Laos is an ancient state, peopled by Thais driven southward from Yunan, in southern China. They gradually peopled the banks of the Mekong and founded several principalities. The Royal House claims descent from Khoun Borom, the first King of Laos. According to legend, he descended to earth near Meuang Then (the place of heavenly spirits) in southern China. Khun Lo, his son and successor, led his people and settled at Rajadharani Sri Sudhana (vulgerised to Sawa or Sva), the site of present day Luang Prabang. A long list of successors, sometimes numbered at 22 kings, reigned after him. But, there exact relationship and dates are not verifiable. The traditional male line may have ended with the death of King Praya Langa. His successor, King Souvanna Kamphong, founded a new dynasty in 1316. His grandson, Chao Fa) Ngun, ascended the throne after a war of succession. He continued his military victories throughout his reign, extending his territories and absorbing lesser principalities. A new kingdom known as Lan Xang, came into being, incorporating large parts of present day Thailand in the west and as far as Champa in the East. His Cambodian wife introduced Theravada Buddhism from Ceylon. Although the kingdom prospered, particularly during the sixteenth century, the long elongated geography of the state made unity difficult. Although the capital was frequently moved between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the outlying provinces remained prey to aggressive neighbours.

The murder of King Tian Thala in 1695 signalled the beginning of succession dispute that errupted into a severe armed struggle. Three kingdoms emerged after the fray. One centered on Luang Prabang, another on Vientiane, and a third at Champasak. Siam intervened in these disputes several times during the eighteenth century, eventually annexing all three kingdoms in 1787-1788. The rulers became "vassal kings", as termed by the Siamese. Their succession to power controlled and decided by the Siamese King. Expecting an Anglo-Siamese War in 1824, the King of Vientiane rebelled with the help of the Vietnamese. He was defeated and expelled to Bangkok, dying horribly with most of his family after being held in public cages, prey to tortures inflicted by the common people. His kingdom was extinguished and Siamese Governors appointed in his stead. The two remaining Lao states of Luang Prabang and Champasak were dissmembered, but continued as semi-autonomous entities until the late nineteenth century.

French penetration into the country increased after 1885, especially after they had taken control of Vietnam. Parts of Laos were claimed as Vietnamese territory, although no such historical relationship had ever existed. Between 1898 and 1907 various agreements between France and Siam resulted in the detachment of most of the Lao provinces and their attachment to a French protectorate. The province of Vientiane being placed under direct French control. Although the kingdom of Luang Prabang continued as an autonomous protectorate, all other regions, including Champasak came under the direct control of a résident supérieur at Vientiane.

After the fall of France, the Matsuoka-Henry Pact between France and Japan returned all Lao territories west of the Mekong to Thailand in August 1940. Japanese troops occupied Luang Prabang in March 1945, forcing a reluctant King Sisavang Vong to declare "independence". The impending defeat of Japan forced the King to reconfirm the status of Luang Prabang as a French Protectrate. In the meantime, the events of the time had also spurned a very active independence movement under the Lao Issara. They seized power in Vientiane, Savannakhet and several other towns. They then established a provisional parliament, which declared the unification of the country and deposed the King in October 1945.

French troops began reoccupying the country in March 1946, prompting the Lao Issara to make a bid for unity by restoring Sisavang Vong as King of a united Laos. Vientiane and other centres fell and the Lao Issara fled to Thailand, where they established a government in exile. Nevertheless, France accepted a unified kingdom, a constitution and national parliament. The country was recognised as a self-governing unit within the French Union in 1949. In the meantime the Lao Issara dissolved itself and returned to Laos, some participants joining the Royal government and others joining the emergent Pathet Lao, agents of the Vietnamese communist movement. Further French concessions towards independence were established under the Franco-Lao Treaty of Amity and Association in October 1953, but full independence had to wait until the following year.

The next twenty years saw the country in the grip of a three-way bloody contest between the Royal government, the communists and a centre-nutralist faction. Two princes from the reigning Royal family led the Communist faction. Events throughout this period were subject to the vagaries of the war in neighbouring Vietnam. The withdrawal of the US from South Vietnam prompted the Pathet Lao to increase their fight for power. Between August 1974 and November 1975, they took control of the administrative capital at Vientiane, expelled or assassinated officials of the Royal government, established a "revolutionary administration" and opened the their notorious "education camps". The King's forced abdication on 29 November 1975, completed their advent to power. Prince Souphanouvong assumed office as President, four days later.

King Sisavang Vong, together with the Queen, the Crown Prince and several other members of the Royal family were removed to "re-education camps" in the north-eastern province of Houaphan on 11th March 1977. Forced into hard labour, and have never been heard of again. Some reports indicate that they have all died. However, the Communist government has never revealed the exact details, dates or the circumstances of their deaths.

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Dr. Morris Bierbrier, FSA
Jeffrey Finestone.
Chao Nang Soumana Na  Champassak.
Chao Vongdasak  na  Champassak.
Tiao Phanourouth Kanya.
Dara Stieglitz.
David Williamson.
I would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have changes, corrections or additions to contribute. If you do, please be kind enough to send me an e-mail using the contact details at:
Copyright© Christopher Buyers  

Copyright© Christopher Buyers, August 2001 - July 2010