A Full Life
In the early winter morning of 5 December 1927, a baby boy was born to H.R.H. Prince Mahidol of Songkhla and Mom (a Thai royal title) Sangwan at Cambridge Hospital (later called Mt. Auburn Hospital). No one thought at the time that 18 years later, he would accede to the Throne of Thailand.
Although a member of Thai Royalty, his father, H.R.H. Prince Mahidol of Songkhla was far down the line of succession for the Thai Throne. He enrolled at Harvard Medical School to pursue a degree in medicine with the goal to return home to practice in a Thai hospital. As fate would have it, a young woman studying nearby cherished a similar dream. Sangwan Talapat, a commoner, was studying nursing at nearby Simmons College, with the intention of working in a hospital once she returned to Thailand. The couple met, fell in love, wedded in 1920 and had three children. (Princess Galyani Vadhana, Prince Ananda Mahidol and Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej). The Royal infants were not in direct line of succession to the Throne. Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej's prospects looked even less likely when he turned five and 700 years of the Absolute Monarchy were overturned in a bloodless coup, 8,000 miles away from Harvard Square. Nonetheless, his proud parents gave him the auspicious name of "Bhumibol Adulyadej". It was the next to the last of these titles, "Bhumibol" (Strength of the Land), that was to define his role as the future King of Thailand, ninth Monarch of the Chakri Dynasty, which had been established with the founding of Bangkok in 1782.
His birth, on 5 December 1927, far from the land of his forefathers has been recounted numerous times, noting that His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has the unique distinction of being the only foreign Monarch ever born in the United States. The fact of his birth and later international recognition is commemorated on a street sign designating a prominent Cambridge landmark in Massachusetts as King Bhumibol Adulyadej Square.
Upon receiving his medical degree, cum laude, in 1928, Prince Mahidol and his young family returned to Thailand. Shortly after reaching home, Dr. Mahidol began his residency at McCormick Hospital in Chiang Mai; however, he died within a year due to kidney failure.
Shortly afterwards, the young mother, Mom Sangwan took up residence in Bangkok, where Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej began his studies at Mater Dei, a Catholic school in Bangkok in 1933. However, with the change of the political system from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1932, Mom Sangwan (who was later referred to as the Princess Mother) moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where her children continued their studies.
The beauty and peace of Switzerland was the perfect environment to raise the three children. Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej was enrolled at his new school, Miremont, and, after 1935, the Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande secondary school at Chailly on the shore of Lac Leman. The Mahidol family lived a simple life with his elder brother, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej cycled to class each day. She also trained her children in Buddhist principles, couching the lessons in terms that her children could readily understand. Rather than simply telling them what was right and wrong, she gave them reasons for it. She also taught them that they had a responsibility to help those less fortunate. Again, in her dual-purpose teaching, she provided them with a firm foundation of morality and, at the same time, the rationality for such acts. It was these early lessons that her son would apply in his approach to all topics later in life. In Thailand, events were moving in a new direction. Following the abdication of His Majesty King Prajadhipok in 1935, H.H. Prince Ananda Mahidol, then 10 years old, was elevated to the Throne. In the meantime, the young King and his brother continued to pursue their studies in Switzerland. In the shelter of Lausanne, the boys were exposed to new experiences that would serve them well when they grew older. They gained proficiency in several languages, and, by vacationing in neighboring countries, were introduced to different ways of life. In 1938, the family returned to Thailand for a short period during which His Majesty King Ananda Mahidol bestowed upon his mother the title of Somdet Phra Rajajonani Sri Sangwan, or Her Royal Highness Princess Sri Sangwan the Princess Mother. But with their education incomplete and the clouds of war growing over Europe, the Princess Mother elected to return to Switzerland with her children to continue their education. The family remained there for another seven years prior to their return to Thailand in December 1945.
Return to Thailand & Coronation
Return to Thailand
Following the sudden death of his brother, His Majesty King Ananda Mahidol, on 9 June 1946, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej became King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty. To prepare himself for his new role, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej returned to Switzerland to complete his university education. Although science and engineering were his first loves, he realised that he could better serve his people by switching to a degree in law and political science. At this point his life changed in a new direction. In 1947, while on a visit to France's Fontainebleau, he met M.R. Sirikit Kitiyakara, the daughter of the Thai Ambassador to France. She was studying music and French in Paris, subjects they both loved. Later in 1949, His Majesty who enjoyed composing music and lyrics wrote "Dream of Love, Dream of You" for her. On 4 October 1948, His Majesty suffered serious injury in an automobile accident. In the weeks of convalescence, he was tended by the 16-year-old M.R. Sirikit. The couple announced their engagement on M.R. Sirikit's 17th birthday (12 August 1949) at the Princess Mother's Villa Vadhana in Lausanne. The King and his beautiful fiancée returned to Thailand on 24 March 1950 where they were given a joyous welcome. Their wedding was held at Sapathum Palace on the auspicious date of 28 April 1950 with His Majesty's Grandmother, the Dowager Queen Sawang Wadhana, anointing their heads with sandalwood paste, and her new Royal relatives welcoming M.R. Sirikit into the family. They then reviewed the many gifts that had been sent to them including a radio-record player from U.S. President Truman, and a set of Worcester porcelain given by the soon-to-be Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
At the age of 22, His Majesty was crowned at Amarindra Hall in the Grand Palace on 5 May 1950. Government representatives and members of the National Assembly offered him holy water gathered from eight points of the compass in Thailand and asked him, according to ritual custom, if he desired to be their King. When he assented, the Chief Brahmin presented him with a Nine-Tiered Umbrella as the first symbol of his sovereignty.
