Understanding an important page in Thailand’s history
King Prajadhipok, or Rama VII, witnessed one of the most important events in the modern history of the Kingdom of Siam: the 1932 Revolution which put an end to absolute monarchy and instituted a constitutional monarchy. The King Prajadhipok Museum, housed in a charming European style building in the heart of Royal Bangkok, recalls his life and his achievements.
Located at one of the most important crossroads of old Royal Bangkok—standing just at the corner of Lan Luang and Damrongrak Roads, facing the magnificent Phan Fa Bridge and the majestic perspective of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue— the King Prajadhipok Museum looks a bit lost among the typical Art Deco buildings of the area, most of them painted in dark yellow. With its neo-renaissance style façade in shades of almond green, and its octagonal cupola with a clock, the building offers indeed an unintentional contrast with the architectural style of the area.
The structure is one of the last pieces of the first expansion of Bangkok in the early days of the 20th century. When it opened in 1906, the structure was in fact used for an emporium owned by John Sampson & Son. The architect was half-French/half-Swiss and was also inspired by Venetian Gothic and Renaissance architecture, a style much en-vogue in those years. The store closed a few years later, and in 1933 became the Department of Public Works before it was leased to the King Prajadhipok Institute, following permission granted by the Crown Property Bureau to turn the building into a museum.
The Museum was officially opened to the public in 2002, and helps visitors to plunge into one of the most fascinating periods in Thailand’s recent history. Through the documents and personal belongings of King Rama VII, visitors can discover the life of this beloved monarch, including his achievements, and—most interestingly—learn about his views on the 1932 Revolution which transformed Siam’s absolute monarchy into a constitutional one.
It gives one an opportunity to know about the life of a king who witnessed one of the most crucial moments in modern Thai history.
King Prajadhipok himself was the youngest son of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V), and Queen Sri Patcharindra. Born on November 8, 1893, he was educated in both Thai and English, and did part of his education at Eton College in England and at Woolwich Royal Military Academy. Many photos inside the Museum show the early days of the future King with his family and at college. He was crowned King of Siam on February 25, 1926, at the age of 32.
Relatively unprepared to assume the throne—as he was not first in succession to Rama VI—King Prajadhipok had an intelligent personality and showed a true commitment to bring more democracy and modern development into Siam. He engaged the Kingdom in political reforms, such as the creation of the Supreme Council of the State of Siam (the precursor of the current Privy Council) and introduced municipal administration. The King was also fond of culture and education, as detailed in the museum. He is the one who abolished education fees by promulgating the Primary Education Act. He modernized the ‘Wang Na Museum’, renamed in 1926 as the Bangkok Museum, and then Bangkok National Museum in 1934. The King also helped develop the National Library.
Among the cultural institutions of note during the reign of Rama VII is the Chalermkrung Theatre. The museum has reconstructed part of the theatre as it used to be at time of opening in 1932. The theatre was then the most modern cultural building in Bangkok and one of the few equipped with air conditioning.
But this King’s most spectacular contribution to Bangkok’s cityscape was the construction of the Phra Putta Yodfa Bridge, connecting Bangkok and Thonburi, constructed in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Chakri Dynasty and the founding of Bangkok. A model shows the bridge and its surrounding the year of its opening, while the original plans are on display around the room. Many pictures show the King and the Queen visiting the construction site as King Prajadhipok took particularly interest in the development of the surrounding communities.
Is it a coincidence that the opening of the bridge in April 1932 was the last big official act of a King as ‘Absolute Monarch of Siam’? The military-orchestrated Siamese coup d’état on June 24th of that year was the start of a political revolution, resulting in the King’s status being transformed from “absolute monarch” to “constitutional monarch”. On December 10, 1932, King Prajadhipok granted permission to the Kingdom’s first constitution. Photos refer to these turbulent times and show again facsimiles and authentic documents related to the Siamese revolution.
Due to deteriorating relations with the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon) in power, the King started touring Europe and spent a long period of time in the UK for health reasons. While seeing the difficulty to agree with the evolution of the political situation within Siam, the King finally took the bold decision to abdicate in March 1935, remaining from that time in England. Most interesting is to read the reproduction of English-language newspapers of the time, with analysis of the situation in the Kingdom as well as the official abdication speech of King Prajadhipok. Once more, the museum provides an opportunity to learn more about the profound political changes affecting Siam at that time.
The last rooms of the museum reflect on the King’s final years in England, where he had a rather tranquil life with his wife, Queen Rambhai Barni. A special section is dedicated to the Queen and her commitment to arts and handicrafts—from her early days, to her death in 1984 in Bangkok. King Prajhadipok suffered of heart problems and passed away from heart failure on May 30, 1941. He was only 48 years old. He reigned only for ten years but remains in history as one of the most important monarchs in Thai history.
King Pradhipok Museum
2 Lan Luang Rd, | Tel: 02 280 341
Open: Tue-Sun, 9am-4pm Admission: free