Since the coronation of the First King in 1907, Bhutan has had five kings. When it came to leadership transition there has never been a glitch. Interestingly, all of our kings ascended the throne when they were young.
For example, our First King became Trongsa Penlop at the age of 21 and at the age of 47 became king. Likewise, our Second King was appointed as the Trongsa Penlop at the age of 19 and became king at the age of 23. Similarly, our Third King was installed as the Trongsa Penlop at the age of 23 and was enthroned as king the same year.
The Wangchuck dynasty has always been good at succession planning and followed the maxim, ‘The son exceeds the Father.’ Despite the early age at which each king gained high office they did not fail in their tasks in the least degree and even exceeded those of other men.
On becoming the Fourth King of Bhutan, the succession followed a pattern inherent in the Wangchuck dynasty. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck was only 17 years old, when he became the Fourth King. Like all his predecessors, he was already well groomed.
On succeeding his late father as King, the first order of business for His Majesty was to console his subjects, reassure them, and seek their support in nation building and fulfill the sacred duty of a son. Therefore, he spoke as follows:
“… just as we, having been born will all have to die one day, it should be remembered that my father has only succumbed to the transient nature of worldly existence.
Our grief is also somewhat lessened when we recall that during the period of His Majesty’s lifetime, besides serving him well and with full loyalty, none of us acted other than in accordance with his wishes. Now there is no benefit to be gained by abiding in our grief and I am sure it would be much better if, instead, you all prayed for his departed soul.
During His late Majesty’s reign all his actions were qualified by his desire to benefit the nation. It is as a result of this that Bhutan, from being a remote and isolated country, has now entered the forefront of the world affairs. All of you are aware that His late Majesty not only acted for the present and immediate welfare of the country, but also looked to its future security as well.
With regard to the cremation rites of my late father, Thimphu as the capital may be seen as the most fitting place for its performance. However, when His Majesty was suffering an illness at Phunthsoling last year he said that all his forebears had been cremated at the temple of Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang, he himself would be very pleased if later the same could be done for him. The preparations we are making for His late Majesty’s cremation ceremonies at Kurjey Lhakhang are therefore in accordance with his will.
In respect of the Government works which we share and which have to be undertaken from now on, I feel that for sometime it would be best to continue to the wise policies laid down by my father.
Although, I myself do not possess the wide experience in Government work, I shall be able to consult with the Royal Advisory Council and with the Lhungye Shungtshog Cabinet. In addition to this, it will be convenient to refer important matters of state to the bi-annual meetings of the Assembly. Speaking for myself, I have an earnest desire to serve our beloved country and its people as best as I can with all powers. I also hope that all of you, the Monks of the state monasteries, the government servants and the public, will assist me as well as you can, as you assisted my late father.
In particular our condition of peace and happiness is due to the strong and undefiled sense of faith and loyalty which existed between Ruler and subjects. I believe that if the Monk Body, the Government servants and the public gave careful consideration to the welfare of the Kingdom with full loyalty, the Kingdom will be able to enjoy its state of peace and prosperity for long time to come.”
According to the wishes of his father, our king fulfilled his sacred duty as son by cremating his father in Kurjey monastery on 28th October 1972.
In 1970, the National Assembly during its 32nd session drew up an Agreement to appoint a council of regents. Clause 7 of this Agreement stated that if a Crown Prince should succeed to the throne on the death of his father before attaining the age of 21, while the Crown Prince should be enthroned king, a council of regents consisting of four members should be appointed by the National Assembly.
As king, when His Majesty attended his first National Assembly, he commanded the National Assembly to pass a resolution as to the appointment of the members of this council. The National Assembly discussed the issue and a unanimous decision was reached without need of debate.
The Assembly submitted to His Majesty that since the aforesaid agreement was originally drawn up with the case in mind of a crown prince of too young an age to reign in a proper manner. In view of the fact that the Crown Prince was now 18 years of age and fully capable of reigning, and taking into consideration the fact that he himself had given a clear declaration to the Assembly that he intended to follow the policies laid down by his late father. The entire public was overjoyed and with full faith submitted that it would be most grateful if His Majesty would take upon himself the right to rule. It was therefore decided that the council of regents as provided for in the Agreement drawn up and passed by the Assembly in 1970 would not be appointed.
This was a historic moment as it was the first session of the National Assembly that our king attended formally as the King of Bhutan. In his address to the assembly, our King said,
“You … have vested me with the powers of a Ruler. I have little experience but I shall rely upon the sound judgment of this august body, and endeavor to serve the nation to the best of my ability. Till now, all our achievements have been due to the selfless dedication and generosity of our late King who led the country so nobly till he passed away peacefully.
Our country’s independence has been due to the blessings of the Lord Buddha, our guardian deities and our forefathers. Also, we owe this to the strong and undefiled faith between the Ruler, the Monk Body, the Government and the people. Therefore, despite the facts that the source of our happiness and our beloved parent has left us, if we continue to maintain this bond, it would far enhance national progress.
His Late Majesty’s primary desire was that this country should enjoy greater peace and prosperity. If we keep this in mind and tread the path that he showed us, we can be confident of achieving our unified aim.”
The measure of a king’s worth is gauged by his actions as a monarch and the effects of his reign on the history of his nation. The world, in its many centuries of history, has seen many kings—some outstanding, many mere figureheads and others outright tyrants. His Majesty’s life and work on behalf of the people of Bhutan as the Fourth King can be described in nothing less than the most superlative of terms.
The degree of devotion, loyalty, and love that people feel and demonstrate for their king is ample proof of his concern for and action on behalf of their welfare and up-liftment.
During the 34 years (1972-2006) of his reign, our Fourth King made many sacrifices, worked tirelessly and selflessly in the interest of the country, always keeping the welfare and happiness of the people in mind.
When His Majesty abdicated his throne in 2006, he had exceeded his father with the people now reverently referring to him as the “Great Fourth”.