By Quinn, Nation, and Millett
Published here with authors’ permission
ReadOasis Step 2
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Thai means free, so Thailand is the land of the free people. King Mongkut helped Thailand to remain a free country. Unlike many countries that fought against their foreign rulers, he did not fight the English and French. Instead, he worked with them and stayed free.
Prince Maha Mongkut was born in 1804 in Siam, which is the old name for Thailand. He was the eldest son of the king and the queen so everyone thought he would become king after his father’s death. During his childhood he studied Buddhism and history. When he was only twelve years old, his father put him in charge of the army. However, Prince Mongkut had a half-brother called Jetta who also wanted to be king. Jetta was seventeen years older than Mongkut and he was very powerful. When Mongkut was twenty his father died and Jetta was chosen to be king. Fearing for his life, Mongkut left his family and became a Buddhist monk. For 27 years he travelled through his country praying, living on the food that people gave him and learning how the ordinary people lived. He studied many different subjects including languages and science. He spoke English and French and this helped him to learn how people in other countries lived. All of his learning would be useful to him when he became king.
In 1851 Jetta died and at the age of 47 Mongkut stopped being a monk and became the king of Siam, which had a population of about five and a half million people. Mongkut ruled his people very well but he was different from other kings. Before him the kings had looked only at their own country, Mongkut was interested in the world around him and he was friendly towards western countries. He wanted his country to have the good things that the West could offer and he wanted his people to learn about other countries. But he also wanted Siam to remain a free country. King Mongkut knew that his country could not fight against the outside world. He knew that his country had to change but making changes was not easy. The old ways were very different from the new western ways. Sometimes Mongkut had to fight against his own family to get changes.
Sometimes he had to fight against himself.
As was the way for Kings in Siam, Mongkut had 39 wives and 82 children. His wives lived with their children in a special place which they were not allowed to leave. King Mongkut, however, wanted his wives and children to learn about the outside world too, so he brought in teachers from England. King Mongkut died in 1868. He died because of his love of learning. On 18 August 1868 the shadow of the earth was going to cover the sun. King Mongkut and his oldest son, Chulalongkorn, went to a place south of Bangkok to watch this and study it. While they were there, they both became very ill and a month later the king was dead at the age of 64. On his 20th birthday King Mongkut’s son, Chulalongkorn, became king and continued his father’s work to make Thailand into a modern free country. Now Chulalongkorn’s great-grandson is the king of Thailand.