Born: 18 October 1804
Died: 18 October 1868 (Malaria)
Birthplace: Siam (now Thailand)
Best known as: Thai king who inspired Anna and the King of Siam
King Maha Mongkut, also known as Rama IV, ruled Siam (now Thailand) from 1851 to 1868, during which time he successfully negotiated with Western powers, modernized his nation and served as the inspiration for the story Anna and the King of Siam. Mongkut ascended the throne upon the death of his half-brother, Jetta (Rama III), after spending 27 years as a Buddhist monk. Educated and multi-lingual, Mongkut negotiated with the United States and European powers to open Siam to international trade. He also brought in missionaries to teach his concubines and children about modern science and culture. Among the missionaries was Mrs. Anna Leonowens, who left Siam after Mongkut died of malaria (1868) and then gained fame for her book The English Governess at the Siamese Court. Her story was turned into the popular book Anna and the King of Siam (1944) by Margaret Landon, and later became the subject of movies and a Broadway musical (The King and I).
Extra credit: An amateur astronomer, Mongkut accurately predicted a solar eclipse on 18 August 1868. While viewing the eclipse with a team of French astronomers, Mongkut contracted malaria; he died two months later, on his 64th birthday.
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