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Ayutthaya, Capital of a Kingdom, Part 28
King Chulalongkorn Rama 5 of Siam
The Travails and Travels of a Monarch

King Chulalongkorn
King Chulalongkorn visited Europe twice, 1897 & 1907 during his reign. He built up close friendly relationships with the state heads: Russia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Netherlands. Poutugal, Spain and Switzerland. Those friendshops greatly benefited to Siam.
Imagine, if you will, that you have inherited a large house with spacious gardens. You are a diligent, well-educated person and you know that a lot of house repairs have to be made and a host of weeds removed from the garden. It will take time to put everything in order but, without being asked, foreign neighbors have suggested they help. You are wary of such assistance since you know that the neighbors, although outwardly friendly, are the bullying types and are really looking for a chance to seize part of your large garden.

Such was the delicate predicament facing King Chulalongkorn of Siam although instead of a large house and garden being at stake, it was the territory of his Kingdom and its independence which was at risk.

Since acceding to the Siamese throne in 1868, King Rama V set about a program of reform and modernization for his nation but progress had to be "slow and steady" in order not to alienate his Nobility, Government and people. Bonded slavery was abolished, Government taxation revenues streamlined and centralized, medical services and hospitals created as were police and postal services. Railways and roadways were also on the Monarch's agenda. Upgrading an agricultural country, basically without a communication infrastructure and steeped in heartfelt cultural traditions was a mammoth undertaking especially as the King did not wish to lose any of the Siamese culture in the process of modernization.

King Chulalongkorn gave a sincere greeting and genuine friendshop with Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia at Bang Pa-In Summer Palace.
Foreign experts were engaged to assist in various fields and, generally, these were good men with a sincere desire to assist King Chulalongkorn in the development of Siam but the hidden agenda of their governments was, perhaps, another matter. The "neighbors" were France to the East (French Indo-China Colonies) and Britain to the West and South (Burma & Malaya Colonies). Britain was nibbling at Siam's southern territories but France was taking great bites of territory on the left bank of the Mekhong River (present day Laos & Cambodia). During the course of King Chulalongkorn's reign, Siam had to "give" some 294,000 square kilometers of territory to France while a further 52,000 square kilometers went to Britain.

King Chulalongkorn's learned education and fluency in English allowed him to communicate easily with visiting diplomats so they were usually welcome guests as were other visiting Royalty. An important visitor to Siam was the Tsarevitch Nicholas who thoroughly enjoyed his visit while staying at the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace north of Bangkok. An easy, genuine friendship sprang up between the visiting Tsarevitch and King Chulalongkorn. It was especially appreciated as Russia had no territorial eyes on Siam. Another visitor, in 1881 (the same year as telephone services began in Siam), was His Majesty King Kalakaua of Hawaii. Again the two Monarchs got on famously but, sadly, King Kalakaua was to be the last king of Hawaii as his island Kingdom was later seized and annexed by the United States. Territorial loss was an ever-present worry for the Siamese King as he could see the Great Powers were insatiable in extending their "spheres of influence".

Colonization and western influences were coming to Asia and some other parts of the world. King Chulalongkorn had to speed up his modern programs on goverment structure, economy, transportation and defence.
King Chulalongkorn regarded the situation as so potentially serious that, in 1897, he embarked on a visit of European countries. He hoped to establish "balancing" friendships and create bonds with as many European nations as possible. Likewise to learn of latest developments, which could be incorporated into Siamese progress, and to arrange for Siamese students to study in European countries. Also, King Chulalongkorn had at least one genuine friend in Europe his visitor to the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace had now become Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias.

So began an arduous, nine month, overseas journey with much of its success being credited to Tsar Nicholas II and the inherent "likability" of King Chulalongkorn. The Tsar had spoken highly of the Siamese King to Austrian Emperor Franz-Josef who had, in turn, spoken to Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II. The road for successful visits was, accordingly, paved as was, most importantly, King Chulalongkorn being accepted as a Royal equal.

Bang Pa-In Summer Palace was built by King Chulalongkorn in 1872. Several buildings and mansions were designed with various styles of architecture: Thae, Chinese and European.
The Royal European Progress began in Italy on May 14, 1897 and, after meeting with the Italian King and His Holiness the Pope, King Chulalongkorn moved on to Switzerland, Austria and Hungary before catching up with his friend Tsar Nicholas II at the Peterhof. Throughout his journey, European Crowned Heads and Presidents of Republics welcomed the Siamese King royally, graciously and warmly. Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal were all captivated by the slightly built Siamese Monarch. The Prince of Wales officially welcomed King Chulalongkorn for his five week visit to Great Britain during which he toured extensively and called on Her Majesty Queen Victoria at her Isle of Wight residence (the elderly Queen was preparing for her Diamond Jubilee). Another call was to visit his son who was being educated at Harrow a noted English "public" school.

As it happened, such were the strains between Siam and the French Republic, France had not been included in the Royal itinerary. However, having heard of the magnificent receptions accorded to King Chulalongkorn by other European Heads of State, President Faure of France sent his presidential train to Brussels (where King Chulalongkorn had been visiting King Leopold II) to invite and embark the Siamese King.

The most famous of his reforms was the abolition of slavery. he pronounced every person born during his reign free and took gradual steps to liberate the present slaves by creating incentives for their owners.
The reception in France, on 11 September 1897, was magnificently regal and wherever he went King Chulalongkorn was cheered by the French people Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and, indeed, Longchamps horse races were all graced by visits from King Rama V. The ordinary people of France were heart-warmed by King Chulalongkorn (and by his gifts to the poor of Paris) but the Government of France never returned the Siamese territory it had taken. But, thanks to these eminently successful State Visits, France could not risk censure and the embarrassment of further bullying tactics. Siamese territorial losses were stemmed!

After visiting fourteen European countries and making many important connections, His Majesty King Chulalong korn, Rama V returned to Siam in the latter part of 1897. Success had been heaped upon success and, in a speech to his Nobles, Government and people, the Siamese King declared "I am determined to do everything in my power to make Siam a free and progressive country". And he did!

See related articles (History of Ayutthaya):

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