Chulalongkorn the Great
King Rama V
King of Siam
Reign 1 October 1868 – 23 October 1910
(&1000000000000004200000042 years, &1000000000000002200000022 days)
Coronation 11 November 1868 (1st time)
16 November 1873 (2nd time)
Predecessor Mongkut (Rama IV)
Successor Vajiravudh (Rama VI)
Regent Si Suriyawongse (1868-1873)
Saovabha Bongsri (1897)
Vajiravudh (1907)
Vice King Bovorn Vichaichan (1868-1885)
Spouse Queen Sunandha Kumariratana
Queen Sukumalmarsri
Queen Savang Vadhana
Queen Saovabha Bongsri
and 149 other consorts and concubines
33 sons and 44 daughters
House Chakri Dynasty
Father Mongkut
Mother Debsirindra
Born 20 September 1853(1853-09-20)
Bangkok, Siam
Died 23 October 1910(1910-10-23) (aged 57)
Bangkok, Siam
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua (Thai: พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาจุฬาลงกรณ์ฯ พระจุลจอมเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว), or Rama V (20 September 1853 – 23 October 1910) was the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri. He was known to the Siamese of his time as Phra Phuttha Chao Luang (พระพุทธเจ้าหลวง - The Royal Buddha). He is considered one of the greatest kings of Siam. His reign was characterized by the modernization of Siam, immense government and social reforms, and territorial cessions to the British Empire and French Indochina. As Siam was threatened by Western expansionism, Chulalongkorn, through his policies and acts, managed to save Siam from being colonized.[citation needed] All his reforms were dedicated to Siam’s insurance of survival in the midst of Western colonialism, so that Chulalongkorn earned the epithet Phra Piya Maharat (พระปิยมหาราช - The Great Beloved King).


Early life

King Mongkut with Prince Chulalongkorn, both in Naval uniforms.

King Chulalongkorn was born on September 20, 1853 to King Mongkut and Queen Debsirindra. He was given his name Prince Chulalongkorn. In 1861, he was entitled Krommameun Pikanesuarn Surasangkat. His father gave him a broad education, including instruction from European tutors such as Anna Leonowens. In 1866, he became a songha (monk) in Wat Bawonniwet according to the royal tradition. Upon his return to his secularity in 1867, he was rewarded his title as Krommakhun Pinit Prachanat.

In 1867, King Mongkut became ill after his visit to Wakor for the solar eclipse observation. On his deathbed, King Mongkut wrote “My brother, my son, my grandson, whoever you all the senior officials think will be able to save our country will succeed my throne, choose at your own will.” So the diet was held to select a prince to be crowned, and Prince Chulalongkorn was chosen. As the prince was only 15 years old, Chao Phraya Si Suriyawongse was appointed regent. The coronation was held on November 11, 1868.

Si Suriyawongse then arranged the title of Front Palace of King Pinklao (who was his uncle) to be succeeded by King Pinklao’s son, Prince Yingyot (who was then Chulalongkorn’s cousin).

The young Chulalongkorn was an enthusiastic king craving for reforms. He visited Singapore and Java in 1870 and British India during 1870-1872 to see the administration of British colonies. He toured the administrative centres of Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay and back to Calcutta in early 1872. This journey was later the source of his ideas and methodology of the modernization of Siam.

As a regent, Si Suriyawongse wielded a great influence. Si Suriyawongse continued the works of King Mongkut. He supervised the digging of several important khlongs, such as Padung Krungkasem and Damneun Saduak, and the paving of roads such as Chareon Krung and Silom. He was also the patron of Thai literature and performing arts.

The Young King

Photograph of the young King.

In 1873, the king became a monk again and returned. The second coronation was held in the same year to celebrate the king’s maturity.

At the end of his regency, Si Suriyawonse was raised to Somdet Chao Phraya, the highest title the nobility could attain. Si Suriyawongse himself was the most powerful noble of the 19th century. His family, Bunnag, was a powerful one of a Persian descent dominating the Siamese politics since the reign of Rama I. Chulalongkorn then married four of his half-sisters. They were all the daughters of Mongkut - Savang Vadhana, Saovabha, and Sunandha with Concubine Piam and Sukumalmarsri with Concubine Samli.

In the same year, Chulalongkorn’s first reform was to establish the Auditory Office (Th: หอรัษฎากรพิพัฒน์) – to replace the corrupted tax collectors as the only institution that collects taxes. As the tax collectors were under the patronage of various nobles and also provided the financial support to the patron, this caused a great disruption among the nobility, especially the Front Palace. Since the time of King Mongkut, the title of Front Palace had been as powerful as the “second king”, with one-third of national revenue devoted to it. Moreover, Prince Yingyot of the Front Palace was known to be acquainted with many British men, in a time when the British Empire was considered the enemy of Siam.

