House of Wangchuck

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Country Bhutan
Parent house
Titles Dragon King of Bhutan
Founded 17 December 1907 AD
Founder Ugyen Wangchuck
Current head Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

The House of Wangchuck (Tibetan: དབང་ཕྱུག་རྒྱལ་བརྒྱུད་Wylie: Dbang-phyug Rgyal-brgyud) has ruled Bhutan since it was reunified in 1907. Prior to reunification, the Wangchuck family had governed the district of Trongsa as descendants of Dungkar Choji. They eventually overpowered other regional lords and earned the favour of the British Empire. After consolidating power, Penlop of Trongsa Sir Ugyen Wangchuck was elected hereditary King of Bhutan, or Druk Gyalpo ("Dragon King"), thus founding the royal house.

The Wangchuck dynasty centralized government power in Bhutan and established relations with the British Empire and India under its first two monarchs. The third, fourth, and fifth (current) monarchs have put the kingdom on its path toward democratization, decentralization, and development.


There have been five Wangchuck kings of Bhutan, namely:

  1. Ugyen Wangchuck (b.1861-d.1926) "First King"; reigned 17 December 1907 – 21 August 1926
  2. Jigme Wangchuck (b.1902/1906-d.1952) "Second King"; r. 21 August 1926 – 24 March 1952
  3. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (b.1929-d.1972) "Third King"; r. 24 March 1952 – 24 July 1972
  4. Jigme Singye Wangchuck (b.1955) "Fourth King"; r. 24 July 1972 – 15 December 2006
  5. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (b.1980) "Fifth King"; r. 14 December 2006 – present

The ascendency of the House of Wangchuck is deeply rooted in the historical politics of Bhutan. Between 1616 and 1907, varying administrative, religious, and regional powers vied for control within Bhutan. During this period, factions were influenced and supported by Tibet and the British Empire. Ultimately, the hereditary Penlop of Trongsa, Ugyen Wangchuck, was elected the first Druk Gyalpo by an assembly of his subjects in 1907, marking the ascendency of the House of Wangchuck.


Under Bhutan's early theocratic dual system of government, decreasingly effective central government control resulted in the de facto disintegration of the office of Shabdrung after the death of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1651. Under this system, the Shabdrung reigned over the temporal Druk Desi and religious Je Khenpo. Two successor Shabdrungs – the son (1651) and stepbrother (1680) of Ngawang Namgyal – were effectively controlled by the Druk Desi and Je Khenpo until power was further splintered through the innovation of multiple Shabdrung incarnations, reflecting speech, mind, and body. Increasingly secular regional lords (penlops and dzongpons) competed for power amid a backdrop of civil war over the Shabdrung and invasions from Tibet, and the Mongol Empire.[1] The penlops of Trongsa and Paro, and the dzongpons of Punakha, Thimphu, and Wangdue Phodrang were particularly notable figures in the competition for regional dominance.[1][2]

Chogyal Minjur Tenpa (1613–1680; r. 1667–1680) was the first Penlop of Trongsa (Tongsab), appointed by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. He was born Damchho Lhundrub in Min-Chhud, Tibet, and led a monastic life from childhood. Before his appointment as Tongsab, he held the appointed post of Umzey (Chant Master). A trusted follower of the Shabdrung, Minjur Tenpa was sent to subdue kings of Bumthang, Lhuntse, Trashigang, Zhemgang, and other lords from Trongsa Dzong. After doing so, the Tongsab divided his control in the east among eight regions (Shachho Khorlo Tsegay), overseen by Dungpas and Kutshabs (civil servants). He went on to build Jakar, Lhuentse, Trashigang, and Zhemgang Dzongs.[3]:106

Within this political landscape, the Wangchuck family originated in the Bumthang region of central Bhutan.[4] The family belongs to the Nyö clan, and is descended from Pema Lingpa, a Bhutanese Nyingmapa saint. The Nyö clan emerged as a local aristocracy, supplanting many older aristocratic families of Tibetan origin that sided with Tibet during invasions of Bhutan. In doing so, the clan came to occupy the hereditary position of Penlop of Trongsa, as well as significant national and local government positions.[5]

