Chula Chakrabongse, born in 1908, was the child of a prince of Siam, Chakrabongse, and his Russian wife, Ekatrina Desnitskaya. To avoid confusion, I will refer to the father as Chakrabongse and the son as Chula.

Ekatrina's health suffered in Siam, as did that of many farang in the tropics, and she left her young son in the care of servants while she travelled to Japan and Canada for a year. In the meantime Chakrabongse became infatuated with one of his cousins. On Ekatrina's return, Chakrabongse tried to talk his wife into accepting a polygamous marriage, but she was implacable, and they soon divorced. His mother departed, and Chakrabongse's mistress joined the household, though king Chulalongkorn, Chula's grandfather, already displeased with his son's original foreign marriage, did not allow the man to remarry.

When still very young, and like his father before him, Chula was sent off to school in Britain. He spent his teenage years in England and did not return to Siam till he was 23, after 10 years abroad. Chula's biography, The Twain Have Met; or, An Eastern Prince Came West, is an engaging account of his growing up in Britain. He mentions in particular being "frustrated by the general ignorance about my country which underlined her lack of importance. 'Siam! Now that's a French Colony, isn't it?' was the frequent question, and incredulity was plainly shown when this was denied."

Chula was naturally attracted to the English girls around him, even though his Siamese family discouraged such unions. He reports that his uncle Prajadhipok, Rama VII, "strongly disapproved of a mixed marriage, and, although he liked my mother personally, he often told me that my father's marriage to her was a national and dynastic catastrophe." (In fact when laws on succession were put in place in Thailand, the children of foreigners were banned from ascending the throne. The eldest daughter of the current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, lost her status when she married an American businessman.)

Back in England Chula met an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Hunter, or Lisba as she was more familiarly known. He reports that she was his "English 'dream girl'", with (two guesses) blonde hair and blue eyes. If the Thai side of the family disapproved of Chula and Lisba's love, the English side was no more welcoming; according to Lisba's sister Eileen,

In our conventional middle-class family, eyebrows were raised and voices lowered when the matter was discussed. Of Siam, little was known and no attempt was made to learn more - but it was readily assumed that Lisba risked sequestration in a harem. Orientals sweeping innocent girls off their feet were all very well on the flickering black and white cinema screens, but in real life - in Kensington such a thing was unthinkable.

Nevertheless, the couple married in 1938 and, in 1956, after 18 years of marriage they had a daughter, Narisa, now a PhD candidate in geography at the School of African and Oriental Studies at the University of London.

I can tell you a bit more about Chula. With his cousin prince Bira he raced cars; Bira was quite successful at this, the Coup de Prince Rainier at Monte Carlo in 1936. Besides his autobiography, Chula wrote several other books, including an account of the Chakri dynasty, Lords of Life: The Paternal Monarchy of Bangkok, 1782-1932 and a biography entitled Dick Seaman - A Racing Champion. In 1956 Lisba became a Buddhist; she remained married to Chula until his death of cancer in 1964.

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