The late Princess Srinagarindra of Thailand – the grandmother to the current King Maha Vajiralongkorn – was known as the “Royal Grandmother”, “The Heavenly Royal Mother” and “Royal Mother from the Sky”.
Born Sangwan Chukramol on 21 October 1900, she would go on to marry into the Thai Royal Family and have three children – two of whom would become King of Thailand. Raised in a family who knew heartache and poverty, she dedicated herself later in life to giving back to those less fortunate.
By age 29, she would be a widow and had three young children, ranging from age six to a year and nine months. The Princess part of her life was put on the backburner. Her most important role was to be a mother to her children and raise them to be respectful and responsible adults.
After the death of her husband, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, on 24 September 1929 as a result of kidney health problems, Sangwan then became a single parent and made sure that each of her children got an excellent education. After a revolution in Thailand ended the absolute monarchy, Sangwan and her children moved to Switzerland. When her son, Prince Ananda Mahidol was only nine-years-old, he was declared King of Thailand. A regent was appointed until he was of age, and Sangwan was given the title of Princess Mother Sri Sangwan.
Her dedication to her children’s education continued in Europe, and she saw to it that the young monarch was not treated any differently than any other student. She wanted her children to keep up with their native language and culture, and a tutor was sent from Thailand to instruct the children about their home country and the language. The Princess Mother also had her two sons board the last two years at the Ecole Nouvélle de la Suisse Romande so that they would learn to be more independent and take care of themselves – she had required they do household chores and make their beds each morning as children.
Additionally, Sangwan only applied corporal punishment as a last resort if one of her children continued to act out. One example that has been cited involved Prince Ananda Mahidol picking on the child of a caretaker. He had been warned and told to stop many times by his mother, but he continued. As a result, she spanked him, and he never bullied the child again. She also instilled in her children good manners and raised them to work and spend their own pocket money on things they wanted like sweets and toys. The Princess Mother was known to only spoil them on their birthdays and similar occasions.
Once the family made a return visit to Thailand, she helped ensure that the new King Rama VIII was well rounded and informed when it came to seeing his country – including temples and historical and cultural sites. The Princess Mother also encouraged him to give back to those less fortunate, and after returning to Switzerland, where they lived throughout World War II, the family lived on rations like other Swiss citizens. The Princess Mother insisted on carrying on a tradition started by her late husband – to invite Thai students for a meal on Sundays in their home.
Tragedy would strike once again when King Rama VIII died on 9 June 1946 making Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej the new King Rama IX.
She would live many more years in Switzerland and returned to Thailand for important family events like the birth of her grandchildren. She also served as regent on occasion for her son when he was away from Thailand for an extended period. The Princess Mother continued her charitable acts, as well, by providing scholarships for schooling, buying items for poor villages and other social welfare projects.
The Princess Mother, who was praised for how she raised her children as a single mother by her mother-in-law, died on 18 July 1995 at the age of 94.