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The diplomatic relations between Russia and Siam (that is how Thailand was called before 1939) were established between the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. It was a period of strong partnership between the King of Thailand, Rama V Chulalongkorn, and the Russian emperor Nicolay II. One of the consequences of their friendship was that the son of the king of Siam obtained education in Russia. In Saint Petersburg the prince fell in love with a Russian girl, brought her back to Siam and made a family. The story of the family resembles a plot of a romantic novel.
Prince Chakrabongse went to study in the Russia’s prestigious Paris College with one of his friends, Nai Pum. After graduation both of them joined the ranks of Russian military nobility.
The prince spent a lot of time with young educated Russian men. They usually gathered at gentleman-at-arms’ widow Elizabeth Hrapovitskaya’s place. There Chakrabongse met his future wife, Catherine.
Catherine Desnitskaya was born in Ukraine, by the age of sixteen she was orphaned and moved to Saint Petersburg with her brother in search for a better life. There she graduated from a nursing course and by the time she met Chakrabongse she was about to go off to the front. She enchanted the prince, but, despite he was begging her to stay, Catherine departed to help soldiers who were injured in the Russo-Japanese war. After the ratification of the Treaty of Portsmouth she returned to Saint Petersburg where Chakrabongse immediately proposed to her. Catherine said “Yes”, on the condition that the wedding would be arranged in the orthodox ceremonial.
The young couple got spliced secretly in Constantinople. Chakrabongse understood that if his family found out about the wedding there would be an enormous scandal. How could it be that the Siam Buddhist king’s son himself turned into orthodox belief and married a foreigner? When the couple arrived to Siam the prince had nothing to do but explain himself. He went through a harsh talk with his parents. A long time had passed before the royal family’s anger calmed down.
The reconciliation was encouraged by the birth of Chakrabongse and Catherine’s son, prince Chula, in 1908. The queen’s heart thawed straight away. However the first meeting of prince Chula and his grandfather occurred only when the boy turned two years old. King Chulalongkorn felt deep affection for his grandson the moment he let his eyes on him, but, unfortunately, the relationship between them didn’t last long as in 1910 one of the Siam’s most beloved kings passed away. Then the king’s eldest son Vajiravudh ascended the throne and finally recognized Catherine and Chakrabongse’s marriage as a legit one.
At the same time the prince started attending many diplomatic receptions where Catherine could not go because, due to her being lowborn, she was neglected by the society. Nevertheless, the couple traveled a lot around Europe, went back to Russia and even paid a visit to Kiev where Catherine introduced her husband to her relatives. After the trips her health started to decline. The relationship between the couple also started to worsen caused both by Catherine’s sickness and fatigue and by the stress aroused by the unstable political situation in Siam. A conspiracy against the absolute monarchy arose in the country, its aim was to topple the regime by a military coup. Had not Chakrabongse managed to give away the names of the conspirators, the conspiracy would have turned out a success.
In 1918 Catherine went on a long journey across China, Japan and Canada. Trying to make the atmosphere in the house less tense Chakrabongse started inviting his cheerful niece Chavalit to his place. As he told himself he did it only to make his son happy. However, when Catherine returned to Siam, she found out that her husband had not only started an affair with Chavalit, but he also did not feel guilty at all. Chakrabongse assumed that he would maintain relationships with both women and that Catherine would “take care of Chavalit”. This looked like savagery to a Russian woman, yet for a Thai prince it was quite normal as up to the end of the 20th century polygamy was common for Thailand.
Catherine got a divorce and moved to China where her brother lived at that time. There she married an American engineer called Garry Clinton with whom she then lived in America for a while. Later the couple moved to Paris where in 1960 Catherine passed away at the age of 72.
After his spouse left him Chakrabongse started living with Chavalit in a civil marriage because the king could not approve of his brother marrying his own niece. In 1920 Chakrabongse went on a voyage to Singapore with Chavalit and his son. During the voyage he got sick and decided to stay in his cabin, which Chavalit paid no attention to and kept insisting that he had better walk on deck and that sea air would make him feel better. As soon as they arrived to Singapore the prince’s condition worsened and doctor announced he was ill with Spaniard. The prince passed away and the royal family came to attend a farewell ceremony. Catherine also arrived blaming Chavalit for everything.
By that time Chula had turned 12 years old. He grieved for his father deeply and blamed his mother for abandoning him even though he kept in touch with her. A year after Chakrabongse’s death Chula went to England to study where in 1938 he married a girl called Elizabeth Hunter. Chula contributed a lot to his brother Bira’s racing career. He also wrote a four-book series about Bira’s career and a famous racer Dick Seaman’s biography. Besides that Chula issued a book about the Chakri Thai royal dynasty and one of his books in Thai called “Chao Chivit” is included in a list of 100 books every Thai person should read.
Chula and Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter Narisa. Nowadays she owns the “River books” publishing house which issues books about art, architecture, history and archeological researches in Thailand, Cambodia and Burma. Narisa also compiled the Oxford English-Thai dictionary that was also published in “River books”.
Narisa’s son Hugo is a popular actor and musician. His Jay-Z’s “99 problems” country-blues cover became a hit and his “Bread and Butter” track has appeared in many TV shows like “Castle” or “Entourage”. Hugo is famous mostly in the USA, England and Thailand. He goes on tours regularly, gives multiple concerts and interviews all across America.