Born the second son of King Chulalongkorn, Prince Vajiravudh was eleven years old when his father sent him to England to be educated. The young Prince trained at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and upon gradating was commissioned to join the Durham Light Infantry Regiment. Later, he went on to study law and history at Christ Church College in Oxford. Then in 1895, his elder brother Crown Prince Vajirunhis, who was just 17, died from typhoid and Prince Vajiravudh unexpectedly became the heir apparent. The Prince was crowned King in 1910, following the death of his father.
Keen to continue the modernization of Siam that his father had started, King Vajiravudh's reign was greatly influenced by the experiences he had whilst studying abroad. He introduced a new system of education similar to that which he had received as a boy in England and established the country's first Western-style school and university (the latter His Majesty called the Chulalongkorn University in honor of his father).
A proud King, proud of his nation, His Majesty was keen to encourage and foster national pride and in 1911, he founded the Boy Scout movement in Siam. To this day King Vajiravudh is considered the ‘Father of Thai Scouting'.
His Majesty is the only King of the Chakri dynasty to refer to himself as Rama. Although his reigning title was ‘Phra Mongkutklao Chaoyuhua', the King preferred to call himself ‘Phra Ram Ti Hok' (Rama VI). Presumably he had been influenced by the European practice of numbering monarchs who bare the same first names and may explain why the King introduced the use of surnames for the Siamese people in 1913.
The King saw the outbreak of World War I as “… an excellent opportunity for us to gain equality with other nations." So, His Majesty carefully watched the war progress and Siam remained neutral until July 22 1917, when, despite misgivings from some members of the government, Siam declared war on Germany. His Majesty then sent a volunteer army of 1,000 troops to fight with the Allied Forces.
However, by the end of the war, Siam faced several years of economic hardship. Normally self sufficient, the country was nationally affected by a water shortage that ruined the food crops. Faced with drought and starvation the country was in economic crisis, the only coarse of action open was to borrow money from abroad. Much to the concern of government officials Siam took a loan from the British.
In 1920 however, the King's decision to go to war seemed to have been vindicated when Siam became a founding member of the League of Nations and the United States relinquished any territorial rights that she held.
Throughout his reign, literature was the King's greatest loves. His Majesty was a prolific writer who wrote a large number of works including poems, modern novels, short stories, plays and even journals. His Majesty also translated four of Shakespeare's plays into Thai verse: ‘The Merchant of Venice,' ‘As You Like It,' ‘Romeo and Juliet,' and ‘Othello'.
In November 1925, the King fell ill and died. He was succeeded to the throne by his brother, Prince Prajadhipok.
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Article written by Christine Oatley.
Asia Products LLC Thailand Discovery Pages provides articles a variety of topics including current events, politics, and travel ideas for learning about Thailand. Asia Products LLC also offers an e-commerce store selling Thailand products on http://www.asiaproductsllc.com. He is documenting some of his more interesting travels in his Thailand Travel Pages website : http://www.apllc-connect.com.