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Q: The King & I .... How were his wives & harem recruited (in real life)? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: The King & I .... How were his wives & harem recruited (in real life)?
Category: Family and Home > Families
Asked by: probonopublico-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 12 Oct 2002 05:36 PDT
Expires: 11 Nov 2002 04:36 PST
Question ID: 75694
King Mongkut of Siam (who was memorably recreated by Yul Brynner)
reputedly had 82 children by 39 wives. In addition, his harem numbered

How were these women recruited? Were they happy to serve? How did he
find the time to lavish love and affection on them (as well as Deborah
Kerr)? What happened to them when he popped off? Is this a record?
Subject: Re: The King & I .... How were his wives & harem recruited (in real life)?
Answered By: willie-ga on 12 Oct 2002 12:24 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

When King Mongkut left the priesthood to take up the duties of
kingship, he went straight from his monastic cell to the Inner Palace
or the Harem. The once celibate priest was now required to have as
many wives and children as possible (regarded as being necessary for
the honour and dignity of the Sovereign) During 17 years on the
throne, Mongkut had 82 children from 39 different wives  (I suppose he
was catching up after 26 years in a monastery)

The king's "performance" is all the more remarkable when you examine
his daily routine

7 a.m.   The King rose from bed. 
8 a.m.   He partook of a light repast consisting of rice gruel 
9 a.m.   He gave audience to the officers of the Royal Guards 
10 a.m.  He took his morning meal and retired again to bed 
11 a.m.  The ladies of the palace attended him 
1 p.m.   He went out on an excursion 
2 p.m.   He gave audience to his children and members of the Royal
3 p.m    He presided over a council of his ministers and the high
officers of the Realm and gave his decisions on affairs of state.
4 p.m.   He went on an excursion 
5 p.m.   He went to the Royal Chapel 
6 p.m.   He decided on the affairs of the Palace 
7 p.m.   He studied the Art of War 
8 p.m.   He studied Politics 
9 p.m.   A meal was served to the King 
10 p.m.  He conferred with astrologers and pundits and discussed with
them Religion and Philosophy
midnight Musicians and singers were brought before the King 
1 a.m.   Storytellers were brought before the King 
2/3 a.m The King retired to bed 

It looks like he was only "abed" for 4-5 hours each night, with a two
hour spell of being attended to by the ladies in early afternoon. And
furthermore this routine was binding by law! At least he seems to have
got an hour's rest between 10-11am, but we're not told whether he was
alone or not. It doesn't say whether he ever got any sleep.

As for the harem itself, here's a quote from the book "A King of Siam
Speaks" by M.R. Seni Pramoj and M.R. Kukrit Pramoj" referred to on the
website below on the king's private life.

"The Inner Palace was a city of women, and no other males above the
age of eleven were allowed, except on very special occasions when they
were given permission to enter, accompanied by a number of muscular
amazons who guarded the palace.

In this palace lived the princesses of the blood, the ladies of the
harem, and all their slaves and attendants. The administration of this
city was in the hands of highranking lady officials of lower ranks,
women who performed the duties of clerks and treasurers together with
members of the guard of the amazons and women menials. The Siamese
harem was different from other oriental harems in one respect: no
eunuch had ever been known to be in employment. New members were given
to the King or to the princesses by willing parents or relatives;
others came of their own accord with the hope for royal favour or
employment inside the palace.

Young girls from noble and rich families were usually sent to the
palace for a duration of time before they became marriageable, for the
palace was the only place where they could be properly educated and
obtain all the accomplishments and polish that were required of
Siamese ladies of high birth. All these women were called "Nang Nai"
or ladies of the Inner Palace, but only the royal wives and concubines
and princesses of the blood were regarded as "Nang Harm" or the
forbidden ladies. These latter were not allowed to marry except by the
King's special permission, which was rarely granted. They were not
allowed to be looked upon by any other male with the exception of the
King himself. It is curious to note that nowhere else in the kingdom
was the purdah practised but only inside the Royal Court and at the
court of the Second King or the Heir to the Throne.

King Mongkut was the first Siamese monarch to break this age-old
custom by issuing a proclamation permitting those ladies to resign,
though it must be said that the characters he gave to those who did
actually resign were not as brilliant as they might have been."

So, the harem was seen as a place for young women to increase their
social standing (and maybe be lucky enough to get pregnant by the King
), and rich families actually encouraged their daughters to be harem
members. And it looks like the King, in an effort to be more modern,
allowed women to resign from it, but he wasn't THAT keen on the idea.

This information all comes from a website maintained by Thai students,
"The Private Life of King Mongkut " ( ) which has a lot
more, including details of how Thais really feel about "The King and

There are no details in existence that I can find on any kind of
"rota" system for getting around the harem, but according to the site
above he was a kind and loving man, and wrote love letters to all his

Someone else has mentioned in the comments an article detailing the
fate of his wives on his death. Unfortunately I couldn't track down
much more than that, but he had a large extended family, and the harem
tradition continued, so it is to be assumed that those who wished to
were allowed to retire as per his decree, while others would "stay on"

It states in the Bible that King Solomon had 700 wives and 300
concubines, less of an overall total, but more wives, so I guess he

Hope that's at least close to what you wanted


The main page for the site by, produced by students
and teachers at Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan, Thailand
The King and I : Fact or Fiction

My favourite site that I've found while researching this
The Polygamy "Quote of the Day"

Google Search terms used 
siam harem
siam mongkut truth
polygamy harem
probonopublico-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Brilliant, Willie, as usual.

My thanks to Secret901 also.

Of course, 5 stars are not enough to rate your answer ... so, please
tell me how I can fix it so that I can give you more stars ... Or will
that require a supplementary question?



Subject: Re: The King & I .... How were his wives & harem recruited (in real life)?
From: secret901-ga on 12 Oct 2002 11:08 PDT
The article "Of Consorts and Harlots in Thai Popular History" by Hong
Lysa (Journal of Asian Studies, May 1998) has detailed descriptions of
the two most important wives of Mongkut, Ladies Thiang and Wad.  It
also describes the kind of relationship that he had with them, and how
each of them and other wives fared after his death.
Subject: Re: The King & I .... How were his wives & harem recruited (in real life)?
From: secret901-ga on 12 Oct 2002 12:50 PDT
Sasani Virasinchai, a woman freelance writer, wrote this of Lady
Thiang (drawing from materials used by traditional popular history
"This queen was the most dearly beloved of H.M. King Rama IV
[Mongkut]. The relationship between the king and his consorts was very
formal, but these two behaved towards one another like a genuinely
loving couple."
Anna Leonowens, the English tutor, wrote:
"She contrived to be always in favour with the king, simply because
she was the only woman among all that vast throng who really loved
him, though at no period of her life had she ever enjoyed the
unenviable distinction of being 'the favourite'." (1872)
On the fates of Mongkut's consorts on his death, Sasani wrote:
"Among the consorts who were in his service, the king favoured some
more than others, but he ensured that they were all provided for
according to their station.  However, with the death of the king, his
consorts sufferred a decline in their fortunes.  They became dependent
either on their children who held official positions, or on the
financial supports of their own families.  Very few of them managed to
have highly honoured and important positions.  One of these was Wad,
who achieved this through her own sheer ability and outstanding
Wad became Thao Worachan during the reign of Rama V, the highest
position a woman can hold.
The article by Hong Lysa disputes the claims of Sasani by using
archival documents to show that the relationships between Thiang and
Mongkut was not as described, and neither was Lady Wad's

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