Ananda Mahidol ( 20 September 1925 – 9 June 1946) was the eighth monarch of Thailand from the House of Chakri as Rama VIII. At the time he was recognised as king by the National Assembly in March 1935, he was a nine-year-old boy living in Switzerland. He returned to Thailand in December 1945, but six months later in June 1946, he was found shot dead in his bed. Although at first thought to have been an accident, medical examiners ruled it a murder and three royal pages were later executed following very irregular trials. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his death have been the subject of much controversy.
“Ananda Mahidol” is one word in Thai and is his given name. King Vajiravudh, his uncle, sent a telegram on 13 October 1925 giving him this name. It is pronounced “Ananta Mahidon” and means “the joy of Mahidol” (his father). When he held his birth rank of “mom chao—”the lowest rank of Thai princes—he used the surname “Mahidol”, his father’s given name. His full name and title was thus, “Mom Chao Ananda Mahidol Mahidol” . His full royal name was “Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramentharamaha Ananda Mahidol Phra Atthama Ramathibodindara” or “Rama VIII.
Prince Ananda Mahidol Mahidol was born in Heidelberg, Germany. He was the first son of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej of Songkhla (son of King Chulalongkorn) and Mom Sangwal (last title Somdej Phra Sri Nakarindhara Boromaratchachonnani) who were studying there at the time.
He went with his parents to Paris, Lausanne, and then to Massachusetts, when in 1927, his uncle, King Prajadhipok, issued a royal edict elevating him to the higher princely class of Phra Worawong Ther Phra Ong Chao (this edict also benefited other “Mom Chao” who were the children of Chao Fa and their commoner wives, among them his elder sister Mom Chao Galyani Vadhana and his younger brother who was born later that year Phra Worawong Ther Phra Ong Chao Bhumibol Adulyadej).
The family returned to Thailand in 1928 after Prince Mahidol finished his medical studies at Harvard University. Prince Mahidol died at age 37 in 1929, when Ananda Mahidol was just four years old. His widowed mother was thus left to raise her family alone.
A coup d’état in 1932 ended the absolute monarchy and raised the possibility that King Prajadhipok might abdicate. Queen Savang Vadhana, his grandmother, was concerned about Prince Ananda Mahidol’s safety, since he was one of the likely heirs to the throne. It was then suggested that Mom Sangwal and her children return to Lausanne, and when they did so in 1933, the official reason given was for the health and further education of the princes.
Prince Ananda Mahidol spent most of his youth in Switzerland, however, when King Prajadhipok’s abdication appeared imminent, the prince’s mother was approached by a member of government, asking for her opinion about Ananda Mahidol succeeding as monarch.
King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) abdicated in 1935 due to political quarrels with the new quasi-democratic government as well as health problems. The king decided to abstain from exercising his prerogative to name a successor to the throne. By that time, the crown had already passed from Prince Mahidol’s line to that of his half-brother’s when his eldest full brother, Crown Prince Maha Vajirunhis, died as a teenager during King Chulalongkorn’s reign. A half-brother, Prince Vajiravudh (as the next eldest) replaced Prince Vajirunhis as the crown prince. He eventually succeeded to the throne in 1910 as King Rama VI. In 1924 the king instituted the Palace Law of Succession in order to govern subsequent successions. The law gave priority to the children of his mother Queen Regent Saovabha Bongsri over the children of King Chulalongkorn’s two other royal wives. The law was enacted on the death of King Vajiravudh in 1925 and the crown passed to his youngest brother, Prince Prajadhipok of Sukhothai.
Offering the throne to Prince Prajadhipok was not without a debate. In doing so, another candidate was bypassed: Prince Chula Chakrabongse, son of the late Field Marshal Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath of Phitsanulok, who before his death had been the heir-apparent to King Vajiravudh. It was questioned whether the Succession Law enacted by King Vajiravudh actually barred Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath (and for that matter, Prince Chula Chakrabongse) from succession on the grounds that he married a foreigner (Ukrainian). However, his marriage had taken place before this law was enacted and had been endorsed by King Chulalongkorn himself. There was no clear resolution, but in the end the many candidates were passed over and Prince Prajadhipok was enthroned.
When King Prajadhipok later abdicated, since he was the last remaining son of Queen Saovabha, the crown went back to the sons of the queen whose rank was next to hers: Queen Savang Vadhana, mother of the late Crown Prince Vajirunahis. Besides the late crown prince, she had two more sons who survived to adulthood: Prince Sommatiwongse Varodaya of Nakhon Si Thammarat, who had died without a son in 1899, and Prince Mahidol who, although deceased, had two living sons. It thus appeared that Prince Ananda Mahidol would be the first person in the royal line of succession.
