Ekaterina Desnitskaya: From Russian Nurse to Thai Duchess

  • By: Thorsten Meyer
  • Date: June 9, 2022
  • Time to read: 3 min.

In the early 1900s, a beautiful young Russian woman named Ekaterina Desnitskaya caught the eye of Prince Chakrabongse of Thailand. Despite their differences in social status, the two fell madly in love and married. Ekaterina quickly adopted her new home’s language, customs and traditions, and became known as “the Thai Duchess.” This is their love story.

Ekaterina “Katya” Desnitskaya

Ekaterina “Katya” Desnitskaya was born into a once-rich family that had fallen on hard times. Raised in Kiev, which was then part of the Russian Empire, she moved to St Petersburg to become a nurse.

A staunch patriot, she volunteered to go to the front during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. Despite her suitor, Siamese Prince Chakrabongse, trying hard to convince her to stay in the Imperial Russian capital, 17-year-old Katya was determined to serve her country.

Katya’s family was not the only one to have fallen on hard times by the time she was born. The Russian Empire was in a period of decline, and many of its citizens were struggling to make ends meet.

Prince Chakrabongse
Prince Chakrabongse

This was especially true in Kiev, which was economically and politically marginalized within the Empire. Despite her family’s struggles, Katya was determined to make something of herself.

She moved to St Petersburg, where she found work as a nurse. It was during her time in the capital that she first became interested in serving her country. The Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, and Katya immediately volunteered to go to the front. Her decision shocked her family and friends, who begged her to stay in St Petersburg.

Even Prince Chakrabongse, who was then the heir to the throne of Thailand, pleaded with her to stay in the safety of the capital. But Katya was determined to serve her country, and she set off for the front lines.

It was during the war that Katya and Chakrabongse first met. The prince, who was then just 19 years old, had been sent to Japan as a military observer. He was immediately taken with the beautiful young nurse, and the two began writing to each other after he returned to Thailand.

Well-traveled and well-educated, the couple was the perfect match for each other. They married in a secret ceremony in Constantinople and then spent time in Cairo before heading to Asia. Port Said was their final destination, where they hoped to start a new life together.

These plans were cut short, however, when they were both killed in a freak accident. Their deaths were a tragedy, but they left behind a legacy of exploration and adventure that continues to inspire others.

The journey from Russia to Singapore was a long and difficult one, but it was worth it for Chakrapong to be able to introduce his new wife to his parents. The couple had married in Constantinople in a small Orthodox church, and they had honeymooned in Egypt.

However, when they returned to Bangkok, Chakrapong knew that he had to explain the situation to his parents. He could not simply present his new wife to them without first preparing them for the news.

As a result, he left her in Singapore while he traveled back to Bangkok alone. Only when he was sure that his parents were ready to meet her did he bring her back to Thailand. Thanks to his careful planning, the introduction of his new wife went smoothly and his parents were pleased to finally meet her.

Katya became the first commoner to marry into the Thai royal family, and she quickly adapted to her new life.

She learned the Thai language and customs, and became known as “the Thai Duchess.” The couple had four children together and remained happily married until Chakrabongse’s death in 1963.

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