The currently ruling kingly dynasty of the constitutional monarchy, Thailand.

The dynasty was founded by a man of noble family who had served the previous king, Taksin, as a general. His real name was Thong Duang, but he rose to prominence as Chao Phraya Chakri. "Chao Phraya" is a title quite high up in the Siamese hierarchy; Chrakri translates as something like "military commander", or general. Thong Duang gained this title in 1775 at the age of 38.

A brilliant military leader, the Chakri was instrumental in expanding Siam's holdings farther than perhaps any king since the great leader of Sukhothai, Ramkhamhaeng. He also returned an important symbol of the Siamese polity, the Emerald Buddha, to Siam from Laos.

In 1782 Taksin began showing signs of extreme eccentricity and was killed. Chakri - or Rama I as he is more usually known - underwent an abbreviated coronation ceremony and immediately moved the capital from Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya river to Bangkok on the east bank so that the government would be less vulnerable to an attack by Siam's traditional enemies, the Burmese. Rama I reigned until 1809.

As king, Rama I worked to restore discipline to the Buddhist monkhood, and convened a grand council to develop a definitive version of the Pali language Tipitaka, or Buddhist scriptures. He sponsored a revival of state ceremonies that had been in abeyance since the fall of Ayuthaya in 1767. He oversaw a codification of all laws, establishing the Three Seals Laws that would serve Siam for over a century. In some ways, such actions can be read as reviving an earlier, golden past of a Siamese kingdom destroyed in 1767. However, unlike the elitist kings of Ayuthaya, Rama I generally explained in all his edicts, decrees, and laws what situation he was hoping to correct with each particular effort.

Rama I had a literary side as well. It is said that he wrote a Thai version of the Ramayana (Ramakien in Thai), as well as the translation of other Asian classics from several languages. Though he may have done some of the writing himself, it is far more likely that he simply sponsored the writing of these works, which have become touchstones in Thai literature.

Kings of the Chakri dynasty:

A standard English-language source on Thai history is David Wyatt's Thailand: A Short History. What it lacks in a critical perspective it makes up for in thoroughness. It's not that short, either, by the way.

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