by Susan Flantzer
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand was born December 5, 1927 at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States. He was the youngest of three children of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and his commoner wife Princess Srinagarindra. At the time of King Bhumibol’s birth, his father was studying medicine at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. King Bhumibol had two siblings: Princess Galyani Vadhana (1923 – 2008) and his predecessor on the throne King Ananda Mahidol (1925 – 1946).
In 1928, King Bhumibol’s family went back to Thailand after his father received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. On September 24, 1929, King Bhumibol’s father Prince Mahidol Adulyadej died of kidney failure at the age of 37. Prince Mahidol Adulyadej did much to improve medicine and public health in Thailand and is considered to be the father of modern medicine and public health of Thailand.
King Bhumibol began his education at Mater Dei School in Bangkok, Thailand. In 1933, King Bhumibol along with his mother and siblings moved to Switzerland where he attended Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande in Lausanne Switzerland. In 1934, King Prajadhipok, King Bhumibol’s uncle, abdicated and as he had no children, King Bhumibol’s 9-year-old brother Ananda Mahidol became king. The family remained in Switzerland and regents were appointed to take over the duties of the young king. King Bhumibol completed his secondary education at the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne and received a baccalauréat des lettres (high-school diploma with major in French literature, Latin, and Greek). King Bhumibol began studying at the University of Lausanne, but returned to Thailand in 1945 when World War II ended.
In his childhood, King Bhumibol began two hobbies that would become lifelong passions. At the age of seven, he received his first camera and after that wherever he went, his camera went also. Some of his many photographs are displayed at the King Bhumibol Photographic Museum. In 1942 at the age of 15, King Bhumibol became a jazz enthusiast and started to play the saxophone. He was an accomplished jazz saxophone player and composer, playing Dixieland and New Orleans jazz. The King also played the clarinet, trumpet, guitar, and piano.
On June 9, 1946, King Bhumibol became king at the age of 18. King Bhumibol’s brother King Ananda Mahidol was found shot dead in his bedroom in the Boromphiman Throne Hall at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, four days before he was scheduled to return to Switzerland to finish his doctoral degree in law at the University of Lausanne. The circumstances of King Ananda Mahidol’s death have never been fully explained. At the end of the mourning period, King Bhumibol returned to Switzerland to complete his university studies.
During his university days, King Bhumibol frequently visited Paris and it was there that he met his future wife Sirikit Kitiyakara who was the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France. In October of 1948, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had a serious car accident on a road near Lausanne, Switzerland and lost his right eye and has worn a prosthetic since. Sirikit visited him frequently during his hospital stay and decided to attend school in Lausanne so she could get to know the king better. The couple got engaged on July 19, 1949 and married at Srapathum Palace in Bangkok, Thailand on April 28, 1950, just a week before the king’s coronation. After the coronation on May 5, 1950, the 22-year-old king and the 17-year-old queen returned to their studies in Lausanne, Switzerland. The couple had three daughters and one son:
- Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, born April 5, 1951
- King Maha Vajiralongkorn, born July 28, 1952
- Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, born April 2, 1955
- Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, born July 4, 1957
King Bhumibol’s coronation was held on May 5, 1950 at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. On Coronation Day, King Bhumibol’s consort was made Queen. On June 9, 2006, King Bhumibol celebrated his 60th anniversary as the King of Thailand, becoming the longest reigning monarch in Thai history.
The health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej declined in his later years. The King resided at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok for several years. He left the hospital in August of 2013, but returned intermittently until 2015 when he returned to the hospital permanently.
On the occasion of his 85th birthday, December 5, 2012, King Bhumibol made an appearance on the palace balcony. Hundreds of thousands of Thais waving flags crowded around Bangkok’s Royal Plaza to witness a rare public appearance by their revered and ailing king. Queen Sirikit did not attend. She has not made public appearances since suffering a stroke in July of 2012.
BBC: Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrates 85th birthday (video)
King Bhumibol Adluyadej died on October 13, 2016 at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, at the age of 88, following several years of illness. At the time of his death, he was the world’s longest-reigning monarch, having reigned for 70 years and 126 days. The King’s son, Maha Vajiralongkorn was proclaimed King of Thailand following a period of personal mourning. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, did not want to be immediately named king to give the nation time to mourn his father’s death.
The King’s remains will lie in state from October 16, 2016 until the cremation ceremony on October 26, 2017. While the King’s remains lie in state, foreign dignitaries have paid their respects. The public square Sanam Luang will be used as the cremation ground. On February 27, 2017, the construction of an elaborate, temporary crematorium began.
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