Ekaterina Desnitskaya Princess of Siam
In the summer of 1897, the King of Siam, now Thailand, arrived in St. Petersburg. Here he was hospitably accepted by the Russian tsar Nikolai II. The Russian Tsar remembered his first journey to the East, how he stayed in Siam, and nothing spoiled the mood of Russian Emperor in Bangkok then. Once, in a friendly conversation, Nicholas II invited one of the sons of the high guest to study in St. Petersburg.
Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh was the second child of King Chulalongkorn and his beloved wife Queen Saovabha Bongsri. So, in the spring the young Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh appeared on the banks of the Neva River. He was enrolled in the Imperial enclosure, where the Cadets were sons of Russian noble elite. Training here was in grand style, besides, it was prestigious.
In fact, boys had a solid military training, and left the Corps as highly educated people. Siamese Prince combined ability with diligence. After brilliantly graduating from the Corps of Cadets, the guard of Hussars, Prince Chakrabongse continued his studies at the Academy, A.k.a. General staff and was promoted to Colonel of the Russian army.
The prince was a favorite son of both the King and Queen. He represented his father on many foreign visits, such as to the wedding of Crown Prince Wilhelm and Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia, the funeral of King Umberto I of Italy, and the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary of Great Britain.
The life of Prince-Hussar was no different from the life of St. Petersburg “Golden youth”. Balls, dances, masquerades, theatrical premieres, in which he enthusiastically took part. Only on Sunday Chakrabongse Bhuvanath spent time in the Embassy of Siam, and it was located quite near the Winter Palace, where the Prince had his own apartments, given by the Royal family.
In 1905, partying Prince met red-haired girl who had made an indelible impression on him. No one and nothing since then could no longer think: she was the first love, who literally turned upside down the life of the heir of throne, Hussar of the 20th Russian Imperial Guard.
Prince wrote: “I don’t want anyone but you. If you were with me, everything would be fine and nothing could spoil my happiness”. Katya was reading, and graceful figure of a grieving Prince got up in front of her eyes. In her letters to him Katia called him Lek. The separation proved to her that the Prince entered her life seriously. Prince was just waiting for Katia to return to finally unite their destinies.
Ekaterina Desnitskaya was the daughter of Privy Councillor Ivan Stepanovich Desnitsky (Katia’s parents in the above photo). Her father died when Katia was 3 years old. After her mother’s death in 1903, she lived with her elder brother in St. Petersburg.
After graduating from the Sisters of mercy courses, at the age of 15, Katia went to the Far East (photo above) to the Russian-Japanese war. She returned from there with three awards, including the George Cross.
Prince Chakrabongse was aware that the decision of marrying Katia promises him a large family complications. Prince professed Buddhism, Katia didn’t belong to royalty, and she was Orthodox. This is a very significant obstacle. The wedding plan was developed in great secrecy: they feared an unexpected noise. On the subject of Lek and Katie knew only one person who was sent to St. Petersburg along with the Prince, and the bride’s brother Ivan. So that nothing fell apart, the conspirators went not to go somewhere, but in a far off Constantinople. There, in the Greek Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity the couple got married.
The just-married had a honeymoon on the Nile, on their way to Siam. It was agreed that, in order to prepare the meeting of young wife and his parents, the Prince would travel to Bangkok alone. Katia was left in Singapore, she wrote: “It seems to me that this is a real hell”, painfully living every day with the hope that tomorrow will be a clarity.
At that time, Bangkok was filled with celebrations on the occasion of Prince return. In the beautiful castle in Paruskavan, near the Queens Palace, the days passed, Lek was martyred. The situation was such that he was hesitant to talk about Katia with his parents.
Meanwhile, some rumors have reached Siam. Initiative King Chulalongkorn asked his son: “Lek, I heard that you got a European wife. Is it true? Conversation turned out to be painful. At last Prince brought his Russian wife Ekaterina Desnitskaya to Siam. The King refused to meet with her. It turned out that in Bangkok there was not a single family, not a single house where Prince could appear with his wife.
