In 1825, a royal prince of Siam (his birthright wrested from him, and his life imperilled) took refuge in a Buddhist monastery and assumed the yellow garb of a priest. His father, commonly known as Phen den-Klang, first or supreme king of Siam, had just died, leaving this prince, Chowfa Mongkut, at the age of twenty, lawful heir to the crown; for he was the eldest son of the acknowledged queen, and therefore by courtesy and honored custom, if not by absolute right, the legitimate successor to the throne of the Phra-batts (the Golden-footed). But he had an elder half-brother, who, through the intrigues of his mother, had already obtained control of the royal treasury, and now, with the connivance, if not by authority, of the Senabawdee, the Grand Council of the kingdom, proclaimed himself king, under the title of Phra-chow-Phra-sat-thong. He had the grace, however, to promise his plundered brother—such royal promises being a cheap form of propitiation in Siam—to hold the reins of government only until Chowfa Mongkut should be of years and strength and skill to manage them. But, once firmly seated on the throne, the usurper saw in his patient but proud and astute kinsman only a hindrance and a peril in the path of his own cruder and fiercer aspirations. Hence the forewarning and the flight, the cloister and the yellow robes. And so the usurper continued to reign, unchallenged by any claim from the king that should be, until March,1851, when, a mortal illness having overtaken him, he convoked the Grand Council of princes and nobles around his couch, and proposed his favorite son as his successor. Then the safe asses of the court kicked the dying lion with seven words of sententious scorn, — “The crown has already its rightful owner”; whereupon Phra-chow-Phra-sat-thong literally cursed himself to death; for it was almost in the convulsion of his chagrin and rage that he came to his end, on the 3d of April.
In Siam there is no such personage as an heir apparent to the throne, in the definite meaning and positive value which attaches to that phrase in Europe, — no prince with an absolute and exclusive title, by birth, adoption, or nomination, to succeed to the crown. And while it is true that the eldest living son of a Siamese sovereign by his queen or queen consort is recognized by all custom, ancient and modern, as the probable successor to the high seat of his royal sire, he cannot be said to have a clear and indefeasible right to it, because the question of his accession has yet to be decided by the electing voice of the Senabawdee, the Grand Council of the realm, in whose judgment he may be ineligible, by reason of certain physical, mental, or moral disabilities, — as extreme youth, effeminacy, imbecility, intemperance, profligacy. Nevertheless, the election is popularly expected to result in the choice of the eldest son of the queen, though an interregnum or a regency is a contingency by no means unusual.