PHRA CHOMKLAO CHAOYUHUA King Rama IV (1851-1868)
His Majesty King Phra Chomklo Chaoyuhua (Rama IV), was born in Bangkok on October 18, 1804, acceded to the throne when European powers were trying to colonize countries in. Siam was lucky to have a king who was keenly interested in what was happening around the world. He was the first Thai king to learn the English language and entered into correspondence with foreign rulers, in particular Queen Victoria, the Pope and the Mexican president. He had diligently studied the English language when he was a Buddhist monk and was able to read write speaks and understand it thoroughly. He was a very leaned man and a philosopher, and when he ascended the throne he was fully capable of handling the then very tense entanglement with foreign countries. He successfully solved this problem beyond anyone's expectation and for the first time made Siam experience new changes of Westernization. Even though, he reigned for a short period of 17 years he accomplished many things which brought prosperity to the kingdom.
He initiated the rite of drinking the Sacred Water of Allegiance among royalty, administrators, armed forces personnel and civilians to serve as a means of affirming their righteousness. To prove his own integrity, he also drank the Scares Water.
Many of King Rama IV's action reveal his sincere intentions to improve society. Deep in his heart he realized that material progress alone was not enough; it was also very important to develop the caliber of the people and make them realize their responsibilities to society.
King Rama IV changed some of the old customs and westernized the governmental system. He also initiated the teaching of English in schools as well as hired European instructors to train Thai soldiers in Western military tactics. He appointed Sir John Bow Ring as Thailand's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Europe and adopted the White Elephant Flag used during the reign of King Rama II as the National Flag taking out the disk-like symbol and left the white elephant on a red background. He introduced two more flags as well - one for the King and another for the Thai Government; he initiated the decorations awarding system whereby outstanding officials and foreigners were honorably conferred with either the "Kodchasri" (my lion with an elephant 's truck) or "Rajachari" (lion) or "Chang Peurk" (white elephant emblem).
King Rama IV was the first king to put great emphasis on a modern education system, since he fraternized extensively with Westerners, both Americans and Europeans, even he ascended the throne. He studied English, French and Latin as well as medical science from bishops and missionaries. After he was coronated, he opened up the first school for the teaching of English to ladies of high social standing.
In the field of economics, King Rama IV did much. He abolished monopolistic practices, banned certain harmful goods, charged Customs duty on imports and at the same time established treaties with Western countries. In 1855, England sent Sir John Bowring to sign the first treaty with Siam.
In the field of literature, King Rama IV wrote many books on history, morals, legends of the Emerald Buddha. During his reign, copyright on book was bought for the first time. The particularly book, called "Niras London", was an account inverse of a journey to England and an audience with Queen Victoria written by ML Rachothai.
He appointed Sir John Bowring as a consul of Siam in London and bestowed upon him the high non-inheritable title of Phraya Siamanukulkij Siamitr Maha Yos. His superb handling of foreign affairs, had been extremely beneficial to the kingdom. All the credit for keeping Siam free from being colonized by the Western countries should rightfully go to King Rama IV.
During his 17 years of reign, King Rama IV encountered the most difficult task of creating a new and democratic Thai society since majority of the people at that time was deeply rooted in the bureaucratic system. King Rama IV, therefore, had to resort to a step-by-step approach, a most challenging undertaking that he endeavored to fulfill throughout his reign. With an interest in astronomy, in 1868 he correctly predicted an eclipse of the sun and invited his doubting courtiers and members of the foreign community in Bangkok to accompany him to Sam Roi Yod to view the eclipse. The choice of the site proved to be fever-infested and on his return to Bangkok the king fell seriously ill from malaria and six weeks later on October 1, 1868, he died.