Who is the Queen Mother of Cambodia? June 7th marks the birthday of the former Queen consort of King Sihanouk of Cambodia, one of the most charismatic if not controversial figures in 20th century history. As they say behind every good man is a good woman, so who was and is she?
The title of Queen Mother of Cambodia
As a Brit I grew up with a Queen Mother, not literally of course, but the UK had a Queen Mother. Basically it works a bit like this, a King is sovereign, when he dies sovereignty does not pass to a woman just because she marred the King, it goes to the next in succession, usually the first born son, although not always, as is the case in Cambodia. When the King does pop his clogs the Queen can’t be Queen of the country, so she gets the ceremonial title of Queen Mother, like a Royal Matriarch if you will.
So, who is the Queen Mother of Cambodia and who important is she?
Norodom Monineath was the Queen Consort of Cambodia as the wife of Noradom Sihanouk, Queen Consort is the posh way to say wife without power. She was born on 18 June 1936 to a French father and Cambodian mother in Vietnam. That is right she was mixed-race, as are her children, which when you consider the controversy over Prince Harry and his misses it does make you wonder how little we have achieved over time.
Initially she was the secondary wife of King Sihanouk, with him already having a first lady. King’s get multiple wives which sounds a lot better than the reality of it.
Sihanouk in power
In 1960 Sihanouk stepped down as King in favor of his father to rule the country as prime-minister and then after his death as just head of state. This was during a very strange period in the history of the country, when Sihanouk was simultaneously being accused of being too left and too right.
To read about the Khmer Bleu click here .
Her time during this period is not well documented other than she did some stuff for the Red Cross, although she was later accused by the Khmer Republic of having caused a strained relationship with the mother of Sihanouk and the previous Queen Mother, the much respected Sisowath Kossamak, as well as being the cause for her not becoming the Queen of Cambodia.
The Queen Mother in North Korea and the PRC
After being outsed from power in the coup of 1970 the couple traveled first to China and latterly to Pyongyang, with Sihanouk and Kim Il-Sung being particularly good friends and allies.
To read about the friendship between Sihanouk and Kim Il-Sung click here.
It was during this time in exile that Sihanouk was persuaded for form an alliance with the Khmer Rouge known as the GRUNK, which would drastically alter the history of Cambodia.
Sihanouk and the Queen Mother in the forbidden City
When Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge the Queen Mother returned to Phnom Penh where Sihanouk was initially head of state, before stepping down. The couple were to spend the rest of their time as essential prisoners of the Khmer Rouge in the Royal Palace, although before too many tears are wept they fared far better than your average Cambodian citizen during the Killing Fields.
Later life of the Queen Mother of Cambodia
She joined her husband in exile in both China and North Korea, living staying largelly out of public view until her return to Cambodia after peace had been achived in the country.
The King allegedly tried to change the constitution so that she could take over form him as Queen after his death, but this was not to happen and instead she was to become queen mother.
Nowadays she is a still a respected figure and unifying force in the country, the last living link to a bygone era and the still much respected father of Cambodian independence King Sihanouk.
June 19th is the birthday of the Queen Mother in Cambodia, happy birthday say us.