The mark of a Siamese-Danish friendship

On 23 May 2019, by Agathe Albi-Gervy

A gold cup given by Siam's famous Rama V to his Danish admiral was far more than a precious objet d'art.

The upper part of its surface, entirely stamped and carved, features a motif evoking Garuda. The man-bird of Hindu mythology, emblem of Thailand's monarchy, is found in the flags on official buildings, passports and bank notes alike. The gift of an image so deeply symbolic of the nation and its power could only be a mark of very high esteem on the sovereign's part. Here, the honour went to Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu (1852-1932), a Danish naval officer who became Siam's Minister of the Navy and the first – and only – foreign commander-in-chief in the history of the Thai Navy. In 1893, the year when the Franco-Siamese war was at its apogee, he commanded the forces at Phra Chulachomklao Fortress. Although the fighting ended with the ceding of Laos to Indochina, King Rama V (1868-1910) awarded his admiral Siam's highest distinction – the title of nobility "Phya Pan Tong" – and gave him this gold cup at the same time. In 1902, suffering from malaria, Du Plessis returned to Denmark (where he died thirty years later), taking with him the mark of esteem of Rama V, the country's great moderniser, still venerated as a deity today. He oversaw the creation of the postal service and the country's first university. He also abolished slavery, introduced bank notes, centralised the administration and created ministries on the Western model. To carry these reforms through, he called on experts from Europe, which he visited several times.

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