Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has married his bodyguard and made her queen.
The royal announcement that Suthida Tidjai, a 40-year-old former flight attendant, is now queen comes just days before the king’s coronation — Vajiralongkorn took over as the top royal in 2016, when his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed away, but the coronation is on Saturday, and, no, the king has not given a reason for why the coronation is coming three years later.
Per the royal statement, the king “has decided to promote General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, his royal consort, to become Queen Suthida and she will hold royal title and status as part of the royal family.”
Vajiralongkorn, 66, is hardly the first royal to marry a commoner. The duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex (also known as Kate and Meghan) are both commoners, and so, too, was Michiko Shoda, who became empress when Japanese Emperor Akihito, who abdicated the throne earlier this week, married her in 1959. (While Akihito and the new emperor, Naruhito, were allowed to marry commoners and remain royal, the same cannot be said for the women in the Japanese royal family; Princess Ayako gave up her title to marry a commoner in 2018.)
But Suthida’s story is somewhat different. The king, who has been married and divorced three times, made her deputy commander of his bodyguard unit in 2014 when he was still crown prince. In 2016, she was made a full general. In 2017, she was made deputy commander of the personal guard that he was now due as king.
And while their romantic relationship has been rumored for a while, it became public only when the king announced that he had married her, making her his fourth wife and queen.
In part, that’s because of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, which make it illegal to insult or criticize the king or queen. Breaking the law could bring 15 years in prison, which informs the way in which media covers the reported richest royal in the world (a title held because the king, in 2016, signed the $30 billion family fortune over to himself). Charges related to lèse-majesté reportedly were brought against relatives of the king’s third wife after their 2014 divorce.