Ancient Law Causes Queen to Drown, 1880

When a pregnant young queen started to drown, her attendants wouldn’t help. Find out why.

The protocol around royalty which governs how they interact with commoners is usually ancient, rigid and ensures royal family members’ inviolability.

On one occasion however it caused an entirely avoidable tragedy for the Chakri royal dynasty of Siam, modern-day Thailand.

Queen Sunanda Kumariratana was just 19 years old when she travelled to see the newly built and bountiful Bang Pa-In palace be opened by her husband and King — Rama V, but reaching the palace required crossing the Chao Phraya River.

She made her way down to the water’s edge.

Squawks and cries of life rang out sporadically in the thick heat that beat down in the surrounding jungle, and dangerous currents whooshed and sploshed water downstream after heavy rains.

A boat was waiting to ferry the vulnerable young queen, her two-year-old little princess and unborn child to the other side. The boat would be towed in turn by a larger one which would ferry the queen’s retinue.

What should’ve been a joyous day for the King and his family was struck by tragedy; as the boat was hauled across the strong current, it capsized.

The Queen and two-year-old infant daughter were dumped in the river and flailed their arms as they attempted to stop from sinking under. Her entourage, horrified and aghast, failed to act, however.

A no contact rule in the Kingdom of Siam forbade any commoner from touching royal family members under any circumstances and under pain of death. So, with no rope, the head guard felt he could do nothing except look on as the queen slowly drowned.

For this absurd episode, the King imprisoned the guard who did nothing to rescue the favourite of his three queen consorts, yet the poor servant was merely guilty of sticking to the laws of his king.

Queen Sunanda and the Bang Pa-In Palace (

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