Ayutthaya, Capital of a Kingdom, Part 28
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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