12 Things About World’s Richest & Longest-Serving Monarch – King Bhumibol – That You May Not Know (Photos)

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Oct 14 2016
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Thailand’s people woke up on Friday to the first day in 70 years without King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a king they respected as a father-figure but worshipped like a God. “The king died at 3:52 p.m. in a ‘peaceful manner,” – declared the Royal Palace, as thousands waited outside Siriraj Hospital in nervous anticipation of the news.


Bhumibol ascended to the throne 70 years ago at the age of 18, making him the world’s longest-reigning monarch before his death at the age of 88. The cabinet declared a government holiday for mourning but the Stock Exchange of Thailand said it and “other financial institutions” would operate as normal.


Although Bhumibol had been ill for much of the past decade, some people were shocked on hearing he had died. From Vietnam War to bomb attacks to economic worries, the king would step in to calm crises and offer solutions. And now, many Thais are worried about a future without him.


He famously became the first monarch since the Siamese Revolution of 1932 to boat down the Chao Praya River to offer robes to Buddhist temples during the 700-year-old Thai ceremony Krabuan Phayuhayattra Chonlamak. This Royal Barge Procession ceremony took place 16 times during his reign.


While the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has assured that 64-year-old Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn will ascend the throne next, there is uncertainty over when that will happen after the “playboy” prince asked for a delay in succession. The crown prince, who spends much of his time overseas, especially in Germany, is less popular than his older sister Princess Sirindhorn, let alone King Bhumibol.


After being moved on Friday to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, next to the Grand Palace, the king’s body will lie in state for 100 days before the funeral rites. All festivities are banned for 30 days and the government declared a year of mourning. Here’re 12 things about King Bhumibol that you may not know.



{ 1 } King Bhumibol Was Born In USA

If Bhumibol was an ordinary Thai, he could have been an American citizen today. That’s because he was born on December 5, 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while his father, Songkla Mahidol, studied medicine at Harvard. He only returned to Thailand at the age of 2 after his father died in 1929, the same year Great Depression hit the U.S.



He was the only monarch ever born on American soil during a turbulent period in the Kingdom of Siam, as Thailand was then known, where myriad parties were plotting to end the absolute rule of the crown. Amazingly, Bhumibol was proclaimed when his country was “Siam”, but he would not be crowned until 1950, after the official name change to Thailand.



{ 2 } King Bhumibol Was Never Meant But Fated To Become A King

After his father died, Bhumibol didn’t become Thailand’s new king. The throne went to his uncle – Prajadhipok. A revolution in 1932, however, stripped King Prajadhipok of most of his powers and he abdicated in 1935. The crown then went to Bhumibol’s older brother, Ananda Mahidol, who ascended the throne at the age of 9. It seemed Bhumibol was never meant to rule.



But as fate would have it, 20-year-old King Ananda Mahidol was found shot dead in his bedroom in Bangkok’s Grand Palace, resulting in Bhumibol becoming king at 18 years old. The shot came from a Colt 45 handgun the king had been given as a trophy by US spy Alexander MacDonald, who later founded the Bangkok Post.



{ 3 } King Bhumibol Had Great Desire For Education


His mother took him, his older brother Ananda and sister Galyani to live in Lausanne, Switzerland, spending only a short period of time in Thailand after his father’s death. Three months after assuming the role of king, Bhumibol made the bold decision to return to Switzerland to continue his studies, switching from science to political science and law at the University of Lausanne.



{ 4 } King Bhumibol’s Name Had A Secret Meaning


Although Bhumibol was born not in the country he ruled, his name carried a secret but powerful meaning. His parents had to consult his uncle, King Rama VII, before choosing his name, which means “Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power”. Although he is known as King Bhumibol Adulyadej, he was crowned as King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty.



{ 5 } King Bhumibol Found His Queen In Switzerland



In Switzerland, Bhumibol made regular trips to Paris where he met Sirikit Kitiyakara, a cousin and the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France. He announced his engagement to the future queen on her 17th birthday on July 19, 1949, in London. The couple married in Bangkok a week before his coronation on May 5, 1950. They went on to have three daughters and a son.



