I’ve been here before. But it’s the first time I’ve heard the story of how King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) lost his wife when the royal boat capsized on its way to Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. According to Thai customs and laws then practiced, no commoner can look/stare directly to royalty. Even more so, it is forbidden on pain of death for them to touch them.
As it turned out, the Queen and the unborn royal daughter drowned while there were many “onlookers” unable, or forbidden to pull out and save the Queen. A memorial within the Palace grounds stands now as testament to King Chulalongkorn’s grief over this tragedy.
If you’re familiar with the play and movie “The King and I”, Rama V or King Chulalongkorn is the little boy prince — son of Rama IV or King Mongkut. I knew this part. But there’s more I didn’t know until now. The Queen who drowned is Sunandha. Daughter of King Mongkut. And yes, she is half sister to King Chulalongkorn.
Here’s more. While Sunandha is the King’s first queen consort, she is only one of 4 queens which include 2 of her full-sibling younger sisters. In his lifetime, the King had 92 consorts and produced 77 children. Sure kept himself busy, just as the King kept busy modernizing Siam during his long reign.
Thailand owes a lot to this much-loved King. Modern in thinking and style, he was the first Siamese king to send a royal princess to seek education in Europe. His liberal ideas reformed Thailand for the better , much to the chagrin of and opposition from aristocrats and royal relatives. In the end, he got his job done. If you’re holding a 100 baht bill, that’s King Chulalongkorn in navy uniform. A great King, indeed!