Queen Sirikit – A life in the shadows

dpa picture alliance archive / Alamy Stock Photo

The future Queen Sirikit was born on 12 August 1932 as the daughter of Prince Nakkhatra Mangkala Kitiyakara and Mom Luang Bua Snidvongs at the home of her maternal grandfather. She had two elder brothers, Mom Rajawongse Kalyanakit Kitiyakara (1929-1987) and Mom Rajawongse Adulakit Kitiyakara (1930-2004) and a younger sister, Mom Rajawongse Busba Kitiyakara (1934). The title of Mom Rajawongse is translated as The Honourable and is granted to children of a male carrying the Mom Chao style, meaning Serene Highness. Her grandfather Kitiyakara Voralaksana, Prince of Chanthaburi I, was the 12th son of King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V. Sirikit grew up in the Deves Palace, near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.

From the age of four, she attended the Kindergarten College at Rajini School. During the Pacific War, she moved to the Saint Francis Xavier Convent School, which was nearer to the palace. At the end of the war, she and her family moved to the United Kingdom because her father was appointed ambassador. As a result, Sirikit became fluent in England and French. Because of her father’s work, they moved around a lot, and it was in France that she met her future husband, the young King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as King Rama IX) of Thailand. Sirikit was studying to become a pianist in France, and she was still only 15 years old. Nevertheless, Sirikit accompanied Bhumibol as he visited tourist attractions in Paris.

Sirikit later recalled their first meeting for the BBC: “It was hate at first sight… because he said he would arrive at four o’clock in the afternoon. He arrived at seven o’clock, kept me standing there, practising curtsey and curtsey. But the next time, it was love…” They were married the following year, on 28 April 1950, at the Srapathum Palace. Sirikit was not yet 18 years old, and her parents also signed the marriage certificate. On 5 May 1950, her husband had his coronation, and Sirikit received the title of Somdet Phra Borommarachini. Following a short honeymoon at Hua Hin, the newlyweds returned to Switzerland to continue their education.

Their first child was born in Lausanne on 5 April 1951, and she was named Princess Ubol Ratana. By the time of the birth of their second child, they were back in Thailand. The future King Maha Vajiralongkorn (or King Rama X) was born on 28 July 1952. Their popularity increased without them even trying. Two more daughters followed, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was born in 1955, and Princess Chulabhorn Walailak was born in 1957. In 1956, King Bhumibol became a monk for a short period, and during this time, Sirikit acted as regent.

By the early 1970s, the prestige of the dynasty itself was at stake. Their only son Vajiralongkorn had not inherited his parents’ charm and diplomatic skills and was disliked, but the Palace Law of Succession 1924 allowed only male descendants of King Chulalongkorn by his official Queens to ascend the throne. When Bhumibol fell ill in 1975, combined with an insurgency, worries about the succession and frustration with capitalism, things all fell apart. He and Sirikit turned to a violent conservatism that ultimately led to the Thammasat massacre.

Sirikit had been a celebrated Queen for the first 20 years, but she began to fight the ageing process. She began taking diet and energy pills, and she said, “My husband says he hates me to be fat.” When she became smitten with a Colonel Narongdej, people presumed they had an intimate relationship, and it became a scandal. When he died in 1985, her mourning for him was ridiculed. Her image suffered further damage when a rumoured account of a trip to the United States detailed how she had plastic surgery, collected money supposedly for her charities and how she stashed money just in case the monarchy went belly up.

Sirikit remained preoccupied with her rogue son, and at the end of 1985, she suffered a breakdown and disappeared from the public view for six months. Princess Chulabhorn came to her mother’s defence, “If the people are going to get angry because of her disappearance from the public view, it is us (her children) who should be blamed since we always insist that she rests instead of making appearances… Normally everybody has holidays, but her majesty never had one.”

In a further attempt for Sirikit to establish her legacy, she pushed for the production of an epic movie about the legendary Queen Suriyothai and even selected the leading actress herself. The film cost over 10 million dollars and was at the time the most expensive Thai film ever made.

For Sirikit, this last decade has been challenging. In 2012, she suffered a stroke, and she has since refrained from public appearances. Bhumibol passed away on 13 October 2016, leaving the throne to their controversial son Vajiralongkorn.1 Queen Sirikit reportedly suffers from dementia and can no longer communicate.2 In 2020, an art exhibition was held in honour of mother’s day and Queen Sirikit’s 88th birthday.

  1. Read more: Paul M. Handley – The King Never Smiles
  2. See here

About Moniek Bloks 2743 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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