Nevertheless, the same debate over the half-foreign Prince Chula Chakrabongse occurred again. It was argued that King Vajiravudh had virtually exempted the prince’s father from the ban in the Succession Law, and the crown might thus be passed to him.
However, since the kingdom was now governed under a constitution, it was the cabinet that would decide. Opinion was split on the right to succession of Prince Chula Chakrabongse. A key figure was Pridi Phanomyong, who persuaded the cabinet that the Law should be interpreted as excluding the prince from succession, and that Prince Ananda Mahidol should be the next king. It also appeared more convenient for the government to have a monarch who was only nine years old and studying in Switzerland. On 2 March 1935, Prince Ananda Mahidol was elected by the National Assembly and the Thai government to succeed his uncle, King Prajadhipok, as the eighth king of the Chakri Dynasty.
As the new king was still a child and was then studying in Switzerland, the National Assembly appointed Colonel Prince Anuwatjaturong, Lieutenant Commander Prince Artit Thip-apa, and Chao Phraya Yommaraj (Pun Sukhum) as his regents.
In 1938, at age thirteen, Ananda Mahidol visited the Kingdom of Siam for the first time as its monarch. The king was accompanied during his visit by his mother and his younger brother, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram was prime minister at the time and during most of Ananda Mahidol’s brief reign (Pibulsonggram is remembered for being a military dictator and, in 1939, for changing the name of the country from Siam to Thailand). Late in 1940, Pibulsonggram involved Thailand in the indecisive “Franco–Thai War” against the Vichy forces in French Indochina.
On 8 December 1941, in concert with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces invaded and occupied Thailand. Ananda Mahidol was away from the country and Pridi Phanomyong served as regent in his absence. From 24 January 1942, occupied Thailand became a formal ally of the Empire of Japan and a member of the Axis. Under Plaek Pibulsonggram, Thailand declared war on the Allied powers. The regent refused to sign the declaration and it was thus legally invalid. Many members of the Thai government, including the Siamese embassy in Japan, acted as “de facto” spies in the Seri Thai underground on the side of the Allies, funnelling secret information to the Office of Strategic Services.
By 1944, it was apparent that Japan was going to lose the war. Bangkok suffered heavily from the Allied bombing raids. These, plus economic hardships, made the war and the government of Plaek Pibulsonggram very unpopular. In July, Plaek Pibulsonggram was ousted by the Seri Thai-infiltrated government. The National Assembly reconvened and appointed the liberal lawyer Khuang Aphaiwong prime minister. Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, and Allied military responsibility for Thailand fell to Britain.
Only after the end of World War II could Ananda Mahidol return to Thailand. He returned for a second visit in December 1945 with a degree in law. Despite his youth and inexperience, he quickly won the hearts of the Thai people, who had continued to revere the monarchy through the upheavals of the 1930s and 1940s. He was a handsome young man and the Thai were delighted to have their king amongst them once again. One of his well-remembered activities was a highly successful visit to Bangkok’s Chinatown Sam Peng Lane (ซอยสำเพ็ง), which was intended to defuse the post-war tensions that lingered between Bangkok’s ethnic Chinese and Thai people.
Foreign observers, however, believed that Ananda Mahidol did not really want to be king and felt his reign would not last long. Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the British commander in Southeast Asia, visited Bangkok in January 1946 and described the king as “a frightened, short-sighted boy, his sloping shoulders and thin chest behung with gorgeous diamond-studded decorations, altogether a pathetic and lonely figure.” At a public function, Mountbatten wrote, “his nervousness increased to such an alarming extent, that I came very close to support him in case he passed out.”
On 9 June 1946, the king was found shot dead in his bedroom in the Boromphiman Throne Hall, (a modern residential palace located in the Grand Palace), only four days before he was scheduled to return to Switzerland to finish his doctoral degree in law at the University of Lausanne.
Keith Simpson, pathologist to the British Home Office and founding chairman of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London, performed a forensic analysis of the king’s death and recounted the following sequence of events on the morning of 9 June 1946:
06:00: Ananda was awakened by his mother.
07:30: His page, But Pathamasarin, came on duty and began preparing a breakfast table on a balcony adjoining the king’s dressing room.
08:30: But saw the king standing in his dressing room. He brought the king his customary glass of orange juice a few minutes later. However, by then the king had gone back to bed and refused the juice.
08:45: The king’s other page, Chit Singhaseni, appeared, saying he had been called to measure the King’s medals and decorations on behalf of a jeweller who was making a case for them.
09:00: Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej visited King Ananda. He said afterwards that he had found the king dozing in his bed.
09:20: A single shot rang out from the king’s bedroom. Chit ran in and then ran out along the corridor to the apartment of the king’s mother, crying “The King’s shot himself!” The king’s mother followed Chit into the king’s bedroom and found the king lying face up in bed, bloodied from a wound to the head.