Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan

Written on 21 December 2020

Bhutan is a tiny, mountainous country on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, bordering India to the south, east, and west, and Chinese Tibet to the north. Its latest census found it to have a population of just 672,425 people, but it is nevertheless home to one of the most intriguing royals of modern times, the Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Prior to his coronation, Jigme had, like so many royals from around the world, been schooled abroad, first in the United States of America and then the United Kingdom, where he studied Foreign Service and International Relations at the University of Oxford until 1998. Following his return to Bhutan he began engaging with more royal duties, including making a speech to the United Nations in 2002, accompanying his father, the king, on tours of the country, and attending the ceremonies celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Thai King along with royals from 25 other countries.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

In late 2005 the King announced his intent to abdicate in favour of his son, and in 2008 Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was officially crowned Druk Gyalpo, which literally translates to ‘Dragon King’. His coronation coincided with the centennial celebrations of Bhutan’s monarchy, when the country was united under a single crown following a series of civil wars between feuding valleys and skirmishes with the East India Tea Company, who, as the British Empire’s power on the Indian subcontinent, upheld a tenuous and often violent peace with the Himalayan nation over the course of a hundred years. However, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s ascension to the throne marked a pivotal moment in the country’s history, with one of the first orders of business for the new king was presiding over something extraordinary; the transition of Bhutan from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

In contrast to an absolute monarchy in which the reigning king or queen’s authority is absolute, a constitutional monarchy means that they have limited powers, usually in deference to a democratically elected parliament or national assembly. Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s ascension to the throne pronounced the democratisation of Bhutan’s society, and a series of land reforms that aimed to modernise the nation, providing its sparce population with better access to state land, basic amnesties, and agricultural support. It’s said that the King is heavily involved with the Bhutanese custom of Kidu, a tradition in which the monarch has a sacred duty to deal for their people, and as such travels around the country to consult his people on changes they think would benefit their lives. He is also reported to personally oversee rebuilding efforts when disaster has struck the country, showing a personal relation to his people that is rare in monarchs around the world.

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