The Penlop of Trongsa controlled central Bhutan; the rival Penlop of Paro controlled western Bhutan; and dzongpons controlled areas surrounding their respective dzongs. The Penlop of Paro, unlike Trongsa, was an office appointed by the Druk Desi's central government. Because western regions controlled by the Penlop of Paro contained lucrative trade routes, it became the object of competition among aristocratic families.[5]

Although Bhutan generally enjoyed favorable relations with both Tibet and British India through the 19th century, extension of British power at Bhutan's borders as well as Tibetan incursions in British Sikkim defined politically opposed pro-Tibet and pro-Britain forces.[6] This period of intense rivalry between and within western and central Bhutan, coupled with external forces from Tibet and especially the British Empire, provided the conditions for the ascendancy of the Penlop of Trongsa.[5]

After the Duar War with Britain (1864–65) as well as substantial territorial losses (Cooch Behar 1835; Assam Duars 1841), armed conflict turned inward. In 1870, amid the continuing civil wars, Penlop Jigme Namgyal of Trongsa ascended to the office of Druk Desi. In 1879, he appointed his 17-year-old son Ugyen Wangchuck as Penlop of Paro. Jigme Namgyal reigned through his death 1881, punctuated by periods of retirement during which he retained effective control of the country.[7]

The pro-Britain Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck ultimately prevailed against the pro-Tibet and anti-Britain Penlop of Paro after a series of civil wars and rebellions between 1882 and 1885. After his father's death in 1881, Ugyen Wangchuck entered a feud over the post of Penlop of Trongsa. In 1882, at the age of 20, he marched on Bumthang and Trongsa, winning the post of Penlop of Trongsa in addition to Paro. In 1885, Ugyen Wangchuck intervened in a conflict between the Dzongpens of Punakha and Thimphu, sacking both sides and seizing Simtokha Dzong. From this time forward, the office of Desi became purely ceremonial.[7]

Nationhood under the Wangchucks[edit]

Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck, firmly in power and advised by Kazi Ugyen Dorji, accompanied the British expedition to Tibet as an invaluable intermediary, earning his first British knighthood. Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck further garnered knighthood in the KCIE in 1904. Meanwhile, the last officially recognized Shabdrung and Druk Desi had died in 1903 and 1904, respectively. As a result, a power vacuum formed within the already dysfunctional dual system of government. Civil administration had fallen to the hands of Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck, and in November 1907 he was unanimously elected hereditary monarch by an assembly of the leading members of the clergy, officials, and aristocratic families. His ascendency to the throne ended the traditional dual system of government in place for nearly 300 years.[6][8] The title Penlop of Trongsa – or Penlop of Chötse, another name for Trongsa – continued to be held by crown princes.[9]

As King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck secured the Treaty of Punakha (1910), under which Britain guaranteed Bhutan's independence, granted Bhutanese Royal Government a stipend, and took control of Bhutanese foreign relations. After becoming the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck further merited the British Delhi Durbar Gold Medal in 1911; the Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (KCSI) in 1911; and the Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (GCIE) in 1921. The first Druk Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck died in 1926.

The reign of the Second King Jigme Wangchuck (1926–1952) was characterized by an increasingly powerful central government and the beginnings of infrastructure development. Bhutan also established its first diplomatic relations with India under the bilateral Treaty of Friendship, largely patterned after the prior Treaty of Punakha.[10]

The Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (r. 1952–1972) ascended the throne at the age of 16, having been educated in England and India. During the reign of the Third King, Bhutan began further political and legal reforms and started to open to the outside world.[7] Notably, the Third King was responsible for establishing a unicameral National Assembly in 1953 and establishing relations with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958. Under Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutan also modernized its legal codes.[11]

Relations with the Dorji family[edit]

Further information: Dorji family
Padmasambhava with Nyingmapa masters Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa; Jigme is an early Wangchuck forefather.

The powerful aristocratic Dorji family are descended from the influential 12th century aristocratic Lama Sum-phrang Chos-rje (b.1179; d. 1265). The Dorji family are therefore also descended from the aristocratic Dungkar Choji (b. 1578) of the prominent Nyö clan. This means that the Dorji family are related by blood to the reigning Wangchuck monarchs who share the same ancestors. In fact Gongzim Ugen Dorji (b.1855; d.1916) who served as the Chief Minister (Gongzim) to the first king Ugyen Wangchuck was also his second cousin, because they shared the same great-grandfather Padma, son of the aristocratic Rabgyas.

