- Historic Sites
How I Became A Royal White Elephant, Third Class
A distinguished American poet recalls one of his more unusual jobs
February/March 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 2
After becoming a Royal White Elephant, I made another gaffe, almost as bad as touching the royal body. I did not know that you never turn your back on a king. You are supposed to walk backward, no matter how far the door is. I walked away naturally, turning my back on His Majesty. Once again I was severely reprimanded by the prime minister.
I hated to say good-bye to my boys. It was difficult to keep track of them so far away. When World War II broke out, Jerry, the king’s son, this lovely, calm fellow who was only eighteen, joined the Royal Air Force in Great Britain. He had married at sixteen a girl of twelve, and they had two children before he went off to war. Jerry died in a Spitfire.
Steeg’s father betrayed King PrajadhiDok and left Siam, taking his son with him. Despite his high rank as prime minister, he gave up his birthright and defected to the Japanese, who took good care of him. He died of natural causes about twenty years later. I have never been able to find out what happened to Steeg. He might still be alive.
Just before the war, King Prajadhipok was sitting on his absolute throne when he was told an Englishman had come from London to see him. The king asked what he wanted; the answer was, “He’d like to sell you an insurance policy on your throne.” The king thought that was a joke and said, “Insurance is not necessary, I am an absolute monarch. But I’d like to be nice to this fellow. I’ll take out a policy of $100,000 a year.” His Majesty thought no more about it, but when the world changed and he lost his throne, he was exiled to Great Britain. King Prajadhipok lived the rest of his life on the money he got from that insurance policy.
Chance is hard to fathom. It was just chance that gave me the opportunity to live with Siamese royalty. It was just chance that the last years of the king’s life were made comfortable by his happening to take out that policy.