Ekaterina ‘Katya’ Desnitskaya – The Russian Princess of Siam
Ekaterina ‘Katya’ Desnitskaya was born 1886 in Lutsk, Ukraine. The story of her marriage to the Siamese Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath has intrigued many people over different generations, since a marriage between a Russian lady and a Prince of the Siamese Royal Family was considered impossible and unimaginable at that time. Hence, the couple and in particular Katya, who is also called the Russian Princess of Siam, had to face a lot of opposition and also undisguised anger of the Siamese Royal Family. In fact, their marriage was regarded as a “a national dynastic catastrophe” quoting Chakrabongse’s full brother Prince Pradjadhipok.
‘Katya’ – Russian Princess of Siam
Thus, who was the young Ukrainian lady who made such a bold step? Since Katya’s parents died relatively early in her life, she went to St. Petersburg in 1903 where her older brother Ivan studied. Thus, as young teenager, she already graduated as a nurse from the Sisters of mercy courses.
Ekaterina met Prince Chakrabongse around 1905 when he had already been living seven years in Russia and had even become Colonel of the Russian Army. As a matter of fact, the Prince spent most of his youth in Russia because his father King Chulalongkorn sent him there. The King was concerned with modernizing Siam, for this reason he sent some of his sons abroad.
Prince Chakrabongse immediately fell in love with Katya. However they were separated for a while because of the Russian-Japanese war where Katya served as a nurse. Finally in 1906 the couple married in an Orthodox church in Constantinople. This was very unconventional since the Prince was a Buddhist. Nonetheless, the Prince had not asked his parents’ permission to marry the young Russian lady because he knew that they would be vehemently against their alliance.
Certainly, you remember my recent article about Prince Chula Chakrabongse – well, then you know that he is the only son of Prince Chakrabongse and Ekaterina who was born 1908 in Bangkok.
However, Katya was not acknowledged by Prince Chakrabongse’s parents and hence, she became a kind of outcast of the Siamese Royal Family. Nevertheless, Katya was able to ‘build bridges’. She began to wear Siamese dresses, mastered Thai language and after all, the King grew fond of his grandson Prince Chula and accepted him as ‘flesh and blood’. This was because the King felt that the little Prince looked more Thai than European.
After King Chulalongkorn’s death Katya was awarded official status and became Mom Catherina Na Phitsanlunok, named after the province that her husband was responsible for. About ten years Katya lived happily in Bangkok with her husband Prince Chakrabongse. However, finally the Prince had a love affair with his young cousin Princess Chavalit. Thus, Katya decided to get divorced and go to Shanghai in China where she helped refugees from the Soviets- it was the time of the Russian revolution.
A short while later in 1920 Prince Chakrabongse died at the age of 37 and Katya returned to Thailand to attend the funeral. Nevertheless, it was also a tragic situation because she was not allowed to take her son, Prince Chula, with her. Mother and son were separated and both were very unhappy and sorrowful about this. Prince Chula did not become King but was sent to Britain where he spend his youth and studied while his mother married again and moved with her new husband, engineer Harry Clinton Stone, to the USA. Mother and son remained in contact by constantly writing each other letters.
Summing up, we may say that it was a tragic love and marriage between Katya and Prince Chakrabongse. Their granddaughter, Narisa Chakrabongse, wrote their story down and the result was the novel ‘Katya & the Prince of Siam’ published in 2013 by River Books Press.
What is more, there is also a ballet version of their story. Here is a short clip to give you an impression 🙂
Finally we may say that Katya, the Russian Princess of Siam, certainly was a courageous and strong woman. For her time, she, a European lady, made a daring decision to marry a Siamese Prince and to move to Thailand where she was a stranger. In addition, Katya, who is also the great-grandmother of Thai ‘royal rocker’ Hugo Chakrabongse Levy, proved to be very flexible and adapted herself to the ways in Siam.