Damrong Rajanubhab

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Prince of Siam
Prince Damrong Rajanubhab
Prince Damrong Rajanubhab.jpg
HRH Prince Damrong Rajanubhab
Minister of Interior
In officeApril 1892 – August 1915
SuccessorChoey Gallayanamitr
Grand-officer to the Army
In office8 April 1887 – April 1890
as the army department commander
Born(1862-06-21)21 June 1862
Bangkok, Siam
Died1 December 1943(1943-12-01) (aged 81)
Bangkok, Siam
Spouse11 consorts
Issue37 sons and daughters
Full name
HouseDisakul family (Chakri Dynasty)
FatherMongkut (Rama IV)
MotherConsort Chum
SignatureTisavarakumarn ดิศวรกุมาร's signature

Prince Tisavarakumarn, the Prince Damrong Rajanubhab (สมเด็จพระเจ้าบรมวงศ์เธอ พระองค์เจ้าดิศวรกุมาร กรมพระยาดำรงราชานุภาพ; RTGSDitsawarakuman Damrongrachanuphap[Note 1]) (21 June 1862 – 1 December 1943) was the founder of the modern Thai educational system as well as the modern provincial administration. He was an autodidact, a (self-taught) historian, and one of the most influential Thai intellectuals of his time.[1]

Born as Phra Ong Chao Tisavarakumarn (พระองค์เจ้าดิศวรกุมาร; "Prince Tisavarakumarn"), a son of King Mongkut with Consort Chum (เจ้าจอมมารดาชุ่ม; Chao Chom Manda Chum), a lesser royal wife; he initially learned Thai and Pali from private tutors, and English at the Royal School with Mr Francis George Patterson. At the age of 14, he received his formal education in a special palace school created by his half-brother, King Chulalongkorn. He was given posts in the royal administration at an early age, becoming the commander of the Royal Guards Regiment in 1880 at age 18, and after several years he worked at building army schools as well as modernizing the army in general. In 1887, he was appointed as grand-officer to the army (commander-in-chief). At the same time he was chosen by the king to become the Minister of Education in his provisional cabinet. When King Chulalongkorn began his administrative reform programme in 1892, Prince Damrong was chosen to lead the Ministry of the North (Mahatthai), which was converted into the Ministry of the Interior in 1894.

In his time as minister, he completely overhauled provincial administration. Many minor provinces were merged into larger ones, the provincial governors lost most of their autonomy when the post was converted into one appointed and salaried by the ministry, and a new administrative division—the monthon (circle) covering several provinces—was created. Formal education of administrative staff was introduced. Prince Damrong was among the most important advisors of the king, and considered second only to him in power.

Political climate in Siam (1855–1893)[edit]

Prince Devawongse Varopakarn, King Chulalongkorn and Prince Damrong Rajanubhab.
For further information, see: Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns #Situation in Siam

Legal traditions made little if any sense to foreigners.[2] Nor did they have knowledge of the ancient political climate.[3] Nor aware that the Bowring Treaty, which nearly all considered a significant advancement, had accomplished none of its objectives and had been set-back for the Siamese for the ensuing decades.[4] Monthon reforms met with resistance, complicated by French interference in Siamese authority.[5]

Foreign advisers[edit]

Prince Damrong Rajanubhab in 1900.

Prince Damrong went to Europe in search of a European general advisor for the king by way of the Suez Canal. In December 1891, during a lunch hosted by the British ambassador to Egypt, Damrong met Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, who had edited the first issue of Revue de Droit International et de Législation Comparée ("Review of International Law and Comparative Legislation"), which had appeared late-1868 with contributions from many noted scholars. Following a hasty correspondence with Bangkok, the prince was able to offer Rolin-Jaequemyns an annual salary of £3,000. Among his successors were Edward Strobel, the first American adviser in foreign affairs, followed with lesser titles by Jens Westengard, Eldon James, and Francis B. Sayre. Strobel, Westengard, James, and Sayre were all Harvard law professors.[6]

Later years[edit]

After the death of King Chulalongkorn in 1910, the relationship with his successor King Vajiravudh was less productive. Prince Damrong finally resigned in 1915 from his post at the ministry, officially due to health problems, since otherwise the resignation would have looked like an affront to the monarch.

