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Rattanakosin Period (1782 -present)

After a brief interlude filled first by civil war then the short-lived Thonburi Kingdom under King Taksin, in 1782 a new Kingdom was established by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (later known as Rama I), who moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. King Rama I also founded the House of Chakri, the current ruling house of Thailand. During the Rattanakosin Period the Chakri Kings tried to continue the concepts of Ayutthaya Kingship once again emphasizing the connection between the sovereign and his subjects. On the other hand they continued to not relinquish any authority of the throne.

In the following years Thai influence grew until challenged by Western powers. In 1795 the Thai seized the provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap in Cambodia, where throughout the first half of the next century Chakkri kings would resist Vietnamese incursions. The conflict between the Thai and the Vietnamese was resolved finally by a compromise providing for the establishment of a joint protectorate over Cambodia. The Thai also pressed their claim to suzerainty in the Malay state of Kedah in the face of growing British interest in the peninsula. As a result of the Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26), Britain annexed territory in the region that had been contested by the Thai and the Burmese for centuries. This move led to the signing of the Burney Treaty in 1826, an Anglo-Thai agreement that allowed British merchants modest trade concessions in the kingdom. In 1833 the Thai reached a similar understanding with the United States.

The first three Chakkri kings, by succeeding each other without bloodshed, had brought the kingdom a degree of political stability that had been lacking in the Ayutthaya period. There was, however, no rule providing for automatic succession to the throne. If there was no uparaja at the time of the king's death -- and this was frequently the case -- the choice of a new monarch drawn from the royal family was left to the Senabodi, the council of senior officials, princes, and Buddhist prelates that assembled at the death of a king. It was such a council that chose Nang Klao's successor. During this period (King Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV) tried to create the first semblance of a modern government,creating ministries and appointing chief ministers to help with the running of the government. Rama IV was significantly interested in the western knowledge. When King Chulalongkorn (or Rama V) ascended the throne as King of Siam in 1868, due to pressure of old generation dignitaries and high officials, he decided to embrace many European and Western ideas. Under the tougher pressure from western imperialists, old tributaries kingdoms of Siam such as Laos and Cambodia came under French control.

Rama V began close contact with the western powers so that Siam could avoid being colonized. King Chulalongkorn himself was educated by Westerners, and was intent on reforming the monarchy along Western lines. First he abolished the practice of kneeling and crawling in front of the monarch and repealed many laws concerning the relationship between the monarch and his people. Instead he created a monarchy based on western lines of an ‘enlightened ruler’; absolute but enlightened. However he continued to preserve many ancient aspects and rituals of the old kingship, including his religious and feudal powers. His son King Vajiravudh (or Rama VI) (succeeded in 1910) continued his father’s zeal for reform and brought the monarchy into the 20thcentury. He was succeeded by his brother King Prajadhipok (or Rama VII) in 1925.

In June 1932, a group of foreign educated students and military men called “the Promoters” carried out a bloodless coup, or so-called Revolution, seizing power and demanded that King Prajadhipok grant the people of Siam a constitution. The King agreed and in December 1932 the people were granted a charter, ending almost exactly 150 years of absolute Chakri rule. From then on the role of the monarch was supposedly relegated to that of a symbolic head of state. Yet his majesty is traditionally revered and inviolable according to the Constitutions. The king no longer had power in issuing laws and orders. In 1935 King Pradhipok abdicated the throne, following disagreements with the increasingly controversial government. Rama VII lived in asylum in the United Kingdom until his death.




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