The Chakri Kings of Thailand
the golden age of Rattanakosin

By Eric Lim

The first of the Chakri kings King Rama I or King Phra Phuttayotfa, who reigned from 1782 – 1809 founded the dynasty when he established Bangkok as the capital of Thailand.

King Rama I is remembered as the great warrior who put an end to the constant Burmese threat and consolidated the kingdom.

Literature flourished during the First Reign.

Works include the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epic and the translation of the Chinese classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

When King Rama II or King Phra Phutthalertla Napalai the son of King Rama I, ascended the throne, his reign from 1809 – 1824 signaled the start of a dynasty.

Like his father, King Rama II loved literature and was renowned as a great poet.

The Chakri dynasty continued with King Rama III or King Phra Nangklao,the son of King Rama II, who reigned from 1824 – 1851. Unlike his father, he had no interest in literature. Even the greatest of Thai poets, Sunthorn Phu, found no favor in the Third Reign.

In King Rama IV or King Mongkut (1851 – 1868) another son of King Rama II, the kingdom had one of the most enlightened Chakri kings. After 27 years in monkhood during which he studied Buddhism, English, Latin, science, mathematics and astrology, King Mongkut ascended the throne at 47.

Politically astute, he saw the growing pressures of colonialism and prepared his son, Prince Chulalongkorn, for the challenges ahead.

The reign of King Rama V or King Chulalongkorn (1868 – 1910) was the golden age of the Chakri Reformation. The most revered of the Chakri kings, King Chulalongkorn reorganized the government, improved education, infrastructure and communications. Slavery was abolished.

His crowning achievement was the ability to neutralize Britain and France at the height of their imperial power and preserve the independence of Thailand.

King Rama VI or King Vajiravudh, the son of King Rama V, reigned from 1910 – 1925.

The first of the Chakri kings to be educated overseas, King Vajiravudh introduced surnames for the people, changed Thai flag to its present form, enacted compulsory primary education and established Chulalongkorn University in memory of his father.

The Seventh Reign, however, incurred massive spending in a fragile economy, a harbinger of events in the next reign.

The last of King Rama V's sons, King Rama VII or King Prajadhipok reigned from 1925 – 1935. 

He was also the last of the Chakri kings to reign as absolute monarch.

The coup in 1932 ended the absolute monarchy. King Prajadhipok reigned briefly as the first constitutional monarch in a stormy relationship with the new government.

He abdicated on 2 March 1935. 

After the abdication, young Prince Ananda, son of Prince Mahidol and grandson of King Rama V, was appointed king at the age of ten.

Regency was appointed while the young king continued his studies.

King Rama VIII or King Ananda Mahidol had a short and tragic reign from 1935 – 1946. 

On 9 June 1946, less than a year after he returned from his studies, the young King Ananda was found shot. No verdict was returned.

In 1946 the present monarch, King Rama IX or King Bhumibol Adulyadej, younger brother of King Ananda, ascended the throne.

The reign saw the blossoming of a close relationship between the benevolent monarch and his people, one of deep respect and fatherly love.

It seemed the ideal model of a constitutional monarchy over the longest reign in history. Perhaps the one that King Prajadhipok was so desperately seeking in 1932.

The nine kings of the Chakri dynasty have seen old Siam from a group of fragmented kingdoms under constant external threat to a unified kingdom.

The kingdom went through a painful transition from an absolute monarchy to a tumultuous constitutional democracy and onto a thriving and stable nation.

The reign of the Chakri Kings in Thailand has covered more than 220 years over which the kingdom has preserved its unity, independence and prosperity.

To return to Rattanakosin.

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