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The English Governess at the Siamese Court

The English Governess at the Siamese Court by Anna Harriette Leonowens
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1862 Anna Leonowens accepted an offer made by the Siamese consul in Singapore, Tan Kim Ching, to teach the wives and children of Mongkut, king of Siam. The king wished to give his 39 wives and concubines and 82 children a modern Western education on scientific secular lines, which earlier missionaries’ wives had not provided. Leonowens sent her daughter Avis to school in England, and took her son Louis with her to Bangkok. She succeeded Dan Beach Bradley, an American missionary, as teacher to the Siamese court.

Leonowens served at court until 1867, a period of nearly six years, first as a teacher and later as language secretary for the king. Although her position carried great respect and even a degree of political influence, she did not find the terms and conditions of her employment to her satisfaction, and came to be regarded by the king himself as a rather difficult woman.

In 1868 Leonowens was on leave for her health in England and had been negotiating a return to the court on better terms when Mongkut fell ill and died. The king mentioned Leonowens and her son in his will, though they did not receive the legacy. The new monarch, fifteen-year-old Chulalongkorn, who succeeded his father, wrote Leonowens a warm letter of thanks for her services.

By 1869 Leonowens was in New York, and began contributing travel articles to a Boston journal, Atlantic Monthly, including ‘The Favorite of the Harem’, reviewed by the New York Times as ‘an Eastern love story, having apparently a strong basis of truth’.She expanded her articles into two volumes of memoirs, beginning with The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870), which earned her immediate fame but also brought charges of sensationalism. In her writing she casts a critical eye over court life; the account is not always a flattering one, and has become the subject of controversy in Thailand; she has also been accused of exaggerating her influence with the king.”

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E text prepared by Lee Dawei, Michelle Shephard, David Moynihan, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

THE ENGLISH GOVERNESS AT THE SIAMESE COURT

BEING RECOLLECTIONS OF SIX YEARS IN THE ROYAL

IN THE ROYAL PALACE AT BANGKOK

BY

ANNA HARRIETTE LEONOWENS.

With Illustrations, FROM PHOTOGRAPHS PRESENTED TO THE AUTHOR BY THE KING OF SIAM.

[Illustration: Gateway Of the Old Palace.]

TO MRS. KATHERINE S. COBB.

I have not asked your leave, dear friend, to dedicate to you these pages of my experience in the heart of an Asiatic court; but I know you will indulge me when I tell you that my single object in inscribing your name here is to evince my grateful appreciation of the kindness that led you to urge me to try the resources of your country instead of returning to Siam, and to plead so tenderly in behalf of my children.

I wish the offering were more worthy of your acceptance. But to associate your name with the work your cordial sympathy has fostered, and thus pleasantly to retrace even the saddest of my recollections, amid the happiness that now surrounds me, a happiness I owe to the generous friendship of noble hearted American women, is indeed a privilege and a compensation... Continue reading book >>


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