Friday, October 14, 2016

King Bhumiphol - the Much-Loved King of Thailand

 The Queen Mother holding Prince Bhumiphol with older brother, Prince Anand and sister, Princess Galyani.

Early Life
     On December 5, 1927 a baby registered only as Baby Mahidol was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His father was studying medicine at Harvard.  Few people were aware that his father was Prince Mahidol, the son of Chulalongkorn, the King of Thailand.
    In 1928 Prince Mahidol and his wife, the beautiful Sangwan, returned to Thailand with their family of three: Princess Galyani, Prince Ananda and little Prince Bhumiphol (pronounced Bumipon).  Prince Mahidol, now a graduate of Harvard Medical School, worked with leprosy sufferers in North Thailand at a Missionary Hospital for a while and then went on to improve public health and hospitals in Thailand. He taught preventative and social medicine to third-year medical students.   Prince Mahidol suffered from a chronic kidney disease and died at the young age of 37.  His wife took their three children to Switzerland where they attended school.

Ascension to the throne
    When King Chulalongkorn died in 1910, his eldest son, Vajiravudh became King.  Then in 1925 Prince Prajadhibok, next in line, became King.  He abdicated in 1935 due to ill health but first granted a system of constitutional monarchy to the country after ‘The Revolution of 1932’.  Because Prajadhibok had no children, his nephew, Prince  Ananda became the King at the age of 10.  After a short reign of 11 years, spent mostly studying in Switzerland, he was found dead in his room at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, apparently of a gunshot wound.  The circumstances of his death have never been discovered or, at least, have never been revealed to the public except that he probably accidently shot himself while cleaning his gun.  This left Prince Bhumiphol, his nineteen year old brother, directly in line to be King.  His mother asked permission for him to complete his education in Switzerland first and a Regent was appointed in his place.  Bhumiphol had been studying science but switched to law and political science in order to prepare for his new role as King. 
     In 1946 the young King returned to his homeland to take on his royal duties.  Siam’s name was changed to Thailand in 1949.  It remains a constitutional monarchy and the King was loved and revered by the Thai people.   

Marriage and family
    While in Switzerland, Bhumiphol had met the beautiful  Sirikit, the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France.  She was also a descendent of King Chulalongkorn.  They fell in love and were married on April 28, 1950.  Once when asked why he rarely smiled, the King is said to have answered that the Queen was his smile. 
    The King and Queen had four children: Princess Ubol Ratana, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (who is next in line to the throne), Princess Sirindhorn and Princess Chulabhon.  Princess Ubol was married to an American whom she met while studying in the US.  They have since divorced.  Their son, Bhumi Jensen died in the tsunami that struck Thailand on December 26, 2004 while on holiday in Phuket.

     For years King Bhumiphol was the longest living, reigning monarch in the world, surpassing even Queen Elizabeth II of England.  During his reign of 64 years, there were  27 Prime Ministers in Thailand and 15 coups.  Although he was officially a Constitutional Monarch he played a role in politics in Thailand by showing his approval or disapproval of the government in power in his speeches.  His scientific studies helped him in his work to improve agriculture and flood control in his country. 
     The King was also a talented musician; he played the saxophone and the piano and wrote many musical compositions. 
 In recent years, ill health limited his public duties as King but this void has been aptly filled by his children.
King Bhumiphol died on October 13, 2016 at the age of 88.  Thailand has declared a year of mourning.  He will be greatly missed as one of the great and much-loved monarchs of recent times.

 will never disappoint us

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