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The Boworadet rebellion (Thai: กบฏบวรเดช; RTGS: kabot bowon det; [kà.bòt.bɔ̄ː.wɔ̄ː.rá.dèt]) was a Thai rebellion (or unsuccessful coup d'état) led by royalist Prince Boworadet (1877-1947) in 1933, in consequence of the conflicts between the previous royalist regime (those loyal to Chakri dynasty rule and King Prajadhipok) and the succeeding constitutional regime led by Khana Ratsadon, following the Revolution in 1932. The Boworadet revolt was eventually defeated by the Siamese Government.
Siamese soldiers during the rebellion
|Prince Boworadet and other royalists and his allies||Revolutionary Siamese Government (Khana Ratsadon)|
|Commanders and leaders|
Col. Sri Sitthi Songkhram
M.Gen Phraya Sena Songgram
Luang Amnuai Songkhram
In 1932, the People's Party overthrew absolute monarchy in Siam, a turning point in 20th century Thai history. After the establishment of the new regime, a series of counter-revolutionary crises threatened the constitutional government. The king accepted the new constitution as a temporary one, and took part in crafting a "permanent" constitution. Conservative Phraya Manopakorn Nititada [Mano] was appointed prime minister. He later showed royalist tendencies.
In March 1933, Pridi Phanomyong, a Minister of State and a member of the People's Party, was attacked verbally by the constitutional monarch King Prajadhipok (or King Rama VII) as a communist following Pridi's submission of the Draft National Economic Development Plan, or the "Yellow Cover Dossier", to the National Assembly. The Yellow Dossier was a plan to arrange and provide state welfare, to distribute all land to the rural poor, to intervene in private sector economic affairs, and to provide farmers more economic subsidies. These concepts were deemed communistic (or at least socialistic) by the monarch. This led Thawan Ritthidet (Thai: ถวัลย์ ฤทธิเดช), a private citizen, to file a lawsuit against the king, accusing him of intervention in political, state, and economic affairs. The fallout over Pridi's plan divided the cabinet. Mano took advantage of conflicts within the People's Party and got support of the non-reformists in the executive. After securing King Prajadhipok's signature on the decree, he carried out a silent coup to dissolve the National Assembly on 1 April 1933, and used emergency decrees (such as the Anti-Communist Act) to govern. Pridi was immediately exiled to France.
On 20 June 1933, a senior army officer and member of the People's Party, General Phraya Phahon Phon Phayuhasena (Thai:พลเอก พระยาพหลพลพยุหเสนา (พจน์ พหลโยธิน); Phraya Phaphon ), seized power in a coup d'état, overthrowing the government of Phraya Manopakorn. Phraya Phaphon appointed himself the second Prime Minister of Thailand, declared that Pridi Phanomyong was not guilty, and invited him to return to Thailand. The second coup and Pridi's return stirred up an armed movement against the revolutionary government.
The following counter-revolutionary rebellion, the Boworadet rebellion, led by Prince Boworadet and other important royal members, was often regarded as another royalist attempt to undermine the People's Party and its revolutionary government, because major participants had relations with royal family. The rebels' chief motive declared in the ultimatum was their concerns that Phahon and Pridi had "encouraged the people to despise the King Prajadhipok..." However, there have been other counterarguments considering this rebellion. Some argued that it was not only an organized royalist rebellion, but also headed by King Prajadhipok. The rebellion proclaimed that its armed struggle against the government was intended to establish real democracy in the country and they also accused Pridi of communism. The government saw the rebellion as fueled by Boworadet's personal ambitions.:247
Leaders of the rebellionEdit
Prince Boworadet (Thai: พระเจ้าบรมวงศ์เธอ พระองศ์เจ้าบวรเดช), was one of the grandsons of King Mongkut, a son of Prince Naret.:257 He was a career soldier who had served as the Thai Minister in Paris towards the end of Chualongkorn's reign. He was "retired" in the latter part of King Vajiravudh's reign, but he was brought back into active service shortly after King Prajadhipok ascended the throne.:100 He took over the position as minister of war from Prince Boriphat who was promoted to Interior Minister in 1928. In 1929 the king honored Boworadet by raising him from momchao to phra' ongchao status.
