During the Fifth Reign (1873-1910) in Siam, the royal family became very interested in photography and a lot of pictures were taken at that time. These photographs are now fascinating as historical sources.

One aspect of some of these photographs that is interesting and which some scholars have talked about is that they seem to mark a transition in ideas about how one is supposed to live, as members of the royal family seem to have started to adopt certain “bourgeois” sensibilities.

Mongkut

If you compare, for instance, some of the few photographs that were taken of King Mongkut, during the Fourth Reign (above), with some of the many that were taken of King Chulalongkorn during the Fifth Reign (below), it is easy to see that they seem to reflect a different sense of human relations.

Clulalongkorn

There are many pictures from the Fifth Reign that project a strong sense of a “family life” that seem very similar to the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie in Europe at the time.

I was reminded of this today when I came across a letter that King Chulalongkorn wrote to American president Grover Cleveland in 1895 to notify him that a heir to the throne had been chosen.

In that letter, King Chulalongkorn wrote that “We have chosen and proclaimed our beloved son, His Royal Highness, Chowfa Maha Vajiravudh to fulfill the vacant post of the Crown Prince and Heir Apparent to this Kingdom.”

detail

The expression “our beloved son” jumped out at me here. While I’m sure that previous monarchs had all loved their sons, what I wonder is if this same expression was used when the same, or a similar, announcement was made in the Thai language. Is this an old expression? Or was it part of what appears to have been a changing sensibility among the royal family at that time, at least when interacting with foreigners? I’m curious to know.

Regardless of the answer to that question, this is a fascinating document.

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