by Susan Flantzer
Sirikit Kitiyakara was born on August 12, 1932 in Bangkok, Thailand. She is the third of four children of Prince Nakkhatra Mangkala Kitiyakara and Bua Snidvongs. Queen Sirikit’s paternal grandfather Prince Kitiyakara Voralaksana was the twelfth son of King Chulalongkorn. The Queen shares a descent from King Chulalongkorn with her husband King Bhumibol and they are first cousins once removed. Queen Sirikit has two older brothers and one younger sister: Galyanakit Kitiyakara (1929 – 1987), Adulyakit Kitiyakara (1930 – 2004) and Busba Kitiyakara (born 1934)
Queen Sirikit began her primary education at the Rajini School in Bangkok, Thailand. She then attended St. Francis Xavier Convent School in the Samsen District of Bangkok. Her father, later on, became Thai Ambassador to France and Denmark and finally Ambassador to the Court of St. James in England. Queen Sirikit accompanied her father and was educated in all three countries.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand succeeded to the throne on June 9, 1946, upon the death of his older brother King Ananda Mahidol from a gunshot wound under circumstances that have never been fully explained. At the time, the 18-year-old Bhumibol Adulyadej was attending the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He returned to the university after his brother’s death and continued his studies.
During his university days, King Bhumibol Adulyadej 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. Both Sirikit and King Bhumibol Adulyadej were studying at the Thai embassy and a relationship developed. In October of 1948, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had a serious car accident on a road near Lausanne, Switzerland and lost his right eye and wore a prosthetic for the rest of his life. 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
In 1956, King Bhumibol became a Buddhist monk for a period of time as is customary for Thai Buddhist males and Queen Sirikit served as Regent. Because of the excellent way she served as Regent, King Bhumibol gave her the style “Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachininat” which would translate to Queen Regent.
Queen Sirikit is well known for her charitable work. She has been President of the Thai Red Cross Society since 1956. Through the Thai Red Cross, the Queen has been active in relief work for the many refugees from Cambodia and Burma in Thailand. The Queen took an active role in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in southern Thailand in December of 2004. Tragically, the tsunami took the life of her grandson Bhumi Jensen, the son of her eldest daughter.
The health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej declined in his later years. The king resided at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok for several years. On July 21, 2012, Queen Sirikit felt unsteady and staggered while exercising at Siriraj Hospital where King Bhumibol Adulyadej resided. Doctors determined that she has suffered a stroke. The Queen was not seen in public until August of 2013 when the King was discharged from the hospital. Since then, Queen Sirikit has refrained from making public appearances. King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on October 13, 2016, at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, at the age of 88, following several years of illness.