In 1874, Chulalongkorn chartered the Council of State - as a legislative body - and Privy Council - as his personal counsel based on the British privy council. The members of the councils were appointed by the monarch.

Front Palace crisis

In 1874, the Grand Palace was bombed and a fire raged through it. The Front Palace gave no help in extinguishing the fire. This raised suspicions. Prince Yingyot hid himself in the British consulate so that Chulalongkorn could do him no harm. However, the king was waiting, ready to strike, and the tensions continued, until the retired Si Suriyawongse returned from Ratchaburi to calm the conflicts.

The "Front Palace Crisis" incident indicated how much power was wielded by the aristocrats and royal relatives, leaving the king little power. This would become one of his main motives to reform the feudal Siam politics, reducing the power held by the nobility.

When Prince Yingyot died in 1885, Chulalongkorn took that opportunity to abolish the titular Front Palace and created the title of "Crown Prince of Siam" in accordance with the Western style. Chulalongkorn's son, Prince Vajirunhis, was appointed the first Crown Prince of Siam, though he never reigned. In 1895, the Prince died of typhoid at age 17, he was succeeded by his half-brother Vajiravudh, who was then at boarding school in England.

After that, Sri Suriyawongse withdrew from politics, as did the Bunnak family.

Heo insurgency

In the northern Laotian lands bordering China, the insurgents of the Taiping rebellion had taken refuge since the reign of King Mongkut. These Chinese were called The Heos and became bandits pillaging the villages. In 1875, Chulalongkorn sent troops from Bangkok to crush the Heos as they ravaged as far as Vientiane. However, they met strong Chinese resistance and retreated to Isan in 1885. New, modernized forces were sent again and were divided into two groups approaching the Heos from Chiang Kam and Pichai. The Heos scattered and some fled to Vietnam. The Siamese armies proceeded to eliminate the remaining Heos. The city of Nong Khai maintains memorials for the Siamese dead.

Military and Political Reforms

Freed from the Front Palace and Chinese rebellions, Chulalongkorn initiated his reforms. He established the Royal Military Academy in 1887 to train the troops in Western fashion. The modernized forces provided the king much more power to centralize the country.

The government of Siam had remained rather unchanged since the fifteenth century. The central government was headed by the Samuha Nayak (i.e. Prime Minister), who controlled the northern parts of Siam, and the Samuha Kalahom (i.e. Grand Commander), who controlled the southern Siam in both civil and military affairs. The Samuha Nayak presided over the Chatu Sadombh (i.e. Four Pillars). The responsibilities of each pillar were rather overlapping and uncertain. In 1888, Chulalongkorn tried the new ministerial government. The ministers were, in the beginning, the members of royal family. The official establishment of ministries was promulgated in 1892, with all ministries in equal status.

The Council of State proved unable to veto the legal drafts or to give Chulalongkorn advices because the members still respected Chulalongkorn as an absolutist monarch. Chulalongkorn then dissolved the Council altogether and transferred the duty to give advices to the cabinet in 1894.

Chulalongkorn also abolished the traditional Nakorn Bala methods of tortures in judiciary process, which was seen as inhumane and barbaric by Western and Modern views, and introduced the Western code. His Belgian advisor, Rolin-Jaequemyns, played a great role in the development of modern Siamese law and judicial system.

Call for democracy

Chulalongkorn was the first Siamese king to send the royal princes to Europe to be educated. In nineteenth century Europe, nationalism flourished and there was a call for liberty. The princes, of course, had been influenced by the liberal ideas of democracy and elections. They encountered republics like France and constitutional monarchies like the United Kingdom.

In 1884 (103 of Rattakosin Era), Siamese officials in London and Paris arranged a request to Chulalongkorn, citing the threats from European colonialism were coming and Siam should be reformed like Meiji Japan and Siam should became a constitutional monarchy. However, Chulalongkorn stated that it was not yet time and he himself was urging reforms.

Throughout Chulalongkorn's reign, writers with radical ideas had their works published for the first time. The most notable ones included Tianwan, who had been imprisoned for 17 years and from prison he produced many works criticizing the old Siamese society.

Photograph of the King with his sons in England in 1907. The King during his lifetime had 92 consorts who, among them, would produce 77 children.
The King had many buildings constructed during his long reign including the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall in 1908...
..and the Vimanmek Palace in 1900.