From the beginning of Bhutan's hereditary monarchy, members of the family served as gongzim (Chief Minister, the top government post),[10] and their official residence was at the palatial Bhutan House at Kalimpong.

Gongzim Ugen Dorji as a befitting a person born as an aristocrat, was groomed for diplomacy and politics from a very early age by his father Shap Penchung who was a very influential member of the court, as well as being the Dzongpon (Dzong Lord) of Jungtsa. As a young lad, Gongzim Ugen Dorji acted as a moderator between the British diplomatic officials and the Bhutanese court. And in 1864 he accompanied his father to meet the British diplomatic mission under Sir Ashley Eden. At this time, Sir Ashley Eden and his entourage were incarcerated and threatened with execution by the Bhutanese government officials, but Gongzim Ugen Dorji's father Shepa Puchung was instrumental in saving their lives and setting them free. This diplomatic crisis resulted in the Duar wars between the Bhutanese and the British Empire. As an adult, Gongzim Ugen Dorji became Chief Minister to his second cousin Penlop (Lord) Ugyen Wangchuck and was instrumental in uniting the various fiefdoms of Bhutan to create a hereditary monarchy with Ugyen Wangchuck as the first reigning Dragon King. The role of chief minister became hereditary within the Dorji family and Gongzim Ugen Dorji was succeeded in this position by his son Sonam Topgay Dorji. In turn, Sonam Topgay Dorji's eldest son Jigme Palden Dorji was appointed Chief Minister to his kinsman King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1952. In 1958, he became the first man to hold the title Prime Minister of Bhutan (Lonchen), when the position of Chief Minister was upgraded in 1958, as part of a wider series of reforms by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.

From Bhutan House, Gongzim Ugen Dorji's son Raja Sonam Topgay Dorji ("Topgay Raja") held the post of Trade Agent to the Government of Bhutan, however he functioned to a large extent as prime minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to India. Through this position as a trade intermediary, the Dorji family amassed wealth reputedly greater than that of the royal family.[12] Topgay Raja himself married a Sikkimese princess.[12][13]

In 1904, Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck, firmly in power and advised by Gongzim Ugen Dorji of the Dorji family, accompanied the British expedition to Tibet as an invaluable intermediary, earning the Penlop his first British knighthood. The same year, a power vacuum formed within the already dysfunctional Bhutanese dual system of government. Civil administration had fallen to the hands of Wangchuck, and in November 1907 he was unanimously elected hereditary monarch by an assembly of the leading members of the clergy, officials, and aristocratic families. His ascendency to the throne ended the traditional in place for nearly 300 years and the beginning of the Royal House of Wangchuck.[6][8]

After two generations as Gongzim to the Wangchuck dynasty, the sister of Prime Minister Jigme Dorji – the daughter of Topgay Raja and Princess Rani Chuni Wangmo of Sikkim – married the Third King, creating a new bond so prominent as to cause discontent among other Bhutanese families.[12][14] The public was divided between pro-modernist and pro-monarchist camps.[10]

Assassination of Jigme Dorji[edit]

In the early 1960s, the Third King fell ill and went to Switzerland for treatment. As the king was unavailable, Prime Minister Jigme Dorji sought to fill a leadership role, however this led to tensions with the military and monarchist factions. Namely, Dorji conflicted with the Royal Bhutan Army over the use of military vehicles, forced the retirement of some 50 military officers, and sought to limit the power of state-supported religious institutions such as the Dratshang Lhentshog and Je Khenpo.[10] On April 5, 1964, reformist Prime Minister Jigme Dorji was assassinated in Phuentsholing by monarchist cadres as the king lay ill in Switzerland. The Dorji family was subsequently put under close watch.[15]

The King's Tibetan mistress Yangki and her father, who had been implicated in the assassination, suspected that Jigme Dorji's brother Lhendup would use the king's absence to exact revenge. They attempted to flee into India, but were detained at Gelephu. They eventually fled the country.[14] The King's own uncle and head of the Royal Bhutan Army, Namgyal Bahadur, was among those executed for their role in the attempted coup.[16]

