The Real King of Siam

The Real King of Siam

Considered as one of the most important monarchs of the Chakri dynasty, one of the most revered of their time, or by the Thai people as “The Father of Thai Scientists”, the real King of Siam, King Mongkut or also known as Phrabat Somdet Phra Pormen Maha Mongkut, Phra Chom Klao Chaoyouhua, or Rama IV, was born on October 18, 1804, in the Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand) as the second son of Pra Bhuddha Loetlar Naphalai, who became King Rama II when Mongkut was five, and Somdej Pra Srisuriyentramart. Mongkut had 72 half-brothers and sisters, from 38 different mothers, but when his older brother died when Mongkut was born, Maha Mongkut became the crown prince.

Until he was nine, the real King of Siam he lived in a palace near the Chao Phraya River, where he studied Buddhism, ancient Thai language, Royal Customs and Traditions, how to ride horses and elephants, and how to use various weapons. When he was twelve years old, he was put in charge of the Siamese army. When he was twenty, King Rama II died, and although Mongkut was the legitimate successor to the throne, his half-brother Nang Klao (17 years older and more experienced than Mongkut) was crowned as Rama III by the council of princes and court officials, forcing Mongkut into exile, leaving his wife and two children, to become a Buddhist monk, and live this way, for 27 years. While being a monk, he studied Buddhism both in practice and in theory, foreign languages, science, political science, western cultures and the world situation in the colonialism era.

At the age of 47, Rama III died, and Mongkut with all these 27 years of experience, ascended the throne as Rama IV. But he was different from other Siamese monarchs, friendly towards the East, open to Western innovations, a successful negotiator with the United States and European powers to open Siam to international trade, reconstructed Buddhism in many ways, but supported all existing religions in Thailand and granted freedom in believing in any, multi-lingual (he spoke English, French, Latin, Siamese, Pali and Sanskrit), and among other things, founder of basic science in Thailand, which has extensively contributed to the country’s progress and prosperity until these days.

Following the tradition, he had 82 children with 39 wives, and he educated them all by bringing in missionaries to teach them about modern science and culture. Later, King Mongkut’s consul hired Anna Leonowens to teach the king’s wives and children, in 1862.

During a succesful expedition to Wa Kaw in Prachuap Khiri Khan province in the south of Bangkok, where the real King of Siam, King Mongkut wanted to show his wide knowledge in astronomy to a group of French astronomers, by inviting them to watch a solar eclipse that he predicted two years beforehand, both Prince Chulalongkorn who was 15 years old, and King Mongkut, contracted malaria; Chulalongkorn could recover, but King Mongkut died days later, on his 64th birthday. Chulalongkorn became Rama V, and continued his father’s work, after ruling the country from 1851 to 1868.

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