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Chakkri Dynasty

Thai kingship became, over the centuries, ever more elaborate, combining ideas of righteous kingship with magical divinity, with a thaumaturgic or magical appeal to reach across society. The names of the Kings of the Chakri Dynasty are long and complex and take various forms. It is customary that the sovereign's name is longer than that of anyone else in the Kingdom and the full royal name and title, as inscribed on a golden name plate at the time of the coronation, is impractical for daily use. Several different systems for naming the kings have developed over the years.

In the reign of King Rama III it was decided that the first two kings of the Chakri Dynasty should be accorded a personal name. Hitherto, people had referred to these two kings as "The King of the Foremost Reign" and "The King of the Middle Reign." King Rama III had two large golden Buddha images made and dedicated them to the first two kings and decreed that they be known as King Buddha Yot Fa and King Buddha Loet La. He himself became King Nang Klao. His successors became King Chom Klao [Mongkut], King Chula Chom Klao [Chulalongkorn], King Mongkut Klao (Vajiravudh) and King Pok Klao [Prajadhipok]. Abroad and to foreigners living within the country these kings were known by other names - the personal name they had before their accession - hence King Mongkut, King Chulalongkorn, King Vajiravudh and King Prajadhipok, and this custom was continued during the two subsequent reigns with King Ananda Mahidol and King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

King Rama I (1782-1809)

With the death of Taksin, the Thai throne fell to Chakkri, a general who had played a leading role with Taksin in the struggle against the Burmese. As King Yot Fa (Rama I, 1782-1809), he founded the present Thai ruling house. During an energetic reign, he revived the country's economy and restored what remained of the great artistic heritage lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya. The king is credited with composing a new edition of the Ramakian (the Thai version of the Ramayana) to replace manuscripts of the Thai national epic that were lost in the conflagration.

Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok the Great, the first king of the Chakri Dynasty, moved the capital from Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and established the new capital on the east bank. This new capital was named Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (Bangkok), or the City of Angels. He had the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple built in the style of the palace in Ayutthaya.

In the beginning, the Ayutthaya palace architecture, and the style of government and social management were followed. The king decreed that the Three Seals Code be compiled from the former laws of the Ayutthaya Period, which were still used as the basis for governing. The sakdina system, the foundation of the Ayutthaya society, was also used in Rattanakosin. The slavery system was improved and made more efficient; the numbers and names of people from the ruling class who owned slaves were tattooed on the slaves' wrists. Throughout his 27 years as king, Phra Phutthayot-fa, the first king of Rattanakosin, devoted his time to restoring the nation and the culture that had almost been extinguished at the end of the Ayutthaya Period.

King Rama II (1809-1824)

When King Rama I died, his oldest son ascended the throne as Phra Phutthaloetla. His reign was considered to be the golden age of art and culture because the country was peaceful and did not have any war. Trade was prosperous, and, more importantly, the king was a philosopher and talented poet. He was regarded as a highly skilled artist and major poet. He ordered that many new temples be constructed around Bangkok, and he carved the wooden door of the viharn in Wat Suthat Wanaram himself. This wood carving is recognized as the best work of its kind in Rattanakosin, and is presently kept in the National Museum.

King Rama III (1824-1851)

The reign of King Rama III, which began in 1824, was the age of trade because the king had extensive contacts and trade with foreign countries, especially China. Royal Thai ships carried goods such as pepper and sugar from Thailand to China for sale. This trade was in the form of a monopoly, as the goods had to be sold only to the Royal Treasury. The profits from such direct trade greatly increased the country's financial prosperity.

Chakkri expansionism had been halted in all directions by the end of the reign of Nang Klao (Rama III, 1824-51) as tributary provinces began to slip away from Bangkok's control and Western influence grew. In 1822 John Crawfurd was sent to Bangkok to negotiate a treaty with the suzerain power, but the mission was unsuccessful. In 1824, by treaty with the Dutch, British interests became paramount in the Malay Peninsula and in Siam, and, two years later, Captain Burney signed the first treaty of friendship and commerce between England and Siam. A similar treaty was effected with America in 1833. Subsequently trade with British possessions revived, and in time a more elaborate treaty with England became desirable. In 1850 Nang Klao spurned British and American requests for more generous trading privileges similar to those that Western powers had exacted by force from China. Succeeding Thai monarchs, however, were less successful in controlling Western economic influence in their country.

King Rama VI (1910-1925)

Chulalongkorn's son and successor, Vajiravudh (Rama VI, 1910- 25), had received his education in Britain. As much as the theme of modernization had typified the policies of his father, Vajiravudh's reign was characterized by support of nationalism. The king wrote extensively on nationalist themes. He also organized and financed a military auxiliary, the Wild Tiger Corps, which he looked on as a means of spreading nationalist fervor.