The post of Prime Minister (Lyonchen) was vacant, and the King identified Jigme Dorji's son Lhendup as the successor. Lhendup's mother, then head of the Dorji family, advised the King against giving any title to Lhendup because it would have made the situation more explosive. In 1964, however, the King announced his intention to appoint Lhendup as Lyonchen. Lhendup fled to Nepal in 1965 due to political pressure, and was effectively exiled by the National Assembly. Today, remaining members of the Dorji family remain prominent in Bhutanese politics.

Democratization under the Wangchucks[edit]

The Third King died in 1972, and the Raven Crown passed to the 16-year-old Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The Fourth King was, like his father, educated in England and India, and had also attended Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in Paro. Reigning until 2006, the Fourth King was responsible for the development of the tourism industry, Gross National Happiness as a concept, and strides in democratization including the draft Constitution of Bhutan. The later years of his reign, however, also marked the departure of Bhutanese refugees in the 1990s amid the government's driglam namzha policy and citizenship laws that were overzealously enforced by some district officials. To the astonishment of the Bhutanese public, the Fourth King announced his abdication in 2005 and retired in 2006, handing the crown to his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.[7]

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck assumed the throne as the Fifth King in 2008 as the kingdom adopted its first democratic Constitution.


Below is an extended patrilineal genealogy of the House of Wangchuck through the present monarch.[17]

Name Birth Death Reign
Romanization Wylie transliteration Dzongkha
Sumthrang Chorji Sum-phrang Chos-rje སུམ་ཕྲང་ཆོས་རྗེ་ 1179 1265
Zhigpo Tashi Sengye Zhig-po bKra-shis Seng-ge ཞིག་པོ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་སེང་གེ་ 1237 1322
Bajra Duepa Bajra 'Dus-pa བཇ་ར་འདུས་པ་ 1262 1296
Depa Paljor bDe-pa'i dPal-'byor བདེ་པའི་དཔལ་འབྱོར་ 1291 1359
Palden Sengye dPal-den Seng-ge དཔལ་དེན་སེང་གེ་ 1332 1384
Tenpa Nyima[nb 1] bsTan-pa'i Nyi-ma བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མ་ 1382
Dongrub Zangpo Don-grub bZang-po དོན་གྲུབ་བཟང་པ་
Pema Lingpa Padma Gling-pa པདྨ་གླིང་པ་ 1450 1521
Khochun Chorji mKho-chun Chos-rje མཁོ་ཆུན་ཆོས་རྗེ་ 1505
Ngawang Ngag-dbang ངག་དབང་ 1539
Gyalba rGyal-ba རྒྱལ་བ་ 1562
Dungkar Choji[17][nb 2] Dun-dkar Chos-rje དུན་དྐར་ཆོས་རྗེ་ 1578
Tenpa Gyalchen bsTan-pa'i rGyal-mchan བསྟན་པའི་རྒྱལ་མཆན་ 1598 1694
Tenpa Nyima bsTan-pa'i Nyi-ma བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མ་ 1623 1689
Dadrag Zla-grags ཟླ་གྲགས 1641
Tubzhong gTub-zhong གཏུབ་ཞོང་ 1674
Pema Rije Padma Rig-rgyas (Pemarigyas) པདྨ་རིག་རྒྱས་ 1706 1763
Rabje Rab-rgyas (Rabgyas) རབ་རྒྱས་ 1733
Pema Padma པདྨ་
Dasho Pila Gonpo Wangyal Pi-la mGon-po rNam-rgyal པི་ལ་མགན་པོ་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་ 1782
Dasho Jigme Namgyal rJigs-med rNam-rgyal རྗིགས་མེད་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་ 1825 1881
King Ugyen Wangchuck O-rgyan dBang-phyug ཨོ་རྒྱན་དབང་ཕྱུག་ 1862 1926 1907 1926
King Jigme Wangchuck 'Jigs-med dBang-phyug འཇིགས་མེད་དབང་ཕྱུག་ 1905 1952 1926 1952
King Jigme Dorji[nb 3]Wangchuck 'Jigs-med rDo-rje dBang-phyug འཇིགས་མེད་རྡོ་རྗེ་དབང་ཕྱུག་ 1928 1972 1952 1972
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck 'Jigs-med Seng-ge dBang-phyug འཇིགས་མེད་སེང་གེ་དབང་ཕྱུག་ 1955 1972 2006
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck 'Jigs-med Khe-sar rNam-rGyal dBang-phyug འཇིགས་མེད་གེ་སར་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་དབང་ཕྱུག་ 1980 2006