Prince Boworadet had a fierce conflict with Prince Boriphat over the budget for the coming year in 1931. Prince Boworadet submitted his resignation to express his dissatisfaction. After some disputes between two sides, the resignation of Prince Boworadet was accepted by the Supreme Council of State and King Prajadhipok. The relationship with the prince and other powerful princes had soured after the crisis of 1931.:190-194
The Special Court's "Decision on the Insurrection" noted that Prince Boworadet had once consulted Phraya Phahon and Phaya Srisith about the plan to change the government. Because of the prince's reluctance to use force to overthrow the government, the Promotors carried out the revolution without the prince's participation. He then expected Phraya Phahon to invite him to be prime minister. Pridi rejected Phraya Phahon's recommendation and named Mano in the prince's stead. Prince Boworadet was then at odds with the Promoters.:201 An ardent royalist, he was furious that anyone was allowed to sue the king. This added to his discontent of Phraya Phahon Phon Phayuhasena's coup against Phraya Manopakorn and his support of Pridi against the monarch.
At the end of July, Phibun and Supha sent a circular to a number of prominent individuals warning them to "exercise peace of mind", otherwise the "party will be forced to bring stringent measures to bear on you." A number of members of the royal house received the letter, including Prince Boworadet, who was at Hua Hin with the king at that time.:82 The combined catalysts of the warning and Pridi's return stirred Prince Boworadet to seek revenge on the Promoters.
Prince Boworadet plotted with Colonel Phraya Sri Sitthi Songkhram (Thai: พระยาศรีสิทธิ์สงคราม), the commander of the military in Bangkok, to stage a coup d'état to unseat the Phraya Phahon government and replace it with a more traditional one.
Colonel Phaya Srisith SonggramEdit
Another prominent counter-revolutionary leader was Phaya Sristh, a former close friend of Phaya Phohon and Phaya Song. He received his military education in Germany. Like Prince Boworadet, he also refused to join the 1932 revolution, but he anticipated his revolutionary friends would appoint him to an important position in the new regime as his educational background and stature among army officers would help the Promoters in strengthening the revolution. Much to his disappointment, he only got a minor position in the Ministry of Education. Later, he was appointed to the State Council and to replace Phya Song as the Directory of Military Operations after the four military leaders were expelled by the coup carried out by Mano. However, the second coup soon took over Mano government, Phaya Srisith subsequently became the bitter enemy of the new government. In the rebellion, he was assigned as Borowadet's deputy and given the task of inciting the Ayutthaya garrison.:197-199
Major General Phya Sena SonggramEdit
A member of the royal family who had commanded the First Army Corps before the revolution, he was the only high-ranking officer who lost power on the first day of the revolution when a group of revolutionaries attempted to arrest him. As early as January 1933, he had tried to form an opposition, royalist party, the National Party. He harbored strong animosity against the promoters of the revolution, and he subsequently became a counter-revolutionary leader whose task was to incite the troops in the northern provinces.:199-201
The rebellion breaks outEdit
Early in October 1933, Prince Boworadet appeared in Korat to mobilize the army to rebel. He soon took complete control of Korat and got positive responses from other provinces. The central government had sensed the political storms in the provinces, but was trapped by the antagonistic elements in Bangkok. Bangkok started military preparations for the upcoming insurrection.:202 Businesses and organizations offered money and volunteer services to help the defense. On 11 October 1933, under the leadership of Prince Boworadet, a full-scale rebellion broke out at the provincial garrison in Korat. The garrisons of Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Prachinburi, Saraburi, Ayutthaya, Nakhon Sawan, and Phetburi, one after another, declared themselves in favor of the rebellion against the Bangkok government. They issued their first ultimatum calling on the government to resign immediately or be removed by force on the same day.:85 The government in Bangkok refused to comply with their demands. The first clash occurred on 11 October 1933 in Pak Chong District, in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Government forces were defeated and several members of the government were captured.
On 12 October, troops from the northeast of the country marched on Bangkok, seized Don Mueang Aerodrome, and entered the northern suburbs,:77 occupied the area around Bang Khen. The rebels consisting of the Korat, Phetchaburi, and Udon Regiments, together with a cavalry unit and several artillery batteries set up a stronghold near the Lak Si train station, using machine guns and cavalry. They called themselves the "National Rescue Council" (Thai: คณะกู้บ้านเมือง; RTGS: Khana Ku Ban Mueang) and their attempt the "Deer Plan" (Thai: แผนล้อมกวาง; RTGS: Phaen Lom Kwang).
