April 29, 2021 — On this day in 1931, the King and Queen of Siam were treated to a state dinner with President Hoover at the White House. They were the first absolute monarchs to ever visit the United States, and the first Asian monarchs to visit the White House.
The royal couple was in the country so that King Pradjadhipok could undergo eye surgery. It wasn’t his first trip to the U.S. – he’d also visited in 1924 when he was still a prince.
Prajadhipok was born to King Chulalongkorn – or Rama the Fifth – in Bangkok in 1893. Of his father’s children, Prajadhipok was number 76, and he was the youngest boy. He was educated at Eton and Woolwich Military Academy in England, and then in Paris. He never expected to become king – his plan was to serve in the military.
When the old king died, Prajadhipok’s brother, Vajiravudh, became Rama VI. He, also, was highly educated and was an avid supporter of the arts. King Vajiravudh died when he was only 44. He hadn’t yet produced an heir, but one of his consorts was expecting a child. Two days before the young king’s death, the child was born, but it was a girl. For some reason, all of the king’s brothers were dead by this time – except the youngest, Prajadhipok, who was suddenly in line for the throne. He became Rama the Seventh in 1925.
King Prajadhipok’s reign has been highly admired. Like his brother and father, he was very concerned for his people. He was passionate about education and developed Chulalongkorn University; he gave the commencement speech when, in 1930, the school’s first graduates were awarded their degrees.
He also wanted to give his people a new constitutional government. There were some among the old guard who weren’t happy with that, of course. Some say his Council of State prevented him from introducing his version of a constitution; others say that middle-ranking officials who were afraid of losing power achieved a pre-emptive coupe, and that they forced their own version of a constitution on the king.
Either way, a new constitution was given to the people on December 10, 1932 – ironically, it rendering the king a mere figurehead. The 150-year absolute rule of Siam’s Chakri Kings ended and the Constitutional Monarchy of the present day was born.
By 1935, King Prajadhipok was frustrated by the new government’s failure to serve the people. When several counter-revolutionary leaders were executed, he abdicated the throne to his 10-year old nephew and left for England. He was merely to receive medical treatment, but he never returned. Interestingly, he had taken out unemployment insurance in both England and France in case he was ever forced from the throne.
King Prajadhipok died in England in 1941, during World War II. Eight years later, his wife, Queen Rambai Barni, took his ashes back to what is now Thailand.
By now, you’re asking what this has to do with us. Well, the first absolute monarchs to visit the United States – the king and queen of Siam – entered the country from the north at Portal, N.D.
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