Only the perfect daughter-in-law’s behavior could melt hearts of the Royal family. Katia did not fail to seize the chance to “build bridges”. Katia got rid of European life style, way of dressing, she wore like Siamese women. She learned the Thai language. The most important she bore a son whom the King loved: “I loved him immediately, after all he is my flesh and blood and externally bears no resemblance to the European”.
“Blockade” was broken suddenly. The initiator of this became the father-in-law of Katia. Cha Chul “Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, Jr., the son of Katia and Leka brought joy to the Queen Saovabha: her first and only grandchild. Granny-Queen fully concentrated on her grandson, not wanting to take into account his parents. Every day she had to see the boy, and took him at night to her bedroom.
Ekaterina occupied a prominent position in the society. The Palace of Paruskavan united traditions of Europe and Asia. The food here was prepared by Russian and Siamese cooks.
Ekaterina was not destined to become the Queen of Siam. The feeling became dull and fading. The gravity of Katia was compounded by the fact that family problems had caught her in a foreign country, with someone else’s language, without those people next. Besides, Prince himself decided to replace his wife with 15-year-old cousin Princess Chavalit. The Prince confessed — he cannot avoid seeing Chavalit. Katia plucked up courage, she invited Chavalit to visit them, they went to the movies, to horseback riding. She wanted certainty. Lek should decide whom of two women he need. Chavalit (photo above) became the civilian wife of Leka, as brother of King refused to give permission for the marriage. Leka had to endure and the loss of the mother Queen Saovabha. Ekaterina Desnitskaya didn’t want to be the second. Twelve years of happy married life ended. Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath signed divorce papers, he actually signed the end of his life.
No doubt, if not revolution, Katia would have returned to Russia. To go there now would be madness. She moved to Shanghai, where she was involved in efforts to assist refugees from the Soviets.
Ekaterina Desnitskaya had to return to Siam in a year, to attend the funeral of Leka. He died of influenza, complicated by pneumonia. After he was sick with the flu, he had a high fever, but pride and desire to look young in the eyes of his young wife finally killed him. “Chavalit insisted on it, in rain and wind he stood with her on the deck of the Royal yacht on which they went to Singapore. She forced him to climb out of bed and go out onto the deck. He died on the second day after the arrival in Singapore. He was 37 years old. Already at the funeral of Leka Katia realized that she suffers from bad Bangkok-concealed irritation. Having left her 12-year-old son in Siam (photo above), whom she was not allowed to see, Katia came back to Shanghai.
Soon Ekaterina Desnitskaya married American engineer named Harry Clinton Stone and moved with him to the USA, then to Paris, where she spent the rest of her life, till 1960.
Son of Katia (photo above) never became King of Siam. After his father’s death, he was sent to study in England. Chula became involved in racing as a professional. He and his Russian mother, in spite of everything, kept a sense of warmth and tenderness, they constantly wrote letters. Ekaterina explained to him what forces prevented them from being together. About the father of Chula she remembered with love and respect.
Chula married Elizabeth Hunter, who bore him one daughter Nariza. When the girl grew up, she lived in Thailand for a long time in the country house of grandfather and grandmother – Katia and Leka. She found old images of them in the chests. They shed light on the family tradition.
Narisa Chakrabongse, the only daughter of Prince Chula Chakrabongse and his English wife Elisabeth Hunter. Narisa Chakrabongse married Allen Levy and had a son, Hugo Chula Alexander or Chulachak Chakrabongse.
Composer Ovsyannikov created on its basis the same opera. In this play a happy ending – heroes meet to not give up. In the music there is no fairy tale of adultery, the October revolution, war and death – only disinterested love, breaking all stereotypes. Russian Soviet writer Konstantin Paustovsky wrote the magic story of it in 1965, renaming Ekaterina Desnitskaya Princess of Siam to Desnitskaya, Queen of Siam, whom she in fact was not. This fiction is so believable that tourists still looking in Thailand for her gravestone with a sad black elephant.
Remember what young prince wrote to Katia: “… If you were with me, everything would be fine and nothing could spoil my happiness”.
Ekaterina Desnitskaya Princess of Siam