Polygamy and Concubinage

Traditionally in Siam polygamy and concubinage were allowed. In the late 19th Century there are four classes of wives recognised, the first being those received from royalty. One of the greatest weakness of traditional Siam was the informality and insecurity of family life. Marriage in Siam was the simplest sort of procedure. For the most part men and woman simply consorted together without ceremony or registration. There was no statute or sentiment against polygamy, and divorce was as easy as marriage.

The traditional practice of the royal family in Siam was polygamous. Relatives of the same blood did not intermarry, but the kings married into their own family, even with their own sisters and daughters. Koyal polygamy in Siam was regarded not as mere sensuality, but as a state engine for binding all the leading families (whose daughters were in the harem) to the King's interests; and also probably for enlightening the King as to the secrets of those families. Of course it cut both ways, and the wives sometimes spied in the interests of their families rather than of the King.

Rama VI Vajiravudh [r. 1910-1925] denounced polygamy and social immorality on every appropriate occasion and let it be known that men who lived by the low animal traditions would not enjoy the royal favor. It would seem that he laid hold clearly of the fundamental axiom that a nation cannot be built except on foundations of personal morality and social righteousness. Unwilling to perpetuate the old conditions and unable probably at this time to establish the principle of monogomy, at first he took the only course open to him and in the face of all Siamese natural sentiment, for a time remained unmarried. No women were allowed in the royal palace, and His Majesty's r visits were preceded by orders that every woman must be removed from the neighborhood of his lodging place.

When King Rama VI married his first wife, Princess Lakshmi, he promised her that there would be no other queens, consorts, or concubines. But a year later, he took two concubines. The Princess was heartbroken and, despite her father's persuasion that the king's devotion was hers, that her position was dignified and secure, that she must accept these other relationships, as Chulalongkorn's queens had done before her, she found it impossible to live with it causing her to live separately from the King.

Somdet Chaofa Prajadhipok Sakdidej was born on 8 November 1893 in Bangkok, Siam to King Chulalongkorn and Queen Saovabha Bongsri. Prince Prajadhipok was the youngest of nine children born to the couple, but overall he was the King's second-youngest child (of a total of 77), and the 33rd and youngest of Chulalongkorn's sons, and very unlikely to succeed to the throne. In August 1918 Prince Prajadhipok married his childhood friend and cousin Mom Chao Rambhai Barni , a descendant of King Mongkut (Prajadhipok's grandfather). The couple had no children. Prajadhipok soon found himself rising rapidly in succession to the throne, as his brothers all died within a relatively short period. In 1925, King Vajiravudh himself died at the age of 44. Prajadhipok became absolute monarch at only thirty-two. He was crowned King King Rama VII of Siam on 25 February 1926.

In the 1935 Civil and Commercial Code, the law permitted the man to officially register one marriage only. But the law did not forbid him from entering into unregistered marriages with other women. Polygamy has therefore never been outlawed.

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