Biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

Bhumibol Adulyadej

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Bhumibol Adulyadej (December 5, 1927–October 13, 2016) was the king of Thailand for 70 years. At the time of his death, Adulyadej was world's longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. Adulyadej was known for being a calming presence at the center of Thailand's recent stormy political history.

Fast Facts:

  • Known For: King of Thailand (1950–2016), the longest-reigning monarch in the world
  • Also Known As: "the Great" (Thai: มหาราช, Maharaja), Rama IX, Phumiphon Adunlayadet
  • Born: December 5, 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Parents: Prince Mahidol (1892–1929) and Srinagarindra (née Sangwan Talapat)
  • Died: October 16, 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Education: University of Lausanne
  • Awards and Honors: Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Spouse: Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kiriyakara (m. 1950)
  • Children: Maha Vajiralongkorn (king of Thailand 2016–present), Sirindhorn, Chulabhorn, Ubol Ratana

Early Life

Bhumibol Adulyadej (known as Phumiphon Adunlayadet or King Rama IX) was born on December 5, 1927, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, into the royal family of Thailand. As the second son born to his parents, and because his birth took place outside of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej was never expected to rule Thailand. His reign came about only after his older brother's violent death.

Bhumibol, whose full name means "strength of the land, incomparable power," was in the United States because his father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, was studying for a public health certificate at Harvard University. His mother, Princess Srinagarindra (née Sangwan Talapat), was studying nursing at Simmons College in Boston.

When Bhumibol was 1, his family returned to Thailand, where his father took up an internship in a hospital in Chiang Mai. Prince Mahidol was in poor health, though, and died of kidney and liver failure in September 1929.

Revolution and an Education

In 1932, a coalition of military officers and civil servants staged a coup against King Rama VII. The Revolution of 1932 ended the Chakri dynasty's absolute rule and created a constitutional monarchy. Concerned for their safety, Princess Srinagarindra took her two young sons and young daughter to Switzerland the following year. The children were placed in Swiss schools.

In March 1935, King Rama VII abdicated in favor of his 9-year-old nephew, Bhumibol Adulyadej's older brother Ananda Mahidol. The child-king and his siblings remained in Switzerland, however, and two regents ruled the kingdom in his name. Ananda Mahidol returned to Thailand in 1938, but Bhumibol Adulyadej remained in Europe. The younger brother continued his studies in Switzerland until 1945, when he left the University of Lausanne at the end of World War II.

Succession

On June 9, 1946, young King Mahidol died in his palace bedroom from a single gunshot wound to the head. It was never conclusively proved whether his death was murder, accident, or suicide. Nevertheless, two royal pages and the king's personal secretary were convicted and executed for the crime of assassination.

Adulyadej's uncle was appointed his prince regent, and Adulyadej returned to the University of Lausanne to finish his degree. In deference to his new role, he changed his major from science to political science and law.

An Accident and a Marriage

Just as his father had done in Massachusetts, Adulyadej met his wife-to-be while studying overseas. He often went to Paris, where he met the daughter of Thailand's ambassador to France, a student named Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kiriyakara. Adulyadej and Sirikit began a courtship, visiting Paris' romantic tourist sights.

In October 1948, Adulyadej rear-ended a truck and was seriously injured. He lost his right eye and suffered a painful back injury. Sirikit spent a lot of time nursing and entertaining the injured king; the king's mother urged the young woman to transfer to a school in Lausanne so that she could continue her studies while getting to know Adulyadej better.

On April 28, 1950, Adulyadej and Sirikit were married in Bangkok. She was 17 years old; he was 22. The king was officially crowned one week later, becoming Thailand's monarch and officially known thereafter as King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Military Coups and Dictatorships

The newly crowned king had very little actual power. Thailand was ruled by military dictator Plaek Pibulsonggram until 1957 when the first of a long series of coups removed him from office. Adulyadej declared martial law during the crisis, which ended with a new dictatorship forming under the king's close ally, Sarit Dhanarajata.

Over the next six years, Adulyadej would revive many abandoned Chakri traditions. He also made many public appearances around Thailand, significantly reviving the prestige of the throne.

Dhanarajata died in 1963 and was succeeded by Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. Ten years later, Thanom sent out the troops against huge public protests, killing hundreds of protestors. Adulyadej opened Chitralada Palace's gates to offer refuge to the demonstrators as they fled the soldiers.

The king then removed Thanom from power and appointed the first of a series of civilian leaders. In 1976, however, Kittikachorn returned from overseas exile, sparking another round of demonstrations that ended in what came to be known as "The October 6 Massacre," in which 46 students were killed and 167 injured at Thammasat University.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Admiral Sangad Chaloryu staged yet another coup and took power. Further coups took place in 1977, 1980, 1981, 1985, and 1991. Although Adulyadej tried to stay above the fray, he refused to support the 1981 and 1985 coups. His prestige, however, was damaged by the constant unrest.

Transition to Democracy

When a military coup leader was selected as prime minister in May 1992, huge protests broke out in Thailand's cities. The demonstrations known as Black May turned into riots, and the police and military were rumored to be dividing into factions. Fearing a civil war, Adulyadej called the coup and opposition leaders to an audience at the palace.

Adulyadej was able to pressure the coup leader into resigning. New elections were called and a civilian government was elected. The king's intervention was the beginning of an era of civilian-led democracy that has continued with just one interruption to this day. Bhumibol's image as an advocate for the people, reluctantly intervening in the political fray to protect his subjects, was cemented by this success.

Death

In 2006, Bhumibol suffered from lumbar spinal stenosis. His health began to decline and he was hospitalized frequently. He died at the Siriraj hospital in Bangkok on October 16, 2016. Crown prince Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne, and his official coronation was held on May 4, 2019.

Legacy

In June of 2006, King Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit celebrated the 60th Anniversary of their rule, also known as the Diamond Jubilee. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented the king with the UN’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to Bhumibol at a ceremony in Bangkok as part of the festivities.

Although he was never intended for the throne, Adulyadej is remembered as a successful and beloved king of Thailand, who helped calm turbulent political waters over the decades of his long reign.

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