Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII, was for a brief period king of Thailand.

Ananda was born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1925, elder son and second child of Prince Mahidol. Prince Mahidol was one of Chulalongkorn's many sons; he was not high in the hierarchy of these sons because his mother - Ananda's grandmother - was a royal consort who was not elevated to queenly status. Mahidol was a medical doctor who is today known as the father of Thai medicine. Mahidol died when Ananda was 5.

Ananda's uncle, King Prajadhipok, abdicated from the throne in 1935, and young Ananda, surprisingly, was next in the line of succession. He spent his early years as king in Switzerland, where he was educated, and visited Thailand only occasionally.

In 1946 Ananda came to Thailand to live. He was to be officially crowned that year, but after only a short time in the kingdom, he was found dead in his bed in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. An official announcement stated that he had been ill. Later, three palace guards were accused, and found guilty, of murdering the young king, and were executed. Few believe they actually committed the crime, however, and people still gossip in hushed tones (for it's illegal to defame the royal family in Thailand) about who was responsible for the young man's demise. In most official documents, it's simply referred to as a tragic death, with no explanation given, but the next king has said "It was not an accident, not a suicide, but what happened is very mysterious ... it was political."

That king is Ananda's younger brother, Bhumibol Adulyadej. When the 18-year-old Bhumibol took power he was so upset about his brother's death that he refused to live in the palace where he died; he had a new palace built in another part of the city, where he still lives. The Grand Palace has become a major tourist attraction which you should visit if you're ever in Bangkok.

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