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brother of Jamjeng Dragpa Oezer (Jam-dbyangs Grags-pa Od-zer) (1382-1442)
  2. ^ Wangchuck forefathers may be referred to as of the Dungkar Choji family
  3. ^ A member of the Dorji family through his mother


  1. ^ a b Worden, Robert L.. "Administrative Integration and Conflict with Tibet, 1651–1728". Bhutan: A country study (Savada, Andrea Matles, ed.). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress of the USA (September 1991).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Worden, Robert L.. "Civil Conflict, 1728–72". Bhutan: A country study (Savada, Andrea Matles, ed.). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress of the USA (September 1991).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ Dorji, C. T. (1994). "Appendix III". History of Bhutan based on Buddhism. Sangay Xam, Prominent Publishers. p. 200. ISBN 81-86239-01-4. Retrieved 2011-08-12. 
  4. ^ Crossette, Barbara (2011). So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas. Vintage Departures. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 0-307-80190-X. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  5. ^ a b c Harding, Sarah (2003). Harding, Sarah, ed. The life and revelations of Pema Lingpa. Snow Lion Publications. p. 24. ISBN 1-55939-194-4. Retrieved 2011-08-10.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  6. ^ a b c Europa Publications (2002). Far East and Australasia. Regional surveys of the world: Far East & Australasia (34 ed.). Psychology Press. pp. 180–81. ISBN 1-85743-133-2. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  7. ^ a b c d Brown, Lindsay; Mayhew, Bradley; Armington, Stan; Whitecross, Richard W. (2007). Bhutan. Lonely Planet Country Guides (3 ed.). Lonely Planet. pp. 38–43. ISBN 1-74059-529-7. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  8. ^ a b Worden, Robert L.. "British Intrusion, 1772–1907". Bhutan: A country study (Savada, Andrea Matles, ed.). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress of the USA (September 1991).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ Rennie, Frank; Mason, Robin (2008). Bhutan: Ways of Knowing. IAP. p. 176. ISBN 1-59311-734-5. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  10. ^ a b c d Global Investment and Business Center, Inc. (2000). Bhutan Foreign Policy and Government Guide. World Foreign Policy and Government Library 20. Int'l Business Publications. pp. 59–61. ISBN 0-7397-3719-8. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  11. ^ United Nations. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (2004). Perspectives from the ESCAP region after the Fifth WTO Ministerial Meeting. ESCAP Studies in Trade and Investment 53. United Nations Publications. p. 66. ISBN 92-1-120404-6. 
  12. ^ a b c Sangharakshita; Sangharakshita (Bhikshu) (1996). In the sign of the golden wheel: Indian memoirs of an English buddhist. Windhorse Publications. pp. 26–28. ISBN 1-899579-14-1. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  13. ^ Lingwood, D. P. E. (Sangharakshita) (1991). Facing Mount Kanchenjunga: an English Buddhist in the Eastern Himalayas. Windhorse Publications. pp. 152–4. ISBN 0-904766-52-7. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  14. ^ a b University of Rajasthan (1978). South Asian studies, Volume 13. South Asian Studies Centre, Dept. of Political Science, University of Rajasthan. pp. 110–12. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  15. ^ Ram Rahul (1997). Royal Bhutan: a political history. Vikas. pp. 94–95. ISBN 81-259-0232-5. 
  16. ^ "Timeline: Bhutan". BBC News online. 2010-05-05. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  17. ^ a b Buyers, Christopher (2010-03-20). "BHUTAN – The Wangchuck Dynasty". The Royal Ark – Royal and Ruling Houses of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 

External links[edit]