King Chulalongkorn of Siam (Thailand) was born on 20 September 1853 as the son of King Mongkut and Queen Debsirindra – his parents were great-uncle and great-niece and were 30 years apart in age. His mother died on 9 September 1862, and her sister continued to act as his father’s consort. Prince Chulalongkorn received a broad education – some of it was portrayed in the film Anna and the King. Chulalongkorn’s father, Mongkut, had at least 32 wives and concubines who gave him at least 82 children.
Mongkut died on 1 October 1868, and he was succeeded as King by Chulalongkorn. At the time, young Chulalongkorn was sick with malaria and was also believed to be dying, and so Mongkut ordered a new successor to be chosen who could “save the country.” Chulalongkorn survived the malaria attack, and his first coronation was held on 11 November 1868. Chulalongkorn would also become the father of many children – at least 77 by 92 consorts. His first child was born in 1867 before he became King.
Several of his consorts were also his half-sisters. These marriages were usually done to keep the bloodline pure and the power within the right family. It is perhaps no surprise that many of their children did not survive or if they did, their health was weak.
Daksinajar Naradhirajbutri was born on 18 September 1852 as the daughter of King Mongkut and Chan Suksathit, a concubine. They had at least one son, but he lived for just eight hours and never received a name. The death of her son apparently distressed her so much that she felt unable to return to royal service. She died on 13 September 1906.
Sukhumala Marasri was born on 10 May 1861 as the daughter of King Mongkut and Samli, a concubine. They had two children together, Princess Suddha Dibyaratana and Prince Paribatra Sukhumbandhu. She was known as Princess consort during her husband’s reign, but she was named Queen consort during her nephew’s reign. She died on 9 July 1927.
Savang Vadhana was born on 10 September 1862 as the daughter of King Mongkut and Princess Piyamavadi. She married her half-brother sometime in 1877 and their marriage produced at least eight children. Her youngest daughter lived for just three days, and several other children did not live to adulthood. She would eventually outlive all of her children. Her youngest son Mahidol Adulyadej would become the father of Kings Ananda Mahidol and Bhumibol Adulyadej. She became known as the Queen Grandmother when her eldest grandson became King. She died on 17 December 1955 at the grand age of 93.
Sunanda Kumariratana was born on 10 November 1860 as the daughter of King Mongkut and Princess Piyamavadi. She was thus the full sister of Savang Vadhana. She had one daughter with her brother, Princess Kannabhorn Bejaratana. Sunanda is mostly known for her tragic end. At the age of 19, while pregnant with her second child, Sunanda and her young daughter were by boat to the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. The boat capsised, and the Queen and her daughter drowned because the bystanders were not allowed to touch royalty and were thus afraid to touch her. The incident took place on 31 May 1880. Her husband later erected a grand monument to them.
Sri Bajarindra was born on 1 January 1864 as the daughter of King Mongkut and Princess Piyamavadi, making her the full sister of the two women above. She married her half-brother sometime in 1878. They would have nine children together, of which five would live to adulthood. Two of her sons would eventually succeed as King of Siam. In 1897, she acted as regent for her husband when he went on a tour of Europe, becoming the first woman to do so. She was especially interested in furthering women’s causes and was the founder of a girls school. She died on 20 October 1919 at the age of 55. Her son King Vajiravudh later stipulated that her children would have precedence in the line of succession, leading to the eventual succession of her youngest son Prajadhipok as King Rama VII.
The current King of Thailand (as Siam was renamed in 1939) is both Chulalongkorn’s great-grandson (through his father and Savang Vadhana – mentioned above) and his great-great-grandson (through his mother, Sirikit).