King Rama V had a love for science and (Western) civilization which he discovered this on his many trips. So when Chulalongkorn became king at a very young age, he was determined his country needed to be reformed. Resistance from powerful courtiers caused this process to go into a snail’s pace. But when Chulalongkorn got the absolute kingship, nothing could stop him from improving Siam.
Enlighten the country
One of Chulalongkorn’s first reforms was setting up a bureaucracy to Wester (Colonial) model. He abolished slavery and serfdom. He founded an efficient military and police force that helped him to get the internal colonization to the North and the Northeast.
Portrait of King Chulalongkorn in one of his Western attires
Moreover, he improved the education and school systems and implemented Bangkokian Buddhism throughout the country. Thanks to his vision of a better country, Bangkok was one of the first world cities with electricity. They implemented infrastructures like telegraph lines, roads, and railways. Siam flourished.
Between 1897 and 1907, King Rama V traveled to Europe multiple times. His former trips were mainly study-trips that gave Chulalongkorn inspiration for a brighter tomorrow. But these European trips were of a different nature. They were official and triumphant victory tours that confirmed Siam’s sovereignty. A country that was just as modern and progressive as the European countries.
The King comes to the Netherlands
In September 1897, King Rama 5 of Siam (Thailand) paid a visit to Amsterdam and Royal Coster Diamonds. Almost every Thai household has a portrait of King Chulalongkorn Rama V. In his portraits, he often wears a fancy Western costume and looks proudly into the world. Rama V's full name is “King Chulalongkorn the Great”. That’s because of his contributions to the reform and modernization of Thailand. His diplomatic skills saved his country from becoming a colony.
From Monday 6 until Thursday 9 September 1897, King Rama V visited the Netherlands. He brought approximately ten dignitaries with him and his half-brothers: the princes Svasti Sobhana and Svasti Mahisza. The King was an honorary guest of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. Though she was 17 years old, she was already the country's monarch because her father Willem III passed away. Together with Queen Wilhelmina and his entourage, King Chulalongkorn made a tour through Amsterdam in a carriage. During this tour, they visited the Rijksmuseum and from there also Coster Diamonds.
King Rama V on tour with Queen Wilhelmina and their entourage
King Rama V at Coster
The King liked our guided tour through the diamond polishing factory very much. He was interested in diamonds that were worth more than 1 million guilders (Guldens). Especially at that time, that was an enormous amount of money! Chulalongkorn’s half-brothers, the princes, were very intrigued by the cutting and polishing of the diamonds. They asked for our address card so they could come back sometime. And, funnily enough, 121 years later, Rama V’s great-great-granddaughter Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana visits us as well in 2018.
The King and the Dutch people
King Rama told Queen Wilhelmina that he like the country and the Dutch people very much. The feeling was mutual. European newspapers wrote about how the Siamese king made an impression on the European leaders and the public. The Dutch daily newspaper “Het Nieuws van den Dag” of 7 September 1897, wrote: " The King of Siam, who honors our country with a short visit (…) is a highly civilized and enlightened Asian Monarch. In development and statesmanship [he] should be of a higher standing than the Mikado of Japan. (...) [He is] determined to ensure his country the benefactions of Western civilization (…). He is fluent in English and French, and so can go everywhere without an interpreter. Furthermore, he managed, wherever he came, to make himself beloved through his friendliness and courtesy." His fluency in English, pleasant appearance and sophisticated manners were not expected, but nonetheless highly appreciated.
King Rama V’s fluency in English, his pleasant appearance, and his sophisticated manners were not expected in Europe, but nonetheless highly appreciated