Boworadet probably hoped that at least some Bangkok army units would join him and the king would show his preference by remaining strictly neutral and non-committal.:264 The rebels aimed to bring nine upcountry garrisons to besiege the city, but only three moved to the city's northern outskirts while the others hesitated or were repelled by pro-government garrisons. Prince Boworadet tried to persuade other forces to join him, including the Royal Thai Navy, which instead declared itself neutral. The commander-in-chief of the navy withdrew his battleships from the capital and sailed them to ports in the south.:207
The rapid advance of the rebel army, the seizure of the Don Mueang airport and the withdrawal of the navy struck panic and consternation into the hearts of the government. Even more discouraging was the fact that in the face of the royalist counter-revolution the promoters themselves were not unified. Some members of Colonel Phraya Song's senior military clique showed their reluctance to fight the rebels, and Colonel Phraya Song and Colonel Phra Prasas themselves left the country a few days before the rebellion and refused to return. For thirty hours Phraya Phahon tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution.:77
Neither side much wanted a shooting war, and most of the salvoes were propaganda. The People's Party put out radio broadcasts and leaflets damning the Boworadet forces as "rebels" and "bandits". In reply, the besiegers dropped leaflets on the city from aeroplanes, accusing the people's party of restraining the king.
Faced with the prospect of a full-scale battle to remove the existing leadership, Prince Boworadet adopted a more conciliatory approach by entering into negotiations in which he called on the government to allow the king a greater political role.:85 On 13 October, Prince Boworadet sent another ultimatum to the government. The rebel leaders backed down from their original demand for the government to resign because as some armies from the provinces failed to march to Bangkok and all the armies in Bangkok remained loyal to the government. The second ultimatum presented the following demands:
- 1) The country shall be headed by the king forever
- 2) All state affairs must be carried out in accordance with the Constitution, especially the appointment and removal of a member of the Council of Ministers, which can only be made by a majority of votes
- 3) Permanent public officials, both civil and military, shall not intervene in politics
- 4) The appointment of public officials shall be made with regard to qualifications, without political partiality
- 5) The second type (non-elected)of the people's representatives shall be appointed by the king, not the prime minister
- 6) Armaments for the Army shall be provided everywhere, not gathered in any specific area
- 7) Amnesty shall be granted to the National Rescue Council and all its supporters
With the situation turning in the government's favor, the government was unwilling to compromise with the insurgents. Phraya Phahon, in a radio speech, revealed the king's telegram expressing his regret for the rebels' action to appeal for popular support, which got a warm response.:209
Critical battle at BangkokEdit
The government appointed Lieutenant Colonel Luang Phibulsonggram (Phibun), one of the 1932 coup makers, to command the Bangkok forces and put down the rebellion. On 13 October, Phibun launched a counterattack.:77 He directed an artillery barrage on rebel positions. Phibun's artillery was better supplied than the rebel forces. The government was supported in non-combat roles by Boy Scouts, students, and labourers.:85 For the next three days the two opposing parties shelled each other, causing many casualties and great damage.:265 Artillery was augmented by an armoured car and a tank force commanded by Phibun's friend, Lieutenant Colonel 'Luang Amnuai Songkhram (Thom Kesakomon) (Thai: หลวงอำนวยสงคราม (ถม เกษะโกมล)), who would later be killed in combat. The government was able to drive back the rebels with the help of the Nakhon Sawan Regiment and a declaration of the Prachinburi Regiment in support of the government. This broke the rebels' morale, and on 14 October they began to retreat. On 16 October, government forces recaptured Don Mueang Airport on the outskirts of the city and drove the rebel troops back along the northeastern railway line. Much destruction was done to the infrastructure of Bangkok (railways and bridges) and the surrounding area, including the Don Mueang Aerodrome, from artillery bombardment, bombing, and fire.
