Mongkut


Mongkut

Mongkut

Mongkut (1804-1868) was king of Thailand as Rama IV. He founded modern Thai Buddhism and as king took a leading role in opening his kingdom to the West.

Born on Oct. 18, 1804, Mongkut was the forty-third child of King Rama II (reigned 1809-1824), but he was the first son to be born of Queen Suriyen and thus was favored to succeed to the throne. He had just entered the Buddhist monkhood for a short period, as was customary, when his father died in 1824 and the royal accession council chose his older and more experienced half brother to reign as King Nangklao (Rama III, reigned 1824-1851).

As much for political safety as any other reason, Mongkut remained a monk during his brother's reign. An unusually gifted young man, Mongkut spent several years seeking intellectual and religious satisfaction in traditional Buddhism, trying first mental exercises and meditation and then orthodox scholarship, neither of which kindled his enthusiasm. Then he encountered a monk from Burma who inspired his return to the strict discipline and teachings of early Buddhism, shorn of local Thai custom and noncanonical beliefs.

Becoming abbot of a monastery in Bangkok, Mongkut developed a lively home for intellectual discourse in the 1830s and 1840s, when he gained adherents to his new teachings and invited American and French missionaries to teach Western languages, arts, and sciences. His brother monks ultimately were to found the modernist Dhammayutta sect, a major force in the life of modern Thailand.

Others who joined his circle were among the leading princes and young nobles of Bangkok society, and this group, led by Phraya Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag)—eldest son of the leading minister of Rama III—was responsible for placing Mongkut on the throne when Rama III died on April 2, 1851. These young liberals had come to understand the nature of Western power and Siam's weakness, profiting from the example of Western warfare against China (in the Opium War, 1839-1842) and Burma (1824-1826 and 1851-1852).

Upon consolidating their power the liberals signified their willingness to come to terms with Western demands and signed treaties, beginning with Britain in 1855, which removed all barriers to trade and established extra-territoriality for European subjects in Siam. Mongkut and Suriyawong, who became his chief minister, set a pattern of accommodation to the West which came to assure Siam's survival as an independent state through the 19th-century thrust of European imperialism.

Described by European envoys as thin and austere, Mongkut was extraordinarily lively, excited by ideas, and colorfully expressive in English. Though the conservatism of his nobles precluded fundamental reforms, he educated his sons to understand the value of national independence and the necessity for reform, which alone could ensure survival. He died on Oct. 1, 1868, and was succeeded by his son, Prince Chulalongkorn.

Further Reading

The best available biography is Abbot Low Moffat, Mongkut, King of Siam (1961). An excellent contemporary account is Sir John Bowring, The Kingdom and People of Siam (2 vols., 1857).

Additional Sources

Bristowe, W. S. (William Syer), Louis and the King of Siam, New York: Thai-American Publishers, 1976. □

Show all research tools

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mongkut." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 1 Nov. 2014 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mongkut." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (November 1, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404704525.html

"Mongkut." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Retrieved November 01, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404704525.html

Learn more about citation styles

Mongkut

Mongkut (mông´kōōt) or Rama IV (räm´ə), 1804–68, king of Siam, now Thailand (1851–68). A devout Buddhist monk, he was displaced in succession to the throne by his brother, who ascended as Rama III. Mongkut became king as Rama IV in 1851, and then used his knowledge, especially of the West, accumulated during his long years of study, to further his country's interests. He established diplomatic relations with several European countries and the United States, opened Siam to Western trade, and undertook extensive internal reform in all fields. Because of these measures, Siam was the only country in Southeast Asia not to fall under Western control in the 19th cent. He was succeeded by his son Chulalongkorn. Mongkut was made famous in the West by Margaret Landon's book Anna and the King of Siam (1944), which was based on the reminiscences of Anna Leonowens, a British governess at the court of Siam.

Show all research tools

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mongkut." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2014. Encyclopedia.com. 1 Nov. 2014 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mongkut." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2014. Encyclopedia.com. (November 1, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Mongkut.html

"Mongkut." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2014. Retrieved November 01, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Mongkut.html

Learn more about citation styles

Facts and information from other sites

Mongkut images
Mongkut. Other (Public Domain)