Obituary: King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

  October 13, 2016 at 9:15 am by

The world’s longest reigning monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand was revered in his people, described by members of the public as ‘the heart of the country’. He has been a constant figure throughout decades of political instability and divisions, viewed as a unifying force.

Born on December 5, 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts – the only monarch to be born on United States soil – Bhumibol Adulydaej was the youngest child of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and Princess Srinagarindra. At the time of his birth, he was third in line for the Thai throne, following his father and elder brother, Prince Ananda Mahidol.

King Bhumibol, 1960

Following the death of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej in 1928, Bhumibol and his siblings resided in Switzerland with their mother, with few visits to Thailand (even when Prince Ananda Mahidol became King in 1935). The young Prince was educated at Lausanne’s Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande and Gymnase Classique Cantonal, before he enrolled in the University of Lausanne where Bhumibol initially studied science and technology.

He however changed majors to law and political science in 1946 when he succeeded the throne following the death of his brother, Ananda Mahidol, who was killed by a gunshot wound that has never been completely explained.

It was also during his university days that Bhumibol met his future wife, the daughter of Thailand’s Ambassador to France, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara. Sirikit was a regular fixture by his side in Lausanne after Bhumibol was involved in an October 1948 car accident. The couple’s engagement took place in July 1949, while their wedding was celebrated in April 1950 one week before the King’s coronation at the Royal Palace in Bangkok.

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit had four children: Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Princess Chulabhorn Walailak.

King Bhumibol and his fiance in 1949

Over the seven decades of his reign, Bhumibol Adulyadej has seen 17 military coups that have ousted the elected government of the day. He has several times negotiated with military juntas to return the country to a democratic government, though these have typically lasted no more than a few years. His role in politics has not always been viewed neutral, particularly the 2006 coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Despite several elections since, a military junta has been in power since 2014.

Even with the political instability of his country, King Bhumibol was very involved in economic and social development programs up and down the nation particularly in rural areas, often making personal trips – with a camera around his neck – to inspect the progress of his projects. This personal interest follows the King’s statement that if history remembered him, it should be for “how I do things that are useful.”

The King – a noted saxophone player who has composed dozens of pieces of music and even had his own jazz band – has largely been out of the public eye for the past several years as his health declined and he suffered from numerous ailments. Since June 2015 he lived at the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok with only ill-frequent days out.

His only son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (though not as respected as his father), has been confirmed as his successor.

King Bhumibol, 2006

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