Desperate to escape, the rebels sent an empty locomotive down the track at top speed to collide with a government troop train. The resulting crash killed a number of government soldiers and gave the rebels time to reach their base in Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima Province). The government, with superior forces, (heavy artillery moved in by rail) was able to attack the rebel stronghold. Running out of ammunition and supplies, the rebels broke. Government forces pursued and advanced to the rebel base in Nakhon Ratchasima. By the end of the October, the rebellion finally wound down in the provinces with the possibility of further reinforcement by other provincial garrisons. On 23 October, government forces defeated rebel forces at Hin Lap.:213 Boworadet's second-in-command, Phaya Sri Sitthi Songkram, died in the battle.
Defeat of the rebellionEdit
By the end of October, rebel remnants dispersed, and the royalist rebellion was over. The government broadcast a radio appeal to rebel troops to surrender and offered a ten thousand baht reward for the capture of Prince Boworadet.:213 On 25 October Prince Boworadet and his wife suddenly boarded an aeroplane and left Siam for Vietnam (then part of French Indochina).When the news of his escape was known, Phya Sena Songgram and other important leaders, now approaching Burirum province, became greatly disheartened and fled. Twenty-two officers managed to flee the country and find asylum in French Indo-China.
Most of the rebel forces surrendered and granted amnesty except for important rebel leaders. Twenty-three lives had been lost in actions. The People's Party arrested the stragglers and eventually jailed 230 people including Prince Boworadet's younger brother, Prince Sinthiphorn Kadakorn (Thai: หม่อมเจ้าสิทธิพร กฤดากร). Two retired senior military officers were tried and executed. A royal prince was sentenced to life imprisonment. These later were sentenced to death, but later all the sentences were commuted, and no executions took place.:214 Most sentences were later reduced and many were pardoned.
Prince Boworadet sought asylum in Cambodia, where he lived until 1948. He then returned home to Thailand, dying in 1953 at the age of 76.
The king's role in the rebellionEdit
King Prajadhipok's role in the Boworadet Rebellion is controversial. Some historians do not note the king's role in the rebellion other than mention the neutral standpoint he took at the beginning of the rebellion and the regret he expressed when the rebellion was quelled. Others took a more sympathetic view of King Prajadhipok's predicament during the rebellion.
Prince Boworadet's motives remain obscure even though the rebellion was generally regarded as royalist and reactionary. Boworadet was regarded as having strained relations with several of the highest members of the royal family including Prince Boriphat, Prince Purachatra.:247 Nonetheless, before the 1932 revolution, he had been in contact with the promoters and had been considered as a possible leader of the plot against the absolute monarchy. Baston indicates that the king did not enjoy a good relationship with Prince Boworadet as he was suspected of participating in overthrowing King Prajadhipok's regime. Some scholars listed the king's letter to the British officials Sir R. Holland and Baxter as evidence that king had foreseen the rebellion ahead. However, more details about the letter provided by historian Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian showed that the king had been well aware that the rebellion would not galvanize the people. If he really had been so sensible before the rebellion, it would less possible for him to lead the rebellion.
There were two movements, one within and one outside Bangkok. The former was a representative of the genuine discontent with the People's Party and would therefore have won, had it not been hampered by the latter led by Prince Boworadet, 'No movement' emphasized the king, 'which had for its apparent object the restoration of the old regime could possibly succeed.:82>
Even though King Prajadhipok declined the government's request for his return to Bangkok, he offered five times to mediate to end the armed struggle but all received silent refusal from the government. It was evident that the Phahon government was in no mood to accept any role offered by the monarch as long as the king refused to return to the capital and support the government. The king's explanation for his escape to the south was that he tried to evade capture by the approaching pro-rebel soldiers. His intention was to remain a free agent and to strengthen his hand as an impartial party to whom both sides could look for a solution.:107
Historian Batson suggests that Boworadet's fell out with the king after his resignation. However, other evidence counters this speculation. The prince remained on the best of terms with Prajadhipok who gave him a new house a few months after his resignation. Following the overthrow of the absolute monarchy, Boworadet regularly spent time in the company of the king. They happened to be together when the second coup happened and when Phibun issued his circular. More evidence was the king's letter to Baxter, his former adviser in England, at the beginning of August. He made it clear that for any action against the government to be "effective", he would have to "retire to some safe place and await events". The king and queen's scheduled departure from their Hua Hin palace on 5 October was postponed indefinitely. Even though no concrete conclusion of the king's involvement can be made from these indications, suspicions were raised that the king was informed of the timetable of the rebellion.:102
Another revisionist view provided by Nattapoll Chaiching, a political scientist from Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University: King Prajadhipok was the head of this anti-government conspiracy. Based on a report of the special court of 1939 and eyewitness's memoirs, Chaiching argues that King Prajadhipok established a large anti-revolutionary underground network consisting of the royal family, secret agents, assassins, military officers, civil servants and journalists—all of them loyal to the old regime. Chaiching defends the validity of the sources writing that royalist witnesses are more likely to tell the truth as the political atmosphere now in Thailand favors highlights of the former king's role in bringing down the revolutionaries. The Boworadet rebellion received the full support of King Prajadhipok and the royalists and was plotted by them. Prince Boworadet was asked to be the commander of the rebel armies. King Prajadhipok made a personal donation of 200,000 baht, and mandated the combined army infantry units from the northeast should be the rebels' principal troops. Two months before the rebellion, the royalist propaganda published articles in Bangkok media attacking the People's Party to rally the public's support for the rebellion.