Conflict with French Indochina

Chulalongkorn (Above left) with contemporary monarchs

In 1863, King Norodom of Cambodia was forced to put his own country under the French Protectorate. The cession of Cambodia was officially formulated in 1867. However, Inner Cambodia (as called in Siam) consisting of Battambang, Siemreap, and Srisopon, remained a Siamese possession. This was the first of many territorial cessions.

In 1887, French Indochina was formed from Vietnam and Cambodia. In 1888, French troops invaded Northern Laos to subjugate the Heo insurgents. However, the French troops never left, and the French demanded more Laotian lands. In 1893 Auguste Pavie, the French vice-consul of Luang Prabang, requested the cession of all Laotian lands east of the Mekong River. Siam resented the demand, leading to the Franco-Siamese War of 1893.

The French gunboat Le Lutin entered the Chao Phraya and anchored near the French consulate ready to attack. Fighting was observed in Laos. Inconstant and Comete were attacked in Chao Phraya, and the French sent an ultimatum: an indemnity of three million francs, as well as the cession of and withdrawal from Laos. Siam did not accept the ultimatum. French troops then blockaded the Gulf of Siam and occupied Chantaburi and Trat. Chulalongkorn sent Rolin-Jacquemyns to negotiate. The issue was eventually settled with the cession of Laos in 1893, but the French troops in Chantaburi and Trat refused to leave.

The cession of vast Laotian lands had a major impact on Chulalongkorn’s spirit. Prince Vajirunhis died in 1894. Prince Vajiravudh was created crown prince to replace him. Chulalongkorn realised the importance of maintaining the navy and established the Royal Thai Naval Academy in 1898.

Despite Siamese concessions, French armies continued the occupation of Chantaburi and Trat for another 10 years. An agreement was reached in 1903 that French troops would leave Chantaburi but hold the coast land from Trat to Koh Kong. In 1906, the final agreement was reached. Trat was returned to Siam but the French kept Koh Kong and received Inner Cambodia.

Seeing the seriousness of foreign affairs, Chulalongkorn visited Europe in 1897; he was the first Siamese monarch to do so, and he desired European recognition of Siam as a fully independent and honorable power. He appointed his queen, Saovabha, as regent in Siam during his travel to Europe.


King Chulalongkorn with Tsar Nicholas II in Saint Petersburg, during the King's first Grand Tour in 1897.

Siam had been composed of the network of cities according to the Mandala system codified by King Trailokanat in 1454, with local rulers owing tribute to Bangkok. Each city retained a substantial degree of autonomy, as Siam wasn’t a “state” but a “network” of city-states. With the rise of European colonialism, the Western concept of state and territorial division was introduced. It had to define explicitly which lands were “Siamese” and which lands were “foreign”. The conflict with the French in 1893 was an example.

Monthon system

With his experiences during the travel to British colonies and the suggestion of Prince Damrong, Chulalongkorn instigated the hierarchical system of Monthons in 1897, composing of Province, City, Amphoe, Tambon, and Mhu Ban (village) in the descending order. (Though a whole monthon - the Eastern Province - e.g. Inner Cambodia - was given off to the French in 1906) Each monthon was overseen by an intendant of the Ministry of Interior. This had a major impact, ending the power of all local dynasties. The central authority now spread all over the country through the administration of intendants. For example, the Lanna states in the north (including the Kingdom of Chiangmai, Principalities of Lampang, Lampoon, Nan, and Prae) owing tributaries to Bangkok, were made into two monthons, neglecting the existence of the Lanna kings.

Local rulers did not give up easily, as three rebellions sprang up in 1901 - the Ngeaw rebellion in Prae, the Phi Buns in Isan, and the Rebellion of Seven Sultans in the south. All these insurgents were crushed in 1902 with the city rulers were stripped off their power, and imprisoned.

Abolition of Corvée and Slavery

Photograph of the King.

Ayutthaya King Ramathibodi II established a system of corvée in 1581 after which the lives of Siamese commoners and slaves were closely regulated by the government. All Siamese common men (phrai ไพร่) were subject to the Siamese corvée system. Each man at the time of his majority had to register with a government bureau, department or leading member of the royalty called krom (กรม) as a Phrai Luang (ไพร่หลวง) or under a nobleman's master (Moon Nai or Chao Khun Moon Nai มูลนาย หรือเจ้าขุนมูลนาย) as a Phrai Som (ไพร่สม). Phrai owed service to sovereign or master for three months of the year. Phrai Suay (ไพร่ส่วย) were those who could make payment in kind (cattle) in lieu of service. Those conscripted into military service were called Phrai Tahan (ไพร่ทหาร).

