The Chakri dynasty has reigned in Thailand since 1782. Since that time there have been nine kings, each reigning under the name Rama.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the country -- then called Siam -- was ruled by King Chulalongkorn (or King Rama V), who was the son of King Mongkut (King Rama IV), the king portrayed by Yul Brynner in The King and I.
Chulalongkorn abolished slavery and otherwize modernized the country. He died in 1910 and was succeeded by two of his sons, one after the other -- first Vajiravudh and then, in 1925, Prajadhipok.
In 1935 the throne passed to Prajadhipok's nephew Ananda Mahidol. When he died unexpectedly in 1946 (shot under unclear circumstances), his younger brother became king. That brother, Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as King Rama IX, reigned for 70 years. He was greatly revered in Thailand although his real power was limited.
After King Bhumibol died in 2016, his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, became King Rama X. The king, who has been divorced three times, has seven children, and it is unclear which of his sons will be next in the line of succession.
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King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life's Work edited by Nicholas Grossman and Dominic Faulder. An illustrated biography of the Thai king. Includes essays on the controversial lèse-majesté law and the succession.
The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej by Paul M. Handley. A biography that portrays the king as an anti-democratic monarch who, together with allies in business and the military, has protected a barely modified feudal dynasty. This book is banned in Thailand.
The Revolutionary King: The True-Life Sequel to the King and I by William Stevenson. A biography of Thailand's king. Brought up in the West, Bhumibol acceeded to the Thai throne at the age of 19. A devout Buddhist, he has fought his country's problems in his own way. The author interviewed the king and queen.
In His Majesty's Footsteps: A Personal Memoir by Vasit Dejkunjorn, translated by Busakorn Suriyasarn. The author, who served for 12 years as head of royal court security police, describes how King Bhumibol faced communist insurgencies, military coups and political turmoil.
The Story of Mahajanaka by His Majesty King Bhumibol. Illustrated story of the life of King Janak of ancient Mithila, written by a modern king of Thailand.
Rama IX, Democracy, and Monarchy
The King and the Making of Modern Thailand by Antonio L. Rappa. Born in Europe, King Bhumibol Adulyadej could hardly speak Thai when he assumed his royal duties. He survived attempted murder, crafty politicians, and corrupt generals to become Thailand's longest-reigning monarch.
Coup, King, Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand edited by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. Leading writers examine the royal transition in Thailand from the 2014 coup up to the 2019 election.
Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand edited by Soren Ivarsson. Reviews the history of the modern monarchy and analyzes the forces shaping its image.
Royal Capitalism: Wealth, Class, and Monarchy in Thailand by Puangchon Unchanam. During Rama IX's reign (1946-2016), the Thai monarchy rebranded itself by embracing hard work, frugality, and self-sufficiency.
Fit for a Queen: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit's Creations by Balmain by Melissa Leventon. Includes photographs of many of the outfits French couturier Pierre Balmain designed for Thailand's Queen Sirikit during their 22-year-long association.
Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy's Modern Image by Maurizio Peleggi is about royalty in late 19th and early 20th century Siam.
Lords of Life: A History of the Kings of Thailand by HRH Prince Chula Chakrabongse. The history of the Chakri dynasty, rulers of Siam until the change of regime in 1932. The author was a grandson of King Chulalongkorn, died in 1963.
Thailand's Theory of Monarchy by Patrick Jory. Examines the Theravada Buddhist foundations of Thailand's enduring institution of monarchy.
Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand's Authoritarian Turn edited by Kevin Hewison and Veerayooth Kanchoochat. This book addresses the modern Thai monarchy's pivotal role in opposing electoral democracy.
Working Towards the Monarchy: The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok by Serhat Ünaldi. For decades the architecture in central Bangkok has helped protect the sacred aura of Thailand's monarchy. When marginalized Thais turned against royal charisma, they attacked the architecture that represented and supported it.
Kings, Country and Constitutions by Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian is about Thailand's political development from 1932 to 2000.
Monarchy in South East Asia: The Faces of Tradition in Transition by Roger Kershaw. The history and contemporary role of South East Asian monarchy, including Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Laos.
A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit. A general history published in 2009.