During the brief reign of King Prajadhipok, the prince proposed that the king found the Royal Institute, mainly to look after the National Library and the museums. He became the first president of the Royal Institute of Thailand. He was given the title Somdet Phra Chao Borommawong Thoe Krom Phraya Damrong Rajanubhab by King Prajadhipok in recognition to his work. This became the name by which he is generally known.

In the following years, Damrong worked as a self-educated historian, as well as writing books on Thai literature, culture and arts. Out of his works grew the National Library, as well as the National Museum.

Being one of the main apologists for absolute monarchy, after the Siamese revolution of 1932 which introduced Constitutional monarchy in the kingdom, Damrong was exiled to Penang in British Malaysia. In 1942, after the old establishment had substantially regained power from the 1932 reformists, he was allowed to return to Bangkok, where he died one year later.

Prince Damrong is credited as the father of Thai history, the education system, the health system (the Ministry of Health was originally a department of the Ministry of the Interior) and the provincial administration. He also had a major role in crafting Bangkok's anti-democratic state ideology of "Thainess".[citation needed]

On the 1962 centenary of his birth, he became the first Thai to be included in the UNESCO list of the world's most distinguished persons. On 28 November 2001, to honour the contributions the prince made to the country, the government declared that 1 December would thereafter be known as "Damrong Rajanupab Day".[7]

His many descendants use the royal surname Tisakula (Thai: ดิศกุล.)


Prince Damrong wrote countless books and articles, of which only a few are available in English translation:

  • Our Wars with the Burmese: Thai-Burmese Conflict 1539–1767, ISBN 974-7534-58-4
  • Journey through Burma in 1936: A View of the Culture, History and Institutions, ISBN 974-8358-85-2
  • H. R. H. Prince Damrong (1904). "The Foundation of Ayuthia" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 1.0e (digital). Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  • Wright, Arnold (2008) [1908]. Wright, Arnold; Breakspear, Oliver T (eds.). Twentieth century impressions of Siam (PDF 65.3 MB). London&c: Lloyds Greater Britain Publishing Company. for which Prince Damrong offered advice and images

Tributes to Damrong Rajanubhab[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Full transcription is "Somdet Phrachao Borommawongthoe Phra-ongchao Ditsawarakuman Kromphraya Damrongrachanuphap" (สมเด็จพระเจ้าบรมวงศ์เธอ พระองค์เจ้าดิศวรกุมาร กรมพระยาดำรงราชานุภาพ)


  1. ^ Thongchai Winichakul, "The Quest for 'Siwilai': A Geographical Discourse of Civilizational Thinking in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Siam," The Journal of Asian Studies 59, no. 3 (2000): 536.
  2. ^ Sarasin Viraphol (1977). "Law in traditional Siam and China: A comparative study" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 65.1 (digital): image 2. Retrieved 17 March 2013. This represents the incorporation of natural law (jus naturale) into the positive law (jus gentium) of the ruler, making the pouvoir arbitraire the sole legal principle for government.
  3. ^ Sunait Chutintaranond (1990). "Mandala, Segmentary State and Politics of Centralization in Medieval Ayudhya" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 78.1i (digital). Retrieved 17 March 2013. ...I am interested in the ways in which Kautilya's theory of mandala has been interpreted by historians for the purpose of studying ancient states in South and Southeast Asia.
  4. ^ Terwiel, B.J. (1991). "The Bowring Treaty: Imperialism and the Indigenous Perspective" (free PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 79.2f (digital): image. Retrieved 17 August 2013. In this paper the evidence upon which historians have based their statements on the Treaty's economic results is examined. It will be shown that all take their cue from Bowring's own words. Secondly it will be shown that Bowring's remarks are not necessarily a reliable indicator.
  5. ^ Murdoch, John B. (1974). "The 1901-1902 Holy Man's Rebellion" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol.62.1 (digital). Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  6. ^ Oblas, Peter (1972). "Treaty Revision and the Role of the American Foreign Affairs Adviser 1909-1925" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. 60 (1): 2–4, 7–9. Retrieved 17 March 2013. In the course of his service, Sayre was awarded the Grand Cross of the Crown of Siam. The title of Phya Kalyanamaitri was also bestowed upon him.
  7. ^ "Man of many talents". Prince Damrong. Ministry of Interior (Thailand). 5 March 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2013.

Further reading[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
New creation
Grand-officer to the army