The corvée system declined after the Bowring Treaty, which gave rise to a new class of employed labourers not regulated by the government, while many noblemen continued to hold sway over large numbers of Phrai Som. Chulalongkorn needed more effective control of manpower to undo the power of nobility. After the establishment of a provincial system, Chulalongkorn began the census to get the statistics of all men available to the government. The Employment Act of 1900 required that all workers be paid, not forced to work. The Conscription Act of 1905 established military conscription in Siam, thus ending the traditional corvée system.

Chulalongkorn was best known for his abolition of Siamese slavery (ทาส.) He associated the abolition of slavery in the United States with the bloodshed of the American Civil War. Chulalongkorn, to prevent such a bloodbath in Siam, provided several steps towards the abolition of slavery, not an extreme turning point from servitude to total freedom. Those who found themselves unable to live on their own sold themselves into slavery by rich noblemen. Likewise, when a debt was defaulted, the borrower would became a slave of the lender. If the debt was redeemed, the slave regained freedom.

However, those whose parents were household slaves (ทาสในเรือนเบี้ย), were bound to be slaves forever because their redemption price was extremely high.

Because of economic conditions, people sold themselves into slavery in great numbers and in turn they produced a large number of household slaves. In 1867 they accounted for one-third of Siamese population. In 1874, Chulalongkorn enacted a law that lowered the redemption price of household slaves born in 1867 (his ascension year) and freed all of them when they had reached 21.

The newly freed slaves would have time to settle themselves as farmers or merchants so they would not become unemployed. In 1905, the Slave Abolition Act ended Siamese slavery in all forms. The reverse of 100-baht notes in circulation since the 2005 centennial depict Chulalongkorn in navy uniform abolishing the slave tradition.


The construction of railways in Siam had a political basis: to connect all the country to have an eye on every part of Siam. In 1901, the first railway was opened from Bangkok to Korat. In the same year, the first power plant of Siam gave off its energy. Electric lights were turned on along the roads.

Relations with British Empire

Chakri Monarchs
Emblem of the House of Chakri.svg
Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke
Buddha Loetla Nabhalai
Ananda Mahidol
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Siamese authorities had exercised a substantial control over Malay sultanates since Ayutthaya times. The sultans sought British support to counterweight Siamese influence. In 1909, the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 was formulated. Four sultanates (namely Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, and Perlis) were brought under British influence in exchange for Siamese legal rights and a loan to construct railways in southern Siam.

Death and legacy

Statue of the King in the Royal Plaza (Thailand), Dusit, Bangkok.

The Royal Equestrian Statue of Chulalongkorn was finished in 1908 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the king’s reign. It was cast in bronze by a Parisian metallurgist, and then placed on the marble. Chulalongkorn had visited Europe two times in 1897 and 1907; the latter time was to cure his kidney disease. His last accomplishment was the establishment of a plumbing system in 1908. He died on 23 October 1910 of his kidney disease in Dusit Palace, and succeeded by his son Vajiravudh.

Chulalongkorn University, founded in 1917 as the first university in Thailand, was named in his honour.

In 1997 a memorial pavilion was raised in honor of King Chulalongkorn in Ragunda, Sweden. This was done to commemorate King Chulalongkorn's visit to Sweden in 1897 where he visited the World Fair. During the time when Swedish-Norwegian king Oscar II travelled to Norway for a council, Chulalongkorn went up north to study forestry. Beginning in Härnösand and travelling via Sollefteå and Ragunda he mounted a boat in the small village of Utanede in order to take him back through Sundsvall to Stockholm. His passage through Utanede left a mark on the village as one street was named after the king. The pavilion is erected right next to that road.

In 2003, the Thai baht 100-baht note was revised to depict King Chulalongkorn in navy uniform and, in the background, abolishing the slave tradition.

Titles and styles

Royal coat of arms of the Kingdom of Siam, introduced by King Chulalongkorn, the arms was the Emblem of Siam from 1878 to 1910.
  • 1853-1866: H.R.H Prince Chulalongorn, the Prince Biganeshavara Surasankas (Krom Muen Biganeshavara Surasankas)
  • 1866-1868: H.R.H Prince Chulalongorn, the Prince Binit Prajanart (Krom Khun Binit Prajanart)
  • 1868-1910: H.M.King Chulalongkorn (Prabat Somdet Phra Chula Chomklao Chao Yu Hua, Chulalongkorn (to Westerners) and Phra Buddha Chao Luang (to subjects))


See also

  • List of children of Chulalongkorn


External links

Chakri Dynasty
Born: 20 September 1853 Died: 23 October 1910
Preceded by
King of Siam
Succeeded by

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