The English Governess at the Siamese Court

Anna Harriette Leonowens (1831 - 1915)

In 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. (Summary from Wikipedia)

Genre(s): History, Memoirs

Language: English

Section Chapter Reader Time
Play 00 Dedication and Preface Sibella Denton
Play 01 On the Threshold Sibella Denton
Play 02 A Siamese Premier at Home Sibella Denton
Play 03 A Sketch of Siamese History Sibella Denton
Play 04 His Excellency’s Harem and Helpmeet Sibella Denton
Play 05 The Temples of the Sleeping and the Emerald Idols Sibella Denton
Play 06 The King and the Governess Sibella Denton
Play 07 Marble Halls and Fish-Stalls Sibella Denton
Play 08 Our Home in Bangkok Sibella Denton
Play 09 Our School in the Palace Sibella Denton
Play 10 Moonshee and the Angel Gabriel Sibella Denton
Play 11 The Ways of the Palace Sibella Denton
Play 12 Shadows and Whispers of the Harem Sibella Denton
Play 13 Fa-Ying, the King’s Darling Sibella Denton
Play 14 An Outrage and a Warning Sibella Denton
Play 15 The City of Bangkok Sibella Denton
Play 16 The White Elephant Kristine Bekere
Play 17 The Ceremonies of Coronation Kristine Bekere
Play 18 The Queen Consort Kristine Bekere
Play 19 The Heir-Apparent; Royal Hair-Cutting Kristine Bekere
Play 20 Amusements of the Court Kristine Bekere
Play 21 Siamese Literature and Art Kristine Bekere
Play 22 Buddhist Doctrine, Priests, and Worship Kristine Bekere
Play 23 Cremation Kristine Bekere
Play 24 Certain Superstitions Kristine Bekere
Play 25 The Subordinate King Kristine Bekere
Play 26 The Supreme King: His Character and Administration, pt 1 Kristine Bekere
Play 27 The Supreme King: His Character and Administration pt 2 Kristine Bekere
Play 28 My Retirement from the Palace Kristine Bekere
Play 29 The Kingdom of Siam Kristine Bekere
Play 30 The Ruins of Cambodia; An Excursion to the Naghkon Watt Kristine Bekere
Play 31 The Legend of the Maha Naghkon Kristine Bekere