The reign of King Rama VI was a period when Siam underwent many social changes in preparation for the country to modernize further and step completely into the democratic system. The king introduced the democratic system by creating a model city called " Dusit Thani." He ordered that the people's representatives must be elected according to a constitution. There would be a government formed by a political party, together with an opposition party, in the model city. Besides this, he also reformed the education system by announcing that education was compulsory. Chulalongkorn University, the first university in the country, was established at this time. Regarding freedom of thought, he gave exten-sive opportunity to express opinions in the press. The king himself also expressed his own views concerning politics and society under several pen names, such as "Sri Ayudhya" and "Ramchitti." The king's encouragement and creation of an atmosphere for free thinking assisted in laying the foundation of a democratic atmosphere, and was also partly responsible for the revolution at a later date.

To the consternation of his advisers, who still smarted from Siam's territorial losses to France, Vajiravudh declared war on Germany and took Siam into World War I on the side of the Allies, sending a token expeditionary force to the Western front. This limited participation, however, won Siam favorable amendments to its treaties with France and Britain at the end of the war and also gained a windfall in impounded German shipping for its merchant marine. Siam took part in the Versailles peace conference in 1919 and was a founding member of the League of Nations.

King Rama VII (1925-1935)

King Rama VI reigned for 15 years before he died. His brother Prince Prajadhipok succeeded him as King Rama VII of the Chakri Dynasty. Early in his reign, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII, 1925-35) showed a tendency to share responsibility for political decision making with his ministers. He also appointed an advisory council to study the possibility of providing the country with a constitution, but its royalist members advised against such a measure. The civil bureaucracy, by contrast, considered the time ripe for such a move. It was a time of economic depression all over the world following the Great War. Rice, which used to provide the principal income of the country, had a much lower price, and inflation spread worldwide. These factors had an inevitable impact on his government. To find solutions to these crises, the king had to cut the court budget, reduce the salaries of some government officials, and dismiss others. Discontent among the political elite grew in reaction to retrenchment in government spending, which necessitated severe cutbacks in the numbers of civil servants and military personnel, the demotion in rank of others, and the cancellation of government programs. These events caused dissatisfaction among some government officials.

During that time a trend to change to the new democratic power system was prevalent. This notion originated with the new intellectuals, those who had completed their studies in Western countries. These young men had seen the new government system at first hand and wished to change Thailand from an absolute monarchy into a democratic system. Therefore, in the year when the Chakri Dynasty had ruled for 150 years, on 24 June 1932, a group of people who called themselves "the People's Party" staged a coup d'etat.

In March 1935, Prajadhipok abdicated without naming a successor, charging the Phahon government with abuse of power in curtailing the royal veto. He went into retirement in Britain. His ten-year-old nephew, Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII, 1935-46), who was attending school in Switzerland, was named king to succeed him, and a regency council was appointed to carry out those functions of the monarchy retained under the constitution.

King Rama VIII (1935-1946)

The King was replaced by his young nephew Ananda Mahidol (or Rama VIII). The new king was only 10 years old and was living abroad in Switzerland at the time while a leader of the 1932 Revolution was his regent. Prince Mahidol, father of Bhumibol and his elder brother Ananda, did not care much about the Thai monarchy entrenched in old ritual and intrigues but preferred to stay overseas. The Thai monarchy was under severe threat during the World War II. The authoritarian government led by Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram tried to control the monarchy, and the young monarch. After the agreement allowing the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces to settle in the kingdom, royal relatives and some leading political figures played an important anti-Japanese role in the Free Thai Movement or Serithai.

After the war in the Pacific ended, in August 1945, the Thai government requested the King to return and boost the morale of his subjects. King Ananda Mahidol, accompanied by Somdech Phra Rajajonani Sri Sangwalya, the Princess Mother, and His Royal Highness Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Royal Brother, came back to Thailand in November of that year. Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana, the Royal Sister, was not included in the royal party, as she was married and had just given birth to a daughter that month.

On this visit, the Thai people observed with delight that their young monarch had matured into a fine young man and had performed royal duties at a number of events, involving international relations and domestic politics. He drew the most satisfaction from the opportunities to talk to farmers upcountry. His royal brother accompanied him and took pictures all the time. They were both scheduled to return to Switzerland to continue their studies. His Majesty King Ananda Mahidol was also preparing to pay state visits to the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Ananda Mahidol, King Bhumibol's older brother, died in bed at the palace in Bangkok of a mysterious gunshot wound on 04 June 1946. The question that raged all the rest of that year among Siamese specialists was, "Who shot Ananda Mahidol?" Was it an agent of leftist-leaning, Moscow-trained Prime Minister Pradit (Pridi) Phanyomong, to whom young Ananda had been opposed. No one can answer this question. All concerned people - his pages, his secretary - were executed. Only king Ananda's mother, and younger brother (who became King Rama IX), who had met him in the king's bedroom about 15 minutes before his death, knew the answer. It is absolutely impossible to rule out a suicide.

After the Rama VIIIs mysterious death in 1946 his brother, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX), aged 19 years old, became the new monarch, Rama IX.

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