88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died today. Born in Cambridge in the US on 5 December 1927, while his father was studying public health at Harvard University, he later spent nearly 18 formative years in Lausanne.
Roughly a year after arriving in Thailand in 1928, his father died of kidney failure. Then in 1933, after the overthrow of Thailand’s monarchy in 1932, his mother took him, along with his brother and sister, to Lausanne in Switzerland where he would live almost continuously until 1951.
From 1933 he went to the École nouvelle de la Suisse romande in Lausanne, before attending the Gymnase Classique Cantonal de Lausanne, followed by studies in science at the University of Lausanne, which were cut short when the family returned to Thailand after the war in 1945.
In June 1946, Bhumibol became rightful heir to the throne after his older brother was found dead with a bullet through his head at the age of 20, under circumstances that remain unclear. Bhumibol’s brother Ananda Mahidol, became king in absentia in 1935 after his childless uncle Prajadhipok abdicated.
While in Europe, he met Sirikit Kitiyakara in Paris, where her father was working as Thailand’s ambassador. They married in April 1950 before Bhumibol was formally crowned on 5 May 1950.
During his time in Switzerland he acquired life long interests in photography and jazz music, playing the saxophone throughout his life. He also learned to ski and play hockey. Sadly, while driving between Lausanne and Geneva in 1948, he had an accident, that resulted in the loss of his right eye, according to the newspaper Le Temps.
In 2007, the King had a pavilion built in Park Denantou in Lausanne, not far from the Olympic Museum, shown in the images above and below.
According to the newspaper La Cote, 14 Thai workers built the pavilion, a royal gift covered with 100,000 gold leaves, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the King’s accession to the throne.
The following RTS video (in French) filmed at Villa du Flonzaley at Puidoux-Chexbres, shows the King on a visit to Switzerland in 1960. In it he talks about the difficulty of living as a royal family, and being considered something more than ordinary human beings. In addition, he talks about how it is important for royals, who are above the law, to know good from bad.
By most accounts he was a down to earth monarch, uninterested in the trappings of wealth. In 2002 he published a best-selling book entitled “The Story of Tongdaeng” about a stray dog he adopted.
After the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932, the King wielded little real political power, his role reduced to head of state and commander of the armed forces. His most important function was to serve as a living symbol of unity for the nation.
Over the years the much-loved King has had a calming influence on Thailand’s sometimes fiery politics. At the same time he was concerned by the almost obsessive veneration the public had shown him, publicly refuting the belief that he could do no wrong. According to the New York Times he publicly asked “Why is it that the king can do no wrong?” “This shows they do not regard the king as being a human. But the king can do wrong.”
King Bhumibol reined for over 70 years, making him the world’s longest-serving head of state, and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history.
The municipality of Lausanne, expressed its condolences in a memo released this evening, which describes the close links the King had with Lausanne and the canton of Vaud.
His son Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, next in line, asked Thailand’s prime minister for time to prepare before being sworn in as King. An article by the Economist describes Vajiralongkorn as being a “loose cannon” and “widely loathed”.
King of Thailand’s youth in Lausanne – Le Temps (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
King of Thailand lived 18 years in Switzerland – La Côte (in French)
A King in Switzerland – a book by Olivier Grivat (in French)
Twilight of the King – The Economist (in English)
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand Dies at 88; Reigned 70 Years – New York Times (in English)