The History of Thailand by Patit Mishra. From prehistory to the modern era. Includes a timeline and a list of notable people in Thailand's history.
Thailand: A Short History by David K. Wyatt.
A History of Siam by William A. R. Wood. From earliest history to the 1930s.
Historical Dictionary of Thailand by Harold E. Smith , Gayla S. Nieminen, and May Kyi Win. Provides an overview, chronology, bibliography, and entries on important persons, places, institutions.
Descriptions of Old Siam by Michael Smithies. Writings by foreigners who visited Siam; focuses on the relationships between the Siamese kings and Westerners.
Royal Siamese Maps by Santanee Phasuk. In 1996, 18 exquisite hand-drawn maps were discovered in the Grand Palace, Bangkok. They record Siamese warfare and trade during the first three reigns of the Bangkok Period (1782-1851). This book describes the discovery, dating, characteristics, and historical significance of the maps.
The Legend of Queen Cama: Bodhiramsi's Camadevivamsa, a Translation and Commentary by Sommai Premchit and Donald K. Swearer. This early 15th century Pali chronicle, written by Mahathera Bodhiramsi, recounts the story of the founding of the kingdom of Haripunjaya in the Chiang Mai valley of Northern Thailand in the 7th century AD.
Guide to Northern Thailand: And the Ancient Kingdom of Lanna by Michael Freeman.
Ancient Capitals of Thailand by Elizabeth Moore. Between the 13th and the 18th centuries, Thailand saw the rise and fall of beautiful city states. This book presents an accessible yet scholarly account of the city states, their art and architecture, accompanied by the photography of Michael Freeman.
The Grand Palace and Rattanakosin Island by Naengnoi Suksri, photographs by Paisarn Piemmettawat. Illustrated guide to the magnificent complex of throne halls, museums and religious architecture of Thailand's Grand Palace and the surrounding island.
Palaces of Bangkok: Royal Residences of the Chakri Dynasty by Naengnoi Suksri; photos by Michael Freeman.
The Palace Law of Ayuttaha and the Thammasat: Law and Kingship in Siam translated by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit. The Palace Law, probably dating to the late 15th century, covers family arrangements, court protocol, warfare, royal women, and ceremonial conduct.
King Mongkut and Anna Leonowens
Worshipping the Great Moderniser: King Chulalongkorn, Patron Saint of the Thai Middle Class by Irene Stengs. Looks at modern Thailand's exalted expectations of kingship and compares the popular image of King Chulalongkorn (who died in 1910) with that of the present king, the highly venerated Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The Rise and Decline of Thai Absolutism by Kullada Ke Mead. Examines the development of Thailand from the beginning of the 18nth century, concentrating on the reign of King Chulalongkorn.
Letters From St Petersburg: A Siamese Prince at the Court of the Last Tsar by Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, translation and commentary by Narisa Chakrabongse. This is a collection of letters to and from one of King Chulalongkorn of Siam's sons. During Prince Chakrabongse's eight-year stay in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II treated him like a family member.
Bones Around My Neck: The Life and Exile of a Prince Provocateur by Tamara Loos. Prince Prisdang Chumsai (1852-1935) served as Siam's first diplomat to Europe. He suffered social and political ruin based on rumors about corruption, immorality, and treason.
The Prince & I: My Life with Prince Bira of Siam by Princess Ceril Birabongse. Autobiography of the Englishwoman who married a prince who was also a sculptor, Olympic sailor, and Formula One race car driver.
The Kings of Ayutthaya: A Creative Retelling of Siamese History by Robert Smith. Part fact, part fiction, this book brings to life the kingdom of Ayutthaya from its roots in the kingdom of Sukhothai to its destruction by the Burmese in 1767.
Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj, translated by Tulachandra. Novel about the reigns of 20th century kings Rama V (Chulalongkorn), Rama VI, Rama VII, and Rama VIII, told through the viewpoint of a girl who grows up in the royal palace.
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The Legend of Suriyothai. Directed by a prince and financed by a queen, this 2002 movie is a sprawling epic. Francis Ford Coppola shaped the original three-hour film into this 142-minute version for an international audience. The story spans two decades in the life of Suriyothai, a 16th century Thai princess. (Review © Amazon.com)