Four Reigns
a literary masterpiece

By Eric Lim

Four Reigns is a moving drama by M R Kukrit Pramoj, one of the most famous Thai writers. It unfolds against a backdrop of 78 years of Thai history, covering the reigns of four Chakri Kings in the Bangkok era.

Originally written as a serial for the Thai daily, Siam Rath, the tale is a gripping drama related on a daily basis. The serial was finally complied into a book in 1953, which was subsequently made into a television serial.

There's hardly an adult Thai who has never heard of the story.

The Four Reigns in this historical drama refer to the reigns of:

  • King Rama V or King Chulalongkorn from 1868 - 1910
  • King Rama VI or King Vajiravudh from 1910 – 1925
  • King Rama VII or King Prajadhipok, from 1925 – 1935
  • King Rama VIII or King Ananda Mahidol, from 1935 – 1946.

The tale in Four Reigns traces the life of Mae Phloi, the heroine, who started life as a lady in waiting at the inner court of the Grand Palace. In her lifetime, Phloi saw economic and social changes, coups, political turmoil, abdication and tragedy.

King Chulalongkorn's trip to Europe, the first foreign trip by a Thai monarch, fills the royal court and the entire country with excitement; so does his return. Phoi with thousands of Thais eagerly line Ratchadamnoen Avenue to welcome the king on his return.

At the personal level, Phloi gets married and raises a family. The reader gains an insight into Thai customs, culture and relationships in Thai family life. To his credit, M R Kukrit Pramoj who is of royal lineage gives vivid descriptions of proceedings in the royal court etiquette as well as the life style of the common folk.

In the reign of King Prajadhipok, a turn of events changed the course of Thai history; the 1932 coup ended 150 years of the absolute monarchy.

The country is thrown into further turmoil two years later when a royal rebellion against the government erupts.

Suffer the trauma of Phloi when her stepson, a soldier on the defeated royalist side, is thrown in jail. She agonizes further on hearing of King Prajadhipok's abdication in 1935.

In the last of the Four Reigns, King Ananda Mahidol, still a minor, is appointed king in 1935.

The early 1940s was also a period of fear and uncertainty for Phloi, a grandmother by now, and her family living through World War II.

On 9 June 1946, the young King Ananda was found shot. His tragic death also brings a dramatic end to an absorbing and moving tale.

The reader could almost feel the excitement of the Thais on seeing the king even from a distance, the joy when a royal birth is announced and the deep grief and sorrow with the passing away of each king.

One of the classics in Thai literature, this book was translated into English by Ms Tulachandra in 1981.

Though M R Kukrit was very proficient in English, as he was educated in Queen's College, Oxford, he chose to use a translator who could express the essence and spirit of the drama in English.

Four Reigns in English was meant to recapture life in the days gone by in Thailand and to give the non-Thai an insight into the Thai mind. In this M R Kurit Pramoj and the Ms Tulachandra have succeeded admirably.

To return to the Home of M R Kukrit Pramoj.

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