Palace Revolt of 1912
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The Palace Revolt of 1912 (Thai: กบฏ ร.ศ. 130) was a failed uprising against the absolute monarchy of Siam. Discontentment from the Army during the reign of King Vajiravudh (or King Rama VI) led to an unsuccessful coup.
In 1909, a group of soldiers got in an argument over a woman with a group of Vajiravudh’s pages near the entrance of Vajiravudh's palace. At the time, Vajiravudh the Crown Prince and designated successor to King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V). Six soldiers were arrested, and Vajiravudh petitioned to Chulalongkorn for the soldiers to be caned. The practice of caning had recently been banned, and Chulalongkorn refused the petition. However, Vajiravudh threatened to resign as successor, and Chulalongkorn eventually consented to the caning. The incident caused much dissatisfaction within the Army.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiravudh succeeded his father as King of Siam on the 23 October 1910. Vajirabvudh set out in his coronation speech to modernize and westernize Siam in his role as its absolute monarch.
The new King spent lavishly on his coronation and lived a life of excess in a period when most of the Kingdom’s populace were rural farmers and feudal serfs. Infatuated with Western culture and practices and considering himself an Edwardian English gentleman, Vajiravudh spent his time translating Shakespeare into Thai, staging dramatic productions, hunting, and overseeing his Wild Tiger Corps.
Wild Tiger Corps
On his coronation day Vajiravudh also established a new Military corps called the Wild Tiger Corps (Thai: กองเสือป่า) (RTGS: Kong Suea Pa). The Corps was meant to be an nationwide paramilitary corps, answerable only to the monarch. At first a ceremonial guard, it became a military force of 4,000 within its first year. Filled with commoners, the king would often share mess with them and socialize with them openly. The Corps eventually rivaled the army in strength and the civil service in influence. The King even went so far as appointing some into high ranks in the Army and Nobility.
While the King socialized with members of the Corps, the regular army and aristocrats were deeply dissatisfied. They saw these new appointments as a threat to their hold over power. Despite massive spending on new Palaces and dramatic productions, the kingdom was in truth, deeply in debt and was in imminent threat of financial collapse.
The revolt that never happened
On 13 January 1912, dissatisfied with his reign and with the absolutist regime (especially his favourism towards the Wild Tiger Corps), a group of 7 Army officers decided to overthrow the King, the group's membership eventually reached 91 Officers. The group were led by Army Captain Khun Thuayhanpitak (Thai: ร.อ.ขุนทวยหาญพิทักษ์), including some member from the King's own bodyguards. Other men were either members of the low ranks of the regular Army or their companions up in the north country far from the delights of Bangkok. Perhaps inspired by the successful overthrow of the Manchus and the Qing Dynasty in China that same year, they decided to move forward. Their plans were unclear and their goals were contradictory, some wanted to replace Vajiravudh with one of his many brothers, others wanted a constitutional monarchy and some in the extreme wing a republic.
On the 1 April 1912, on Thai New Year, the King was to preside over the merit making ceremony in public. Captain Yut Khongyu (Thai: ร.อ.ยุทธ คงอยู่) was selected (by lottery) by the plotters to assassinate the Monarch on that day. Filled with guilt he instead confessed all the plans and names of the conspirators to the commander of the King's bodyguards on the 27 February, who in turn told the existence of the plot to the King's brother Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, The Prince of Phitsanulok. The plotters were discovered before they even moved and were quickly arrested and imprisoned. Under a Military Tribunal: 3 were sentenced to death, 20 received life imprisonment, 32 received twenty years, 6 received fifteen years and a further 30 for twelve years imprisonment. They were tried under attempted regicide, treason and attempted overthrow of the government.
The failed uprising was the first revolt against the House of Chakri from the outside of the nobility. Despite their actions most of the plotters were pardoned or have their sentences lessened by the King himself in 1924, these included the death sentences (the King had felt that no one has actually been hurt). However the lesson was not lost on Vajiravudh who quickly stepped up vigilance against any such threats in the future.
Aftermath and legacy
The Wild Tiger Corps was disbanded soon after the Revolt. In 1914, Vajiravudh determined that the Act providing for invoking martial law, first promulgated by his father in 1907, was not consistent with modern laws of war or convenient for the preservation of the external or internal security of the State, so changed to the modern form that, with minor amendments, continues to be in force. Vajiravudh reigned until 1925, initiating many reforms with mixed success. Vajiravudh died of natural causes and was succeed by his brother Prajadhipok (or Rama VII). Prajadhipok inherited from Vajiravudh a massive fiscal deficit, made worse by the onset of the Great Depression. The absolute monarchy was eventually overthrown by the Revolution of 1932, the leaders of which openly confessed their inspiration from the actions of the 1912 plotters.
- Pakorn Nilprapunt (2006). "Martial Law, B.E. 2457 (1914) — unofficial translation" (PDF). thailawforum.com. Office of the Council of State. Retrieved May 21, 2014.
Reference to Thai legislation in any jurisdiction shall be to the Thai version only. This translation has been made so as to establish correct understanding about this Act to the foreigners.
- Greene, Stephen Lyon Wakeman. (1999). Absolute Dreams. Thai Government Under Rama VI, 1910-1925. Bangkok: White Lotus.
- Stowe, Judith A. (1991). Siam Becomes Thailand: A Story of Intrigue. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers.
- Baker, Christopher John, & Phongpaichit, Pasuk. (2005). A History of Thailand. Cambridge University Press.