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Condolences to the people of Thailand. Today (October 13, 2016) we bid farewell to world’s longest reigning king, Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, also known as Rama IX.  Born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bhumibol became king in June of 1946 and has continuously reigned since then.

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Ferrebeekeeper blogged about the king of Thailand before.  He was the richest and most powerful monarch in the world (with the possible exceptions of the king of Saudi Arabia or Vladimir Putin).  His subjects treated him as a living bodhisattva or god and he lived in vast palaces and rode on huge golden dragon barges. To a citizen of a Republic, it seems obscene for one man to personally control so much of a kingdom’s wealth (although frankly America has been falling short on our own austere Republican virtues these days).  It is strange to think that all of this power and wealth was going to go to Bhumibol’s brother, King Ananda Mahidol —before Ananda was murdered by being shot in the forehead. Fortunately a privy court hanged some random low-status servants after a shabby show trial—thus laying any questions about the exceedingly mysterious events to rest forever.

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King Bhumibol was a very loyal friend to America for 7 decades.  It startles me how swiftly the Cold War is passing from everyone’s memories, but Bhumibol helped the Western Democracies to win it.  His intelligence, forbearance, and natural political savvy helped Thailand stabilize South East Asia and prevent communism from spreading there (it also made Thailand the preeminent regional power). Bhumibol, a constitutional monarch eschewed direct levers of power. He was tremendously beloved by his subjects, which has always been difficult for a leader and is even more difficult in today’s wired world..  People who met him praised him as warm and sincere.

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Rereading this obituary I realize it sounds like a backhanded compliment.  It isn’t meant to be.  The papers today are full of claptrap which obscure Bhomibal’s political skill, his adroit ability to run Thailand from the shadows while ministers and generals came and went, and–above all–his iron will. He will truly be missed.  It will be majestic to see the Great Crown of Victory come out of its vault so that the playboy Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn can set it upon his own brow (for nobody else has sufficient status to grant the throne of Thailand to him) and become the new king. However it is sad to bid farewell to such a stalwart ally, gifted political player, and interesting man.  It also raises worries about the stability of Thailand once a period of national mourning has passed.

The Great Crown of Victory

I think the crown of the king of Thailand is one of the most spectacular and noteworthy extant crowns.  It is known as the Phra Maha Phichai Mongkut or “great crown of victory” and it is only worn by the king when he ascends the throne.  Made for King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (aka Rama I) in 1782, the crown is a soaring multi-tiered conical structure reminiscent of a particularly ornate stupa. It was manufactured from 15 pounds of gold ornamented with red and green enamel. A subsequent king of Siam, Rama IV, had diamonds added to the crown including the Phra Maha Wichian Mani, a huge Indian diamond which was set at the apex. Perhaps the magnificence and unique appearance of the headdress are appropriate, since it belongs to King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving head of state and one of the few contemporary monarchs to wield any real power over his nation.  Additionally, King Bhumibol is reckoned by Forbes to be the richest of the world’s current monarchs.  He ascended to the throne of Thailand in 1946 after his brother’s death by gunshot (although he did not assume the great crown of victory until 1950).  Tragically, Bhumibol was probably the last person to see his brother alive.  To quote Wikipedia, “During his long reign he has seen over 15 coups, 16 constitutions, and 27 changes of prime ministers.”

King Bhumibol Wearing the Great Crown of Victory on his Coronation Day

Aside from the great crown of victory, the Thai monarch has 27 other items of royal regalia including the the Sword of Victory, the Royal Staff, the Royal Fan (or Flywhisk), and the Royal Slippers (ฉลองพระบาท).  These items are kept for the king (along with other royal items) at the Grand Palace in Bankok.  It may seem impressive that King Bhumibol, has more pieces of royal regalia at his palace than I have socks, but his flywhisk and slippers pale to insignificance beside his monstrous gold carriage, the 33 foot tall Phra Maha Phichai Ratcarot and his fleet of carved, gilded barges.

The King's Royal Carriage

and his royal barges....

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