After performing several other ancient rites, His Majesty – seated on an octagonal throne of fig wood beneath a seven-tiered white umbrella of state – placed a gold and diamond crown weighing seven kilogrammes on his own head. Thereupon, 101 cannon shots ran out and temple bells across the land tolled simultaneously. Installed on his Throne, His Majesty then proclaimed his first Royal Oath: "We will reign with righteousness, for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people".
The coronation ceremony was followed by an official audience for diplomats and high-ranking officials.
On the same day, His Majesty also completed two more ceremonies, first, to elevate his royal consort to the title of Somdech Phra Nang Chao (Sirikit) Phra Baromma Rajini, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, and second, to take a vow before the Supreme Patriarch, the head of the Buddhist clergy, to protect the religion and be acknowledged by eighty of the most senior monks as Head of the Buddhist Church and as the Protector of All Faiths.
"Don't forsake the people, Your Majesty" shouted a lone voice as the royal motorcade slowly made its way through a packed crowd of well wishers to the airport where His Majesty would fly to Switzerland to continue his studies.
"If the people do not forsake me, how can I forsake them?" was His Majesty’s response to the plea. He returned in 1950, taking the royal oath at his coronation to reign over his people with righteousness and love.
The Privy Seal of the Ninth Reign composed of the Octagonal Throne, the Discus (Chakra), in the middle of which is the symbolic letter “Unalome” insignia. Around the Chakra Discus, there are rays radiating in all directions. Above the Chakra Discus is the Seven-Tiered Royal Umbrella over the Octagonal Throne, meaning that His Majesty the King has sovereign power in the realm, for at the Coronation Ceremony His Majesty sat upon the Octagonal Throne and the Members of Parliament presented consecrated water from the eight cardinal points in accordance with ancient Royal custom. This Privy Seal was put in use since the Coronation Ceremony, which formally signified the beginning of the Ninth Reign.
The idea of Kingship had changed considerably over the centuries. While he could no longer issue immutable decrees as his predecessors had, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was in a position to take a more direct, personal approach in support of national development.
He was buoyed by the progressive example of His Majesty King Mongkut (1851-1868). His Ancestors-during the Ayutthaya period (1351-1767) it was a crime even to look upon Royalty-had shielded themselves from the people. He was not cloistered by the same constraints but could interact with them, the better to learn their needs.
In this, he acknowledged the influence of his brother. His Majesty King Ananda Mahidol had sought opportunities to see first-hand the lives of his people. In a historic walk through Chinatown, he not only demonstrated his personal touch but gave the resident Chinese a sense of equality with their fellow Thais that had hitherto been missing. They responded by increased participation in national life. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej acknow- ledged the attractions of his brother's approach when, shortly after his Coronation, he noted that:
This very hands-on approach dovetailed perfectly with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's own endless curiosity about everything around him. Taking one of his Royal titles, Phra Chao Phaen Din ("Lord of the Land"), seriously, he traveled extensively through the villages near his summer palace at Hua Hin, on the coast south of Bangkok. His journeys made him aware of the problems faced by farmers and farm families. To further his knowledge about rural agriculture, His Majesty and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit toured Suphan Buri, Ang Thong, and Sing Buri, north of the capital, in September 1955. Wearing an ordinary white shirt and no Royal trappings, he talked with farmers about their daily lives. He also received petitions, much as his Grandfather, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn had. On one of his journeys, he drove to Chiang Mai, in the northern part of Thailand, by himself. He also recorded what he saw on film for later review back in Chitralada Villa, Dusit Palace
In 1955, Their Majesties visited the Northeast, the least developed region of Thailand. On his return to Bangkok, he was asked why he would spend so much time and effort in this region. In his explanation, he uttered the phrase that would define the rest of his life work: "It is the peasant, the farmer, who is the backbone of Thailand." And, "Our economy has traditionally been based upon agriculture". The national income which has contributed to creating prosperity in the country has been derived mainly from agricultural productivity. "It can, therefore, be said that the nation's prosperity relies to a large extent on ensuring the prosperity of agriculture."
The statement set the theme and scope for the work he would pursue to the present day.
Highlights of H.M.’s Life
|5 December 1927
9 June 1946
28 April 1950
5 May 1950
5 April 1951
28 July 1952
2 April 1955
22 October 1956
4 July 1957
16 December 1967
2 July 1988
18 July 1995
|Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Early years in Thailand
Education in Switzerland
Return to Thailand
Accession to the Throne
Married M.R. Sirikit Kitiyakara
Crowned King of Thailand
Daughter, Princess Ubol Ratana, born in Switzerland
Son, H.R.H. Prince Vajiralongkorn, born in Bangkok
Daughter, H.R.H. Princess Sirindhorn, born in Bangkok
Royal visit to northeastern Thailand.
Ordained as a Buddhist monk
Daughter, H.R.H. Princess Chulabhorn, born in Bangkok
State Visits to Asian, North American, and European countries
Won a gold medal for sailing at the SEAP Games with Princess Ubol Ratana
Became the longest Reigning Monarch in Thai history
Granted the first Thai patent ever issued to a Monarch The Chaipattana Aerator
Demise of H.R.H. the Princess Mother