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Sunanda, the queen who died aged 19 because she could not be touched

Sunanda, the queen who died aged 19 because she could not be touched

For centuries, the tragic story of Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, wife of King Chulalongkorn of Siam (then Thailand), has attracted the interest of historians. On April 22, 1880, the young queen and her one-year-old daughter met their deaths in the waters of the Chao Phraya River while trying to escape the flames that broke out on a royal boat.

But what makes this story so tragic?

What makes this story even more tragic is the strict adherence to the ancient laws of Siam, which prohibited anyone, including the queen's servants, from touching a member of the royal family. As the queen - who was pregnant when she died - and her daughter struggled in the river (the queen actually couldn't swim), the attendants were forced to stand still on the shore, helpless in their pain as they witnessed the tragic end of the victims.

Some tried to escape in alternative ways, for example by throwing coconuts into the water in the hope that the queen would cling to them and come ashore. However, this ploy was unsuccessful. After the tragedy, a large mausoleum was erected in honor of the queen and princess.

Their deaths represented an epochal moment in the history of Siam, as it marked the end of the era of absolute monarchy that had dominated the country for generations. King Chulalongkorn, deeply troubled by the death of his beloved wife and daughter, found himself at a critical crossroads. He was driven to undertake a series of radical reforms that would profoundly transform the social and political structure of the kingdom.

The king's personal pain turned into a burning determination to lead Siam into a future of progress and modernity. Chulalongkorn initiated an ambitious program of modernization, which aimed to strengthen state institutions, promote education and the economy, and, above all, limit the power and privileges of the monarchy itself.