Before the rebellion broke out, King Prajadhipok began to strengthen the guard of Klai Kangwon Palace by ordering machine guns and reinforcement troops where he resided after the 1932 revolution. He also prepared an emergency escape route, which showed that he had known of the rebellion in advance. Chaiching interprets the king's departure from Klai Kangwon Palace to the south as King Prajadhipok awaited news of success in the south according to the plan. The special court of 1939 accused royalists of trying to assassinate the People's Party leadership. Memoirs of His Majesty's secret agent uncovered an attempt to assassinate the leader of the People's Party by snipers hired by royalists prior to the start of the rebellion. Rebellion was not the only method they used to undermine the government, but it was the last resort.:158-159
Once in England, the king began negotiations with the government. He objected to the government's treatment of the Boworadet rebels. He made four demands on the government. One of them was amnesty for those imprisoned for political offenses. Were the demand not met, he threatened to abdicate. The government rejected his demand. As the penal code of the time required written royal consent before executions could take place, the king delayed signing death warrants, thus preventing executions from taking place.:83,111
A more balanced analysis of the evidence is provided by political scientist Federico Ferrara. Ferrara pointed out the king's ambiguous behavior and some disputed explanations. Even though Boworadet had a difficult relationship with the king and other princes, it is hard to deny the royalist credentials of some of Boworadet lieutenants. Both sides justified their military actions by vowing their loyalty to the king, as the rebels alleged that the government "disrespected" the king and the government declared that their resistance was to protect the king. Although the king declared neutrality, he did not return to Bangkok as Phraya Phahon requested. Instead he escaped to the south.:21 King Prajadhipok and the queen moved to Songkhla, near the Malaysian border. The move prompted many interpretations. Some thought it was to escape seizure by either side.:248 A foreign observer provided various explanations:
Some said he had gone further south to raise support for Bavoradej [Boworadet]. Others said that he had fled south for fear of being taken into custody by the revolutionary [government] party and held as a hostage against Bavoradej. Some said he was out of sympathy with the rebellion and that he wished to disassociate himself from it entirely.:181
King Prajadhipok's position was very much weakened. He was suspected by the government to be conniving with rebels; he was criticized by many royalists for not coming to the assistance of the rebels who were fighting his political battle for him; and he was "openly" criticized for alleged weakness in "running away" to Songkhla.:181
In general, all parties believed that the support of the throne would ensure quick success for its side, thus there would be no bloodshed or misinterpretation of the king's will. The king could have played a more positive and effective role in helping to end the conflict.:106 His indecisiveness and passivity throughout the crisis were blamed for the large number of casualties. Shortly thereafter, the king's private secretary issued a bland statement that expressed His Majesty's regret over the "suffering caused by the civil war" and announced a donation of 10,000 baht to the Red Cross. But he reportedly also secretly funded the rebellion with a sum 20 times larger than the Red Cross donation, a charge some consider questionable.:21
Setback for royaltyEdit
Phraya Phahon's government was able to further cement their grip on power. Although there are controversies about King Prajadhipok's role in the rebellion, the result was nevertheless a blow to royalist and conservative power. as the rebels had claimed to be fighting in his name. His prestige was greatly diminished and his power was severely weakened. The king's lack of leadership and indecisiveness was demonstrated when he released a telegram saying that he regretted the strife and civil disturbances of the rebellion. The king and queen then left the capital for Songkhla, leaving the government to deal with the rebellion. His failure to support his constitutional government undermined his credibility and his perceived commitment to democracy and the constitutional system. This allowed Phraya Phahon and the king's opponents to claim that the monarch had failed to do his duty. A series of events following the rebellion eventually led to the king's abdication in 1935. The rebellion also led to the estrangement of aristocratic factions and families, which had served the kingdom for centuries. They were viewed by the government with distrust and never again regained their former power and position in Thai politics.
