Highly revered by his subjects, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn, the 5th monarch of the Chakri Dynasty, was given the honorific title of “Somdet Phra Piya Maharat,” or “the Beloved Great Monarch,” due to the people’s gratitude and reverence towards his clemency for the nation and the people of Thailand.
Born on Tuesday September 20th, 1853, King Chulalongkorn was the eldest son of His Majesty King Mongkut, Rama IV, and Her Majesty Queen Dhebsirin. Upon his birth, his name was inscribed on the gold tablet as “Somdet Phrachaolukyathoe Chaofa Chulalongkorn Bodintharathepphaya Mahamakut Burutrattanaratcharawiwong Waruttamaphongboriphat Siriwatthanaratchakuman." In addition, he was also bestowed with the princely title of Krommammun Phikkhanesuan Surasangkat. After being ordained as a novice, his title was elevated into Krommakhun Phinitprachanat. As his father’s favourite, Prince Chulalongkorn was always by King Mongkut’s side, learning statecraft, court customs, as well as history, among other subjects. The prince also studied other princely subjects: Magadhi and English languages, firearms training, swordplay, wrestling, equestrianism, as well as elephant riding.
Ascension to the Throne
After the death of King Mongkut on October 1st, 1868, the council of the princes, nobles, and high priests decided unanimously to ask Prince Chulalongkorn to ascend to the throne, at the tender age of fifteen. After the first coronation ceremony was held on November 11th, 1868, the king ruled as a minor, with Chaophraya Si Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag) as the Regent. Upon reaching the age of twenty, on November 16th, 1873, the king underwent his second coronation ceremony, after which he assumed the full rule over his kingdom. The reign lasted forty-two years, during which the country was greatly modernized and transformed.
The King’s Passing
During the latter years of his life, King Chulalongkorn began to have some health problems. After his second journey to Europe in 1907, his health deteriorated slowly, leading to his demise due to kidney disease on October 23rd, 1910, at the age of 58. The long 42-year reign thus ended.
In recognition of the monarch’s immense kindness towards the people of Siam, he was presented with the august title of “Somdet Phra Piya Maharat,” the Beloved Great King. Since then, October 23rd has been continually observed as a national holiday.
The Royal Consorts
King Chulalongkorn had a number of queens and concubines of various ranks.
Her Majesty Queen Saovabha Bhongsri
A daughter of His Majesty King Mongkut born of Somdet Phra Piyamawadi Sriphatcharintharamata (Grand Concubine Piam), Princess Saovabha Bhongsri was born on January 1st, 1864. Like Queen Savang, after becoming King Chulalongkorn’s consort, she gave birth to a number of princes and princesses, including Prince Maha Vajiravudh, who became Siam’s second Crown Prince after the death of his half-brother, Prince Maha Vajirunahis. When King Chulalongkorn went on his first journey to Europe in 1897, Queen Saovabha Bhongsri became the Queen Regent, ruling the kingdom during the king’s absence. She was also the President of the Siamese Red Cross. Her sons, Prince Maha Vajiravudh and Prince Prachadhipok, subsequently became King Rama VI and King Rama VII. Upon his ascension to the throne, King Vajiravudh elevated the status of his mother, bestowing her with the title of Somdet Phra Sri Phatcharindhra Borommarachininat Phra Borommaratchachonnani. She passed away on October 20th, 1919, at the age of 55.
Her Majesty Queen Savang Vadhana
A daughter of His Majesty King Mongkut born of Somdet Phra Piyamawadi Sriphatcharintharamata (Grand Concubine Piam), Princess Savang Vadhana was born on September 10th, 1852. After becoming King Chulalongkorn’s consort, she gave birth to a number of princes and princesses, especially His Royal Highness Prince Maha Vajirunhis, Siam’s first Crown Prince. As the mother of the heir apparent, she was bestowed with the honors of the queen. She was the president of the Siamese Red Cross when it was first established, and had since been interested in public health and the Red Cross activities, including the establishment of Queen Savang Vadhana Memorial Hospital in Sriracha. During the reign of King Rama VII, she received the royal title of Somdet Phra Sri Savarindhira Borommarajdhevi Phra Phanwatsa Matujchachao. She passed away on December 17th, 1955. On November 11th, 2011, UNESCO declared her an important world historical figure, in recognition of her contribution to education, medical science, public health, and cultural preservation.
Her Majesty Queen Sunandha Kumarirat
A daughter of His Majesty King Mongkut born of Somdet Phra Piyamawadi Sriphatcharintharamata (Grand Concubine Piam) on November 10th, 1850. Princess Sunandha became the first of King Chulalongkorn’s consorts. However, she died in the boating accident at Bang Phut, Nonthaburi, on May 31st, 1880, together with her daughter, Princess Kannaphon Phetcharat, as well as the unborn royal child, on their fateful journey from Bangkok to Bang Pa In Palace. After her death, King Chulalongkorn elevated her status to that of the queen, entitled Her Majesty Sunandha Kumarirat.
Chao Dara Rasmi
Another very important Princess Consort was Chao Dara Rasmi. A daughter of King Inthawichayanon and Queen Thipkraisorn Rajadevi of Chiang Mai, Princess Dara Rasmi was born on August 26th, 1873. In 1880 she came to Bangkok with her father and met King Chulalongkorn, who subsequently took her first as a royal concubine. Subsequently, given her utmost devotion to the king, she was granted with the title of Grand Concubine, and subsequently, Princess Consort, after giving birth to Her Royal Highness Princess Princess Vimolnaka Nabisi. Princess Dara Rasmi was extremely important in the development of cordial relationship between the courts of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where she had spent the final years of her life, from 1914 to 1933.