{ 6 } King Bhumibol Had Survived 16 Coups, 20 Constitutions & 29 Prime Ministers


Throughout his 70-year-reign, King Bhumibol witnessed 29 changes of prime minister, 16 coups and 20 constitutions. He also helped the country navigate the disruptive effects of the Vietnam War during the 1960s and ’70s. Most Thais have only known King Bhumibol on the throne and his influence has superseded that of bickering politicians since the closing days of the Second World War.



{ 7 } King Bhumibol Is Thailand’s & World’s Longest-Reigning Monarch

After his brother Ananda’s violent death, Prince Bhumibol acceded to the throne the same day. He would become not only the world’s longest-reigning monarch, but broke all records for longevity in the history of Thai monarchy, a 750-year-old institution that has endured despite massive social and political transformation in the country formerly known as Siam.



In comparison, Queen Elizabeth II has ruled Britain for more than 64 years, having surpassed Queen Victoria’s mark in 2015. With King Bhumibol’s death, she becomes the world’s longest-reigning monarch alive. The Queen needs to rule beyond 2022 to beat King Bhumibol’s record as the world’s longest-reigning monarch.



{ 8 } King Bhumibol Was The World’s Richest Monarch

Through a little-known agency called the Crown Property Bureau, King Bhumibol controlled investments and properties worth an estimated US$30 billion (2011), including vast land holdings and controlling stakes in some of the country’s biggest companies. Forbes estimates he owned 3,320 acres of land in Bangkok and a total of 13,200 acres across the country.


Some of the land owned by Bhumibol included housing, shops, hotels and government buildings, with more than 40,000 rental contracts. However, the assets, including a 545-carat Golden Jubilee Diamond, belong to the monarchy as an institution which continues from reign to reign, not in the monarch’s private capacity.



{ 9 } King Bhumibol’s Mother Was A Commoner


While Bhumibol’s father was studying medicine at Harvard, his mother – Mom Sangwan Mahidol – was taking courses in nursing and nutrition. His father was in fact a half-brother to Thailand’s then king and the 69th of 77 children of the dynasty’s modernising King Chulalongkorn, who had died in 1910.



{ 10 } King Bhumibol Was A Talented Musician


Bhumibol learned several languages, including French, German and English, while living in Lausanne, Switzerland. He loved arts and photography and always carried his trademark camera. But nothing beats music where he played piano, clarinet, saxophone and was even a composer.



{ 11 } King Bhumibol Rebuilt Thai’s Monarch From Near Extinction

King Bhumibol was 24 when he finished his education and returned to Thailand permanently in 1951. The early years of his reign were marred by friction with the country’s post-war government. He recalled in an interview in 1989 how he was mocked by the military ruler – “When I’d open my mouth and suggest something, they’d say: ‘Your Majesty, you don’t know anything’


But he worked his way up to earn his respect – establishing hospitals and clinics, helping the poor in fish breeding and dairying in rural areas, giving scholarships and awards to improve the country’s poor healthcare system – resulting in more than 4,000 projects implementation since 1952. Soon, Thais overwhelmingly saw the king as an earnest, hardworking and gentle ruler with an impeccably simple lifestyle.



{ 12 } King Bhumibol Respected As A Father, Worshipped Like A God

While Bhumibol is often respected as a father-figure to 67-million Thais, he is also worshipped like a God. His picture hangs in many Thai homes and offices and Thais stand in respect when a video of him is shown in movie theatres. They prostrated themselves when they were presented before him.



During deadly unrest in 1992, King Bhumibol urged opposition leaders General Suchinda Kraprayoon and retired Major-General Chamlong Srimuang to find a peaceful solution, and during a televised event, the two knelt before him in respect of royal protocol. His royal intervention led to a general election that resulted in the formation of a civilian government – earning him even greater respect.


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