science. As king, Rama IV introduced European-style education established the first printing press, and hired foreign experts to modernize Siam's government and economy. The most controversial act during the reign of Rama IV was the signing of the ‘Bowring Treaty’ under duress from Great Britain.

This treaty granted extra-territoriality rights and other privileges to British citizens. In effect under this treaty the British were free to do as they pleased in Thailand. They could import previously banned items like opium and gold bullion, all royal monopolies were canceled, import and export duties were taxed at a flat rate of 3%, and no British citizen could be arrested and or tried in a Thai court. The treaty was much to the benefit of Britain and could never be canceled without her permission. Virtually every European power and America rushed to sign a similar treaty. The treaty was more economical than making Thailand a colony because all the benefits of a colony were obtained without any obligation to build roads, schools, establish postal services, build railroads, etc.

The Royal Crown of King MonkutRama IV was a model for the king in Margaret Landon's book ‘Anna and the King of Siam', which was based on the experiences of an English governess at the Siamese court, and from which the musical comedy ‘The King and I’ was adapted.

Phuket became a boom town with all the attendant problems. For a few it offered a continuous wave of prosperity, but for most who labored under the control of the strict Chinese overlords it was a life of relentless toil. Dissatisfaction with working conditions and rivalry between two Chinese secret societies resulted in a miners rebellion in which pitched battles were fought between police and the miners. Eventually the emperor of China dispatched emissaries to broker a peace agreement and keep the mines in operation.

 After working for 3 to 5 years to pay off the debt incurred from their transportation from mainland China, a miner could earn the privilege of mining for themselves. The miner lost 25% of his ore after smelting to the royal tax, 12-15% as a fee for smelting controlled by the Chinese overlords, and owed an additional tax if he attempted to export the tin off the island. The only other option was to sell the tin to a Chinese trading company who had purchased export rights from the Thai Royal Court. A select few would prosper and became wealthy beyond imagination but it was the rare exception. Statues at ‘Wat Chalong’ pay homage to two famous monks who healed broken bones on both sides as they worked to resolve the crisis and quell the rebellion.

King Monkut's unique personality left its stamp on his country - his keen mind and his quest for knowledge led him into encounters and situations which no Thai king had experienced before. He conducted theological discussions with American missionaries living in Bangkok, delighting in arguing with them about the differences in belief of the Christian and Buddhist religions. He employed an English woman to instruct his children in the English language.

(This was what the film and play "The King and I" was based on.) He undertook the study of western science, his favorite subject being that of astronomy. In 1868 he correctly predicted an eclipse of the sun and invited his doubting courtiers and members of the foreign community in Bangkok him to Sam Roi Yod to view the eclipse. The choice of the site proved to be fever-infested and on his return to Bangkok the King fell ill from malaria and six weeks later, on October 1, 1868, he died.


Queen Debsirindra

1834 - 1861


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King Rama V 

Phrachunlachomklao 

 (King Chulalongkorn)  1868 - 1910

Born in Bangkok on September 20th, 1853. He mounted the throne on October 1st., 1868 following the death of his father, King Monkut.

The first few years of his reign were under a regency. King Chulalongkorn is perhaps the most revered of all the Chakri Kings during his long reign of 42 years great advances were achieved for the country. The King actively pursued a policy of "modernizing" the country and had a number of Europeans in his service to oversee such projects as the building of the first railway in Thailand. Besides abolishing slavery and the ancient practice of prostration before the monarch, Chulalongkorn continued the policies of his father and introduced major economic, administrative, educational, and transportation- communications reforms. He continued the vigorous modernization efforts of his father and managed to maintain the country's independence, albeit at considerable cost in territorial concessions.

In 1893 Thailand became embroiled in a boundary dispute with France, which was then the dominant power in Cochin China (Viet Nam), and Cambodia. The French dispatched warships to Bangkok and forced the Thais to yield Cambodia and all of Laos east of the Mekong River. Additional Thai territory, situated west of the Mekong, was acquired by France in 1904 and 1907. Thailand gave up control over four states in the Malay Peninsula to Great Britain in 1909.

The beginning of the 20th century was a period of positive growth for the Island of Phuket. Tin mining boomed, and the very capable and benevolent governor Rasada Korsimbi helped diversify the island’s economy and the capital city of Phuket began its modern expansion.  Rama V was the first Thai king to visit Phuket dramatizing the island’s importance to the central government. He himself made two visits to Europe, one in 1897 and another in 1907, during which he became acquainted with most of the rulers of Europe.

Bonds of friendship between himself and the various European royal families were formed - which exist to the present day. Not only was he the first Thai King to travel abroad, (he made several visits to the Straits Settlements, the Malay States and the Dutch East Indies), but he also sent his sons to study in Europe,  (to school in England and later for military training to Denmark, Germany and Russia).

He successfully managed to cultivate the idea of Siam as a buffer in South-East Asia. The price he paid of losing certain border territories was amply rewarded, for Siam was never colonized - the only country in the region to maintain its sovereignty throughout the period of colonial expansionism. Much beloved by his people he died on October 23rd. 1910.


Queen Sunanda

1860 - 1880


Queen Sukhumala

1861- 1927


    

Copyright 1998 USMTA Inc.  All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2004.