The beginning of military ruleEdit
The promoters had crushed the counter-revolution at the expense of revolution's democratic potential. The promoters relied on a host of repressive measures to stave off the royalist challenge to the constitutional regime and in the immediate aftermath placed Siam on a track to military dictatorship. The government could then arrest dissents using the excuse of their involvement in conspiracies against the government. The press was controlled and a draconian "Act to Protect the Constitution" criminalised public expressions of disrespect for the constitution or the constitutional regime.
Pridi and his economic plan might have been one of the reasons for the turmoil. The accusations casting him as a communist, the divisions of the People's Party, and the first coup along with the rebellion diminished his power. The liberal and socialist civilian faction was weakened. Phahon's supporters won a clear mandate in the national elections and built a single-minded government party. Absolute monarchy was eventually replaced by an absolute military oligarchy.
The rebellion was the beginning of the meteoric rise of a player in the rebellion: Phibun. After the rebellion, senior officers, such as Phraya Song and his friends, who had kept aloof from the military conflict, found their influence dashed. In 1932, Phibun had been simply one of the junior coup members. Now he moved up rapidly in the military hierarchy. He became minister of defense in early-1934. Phibun gradually weakened his enemies and eventually eliminated them. Several others were accused of being involved in plot to overthrow the government, which was the most effective way to attack rivals. He also built up his political constituency in the armed forces.:44 He replaced Phraya Phahon as prime minister from 1938–1944, the de facto dictator of Thailand. He served again from 1948 to 1957. He remains the longest serving prime minister in Thai history.
Constitution Defense MonumentEdit
The Constitution Defense Monument (Thai: อนุสาวรีย์พิทักษ์รัฐธรรมนูญ; RTGS: anusawari phithak rat thammanum ) was erected in 1936 to commemorate the newly established constitutional democracy after Prince Boworadet's failed revolt. It was placed in the middle of Ramintra junction. In 2016 the monument was moved to Bang Khen District's Lak Si Circle as it had stood in the path of construction of the BTS Skytrain Green Line.
On 27 December 2018, the monument was removed without notice or explanation by persons unknown. "We don't know where it is now. There's a risk that the monument will be gone for good," said Chatri Prakitnonthakarn, a conservationist who teaches history of Thai architecture at Silpakorn University. The Bang Khen District chief claimed he knew nothing about the removal. He said the monument was in an area governed by the state railway, which is building an elevated railway nearby. No one at the agencies involved in the Skytrain extension—the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), the Culture Ministry's Fine Arts Department, or the Transport Ministry's (MOT) Department of Highways—seems to know what happened to the monument in spite of soldiers being on hand to guard the removal. The removal marks the second time in two years that a physical reminder of democracy in Thailand has been removed in secret and without explanation. In April 2017, a plaque commemorating the 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy disappeared from the Royal Plaza and was replaced with one extolling the monarchy.
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- (in Thai) นายหนหวย (ศิลปชัย ชาญเฉลิม), เจ้าฟ้าประชาธิปก ราชันผู้นิราศ, โรงพิมพ์วัชรินทร์, 2530
- (in Thai) ม.จ. พูนพิศมัย ดิสกุล, สิ่งที่ข้าพเจ้าได้พบเห็น (ภาคต้น), สำนักพิมพ์มติชน, พ.ศ. 2543
- (in Thai) โพยม โรจนวิภาต (อ.ก. รุ่งแสง), พ. ๒๗ สายลับพระปกเกล้า พระปกเกล้าฯ (ฉบับพิมพ์ครั้งที่ ๒) พ.ศ. 2547