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Sir Ugyen Wang Chuk, Tongsa Penlop [Bhutan]

Sir Ugyen Wang Chuk, Tongsa Penlop [Bhutan]

Photographer: White, John Claude

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1905

Shelfmark: Photo 20/(1)

Item number: 1

Length: 27.2

Width: 17.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph taken by John Claude White in 1905 at Tongsa (Trongsa) in central Bhutan, of Ugyen Wangchuk, the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) and later King of Bhutan. This full-length portrait is one of a set of photographs documenting White's mission to Bhutan to invest the Trongsa Penlop with the order of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. The photograph also appears in The National Geographic Magazine (Apr 1914), with the following note: 'He is shown in the doorway of his residence, wearing the insignia of the Order of the Indian Empire, which was bestowed on him by the British Government before his elevation to the throne'. Ugyen Wangchuk was a key player in the politics of Bhutan in the early 20th century. In the 19th century, there were border conflicts between Bhutan and the British in India who had clashed over the control of the duars (there are 18, literally 'doors' or 'gateways') or the fertile valleys of the region which marks the descent of the Himalayan foothills into the sub-tropical plains of north-eastern India. The hostilities ended when the British, victorious in the Anglo-Bhutan wars, pushed back the frontiers of Bhutan and established the Treaty of Sinchula whereby the Bhutanese agreed to conditions of peace and ceded claims to the duars. By the late 19th century, power centred upon the Penlops of Paro and Trongsa. The British were now involved in the Great Game with Russia and anxious to gain influence over Tibet. The Younghusband Mission of 1904, set up to force an alliance from the Tibetans, sought Bhutanese assistance. The Penlop of Paro remained aloof while the Penlop of Trongsa assisted the mission. He accompanied the mission to Tibet and played a role as mediator, using the long-established ties between Tibet and Bhutan to help the British negotiate a favourable agreement. Bhutan now operated firmly within the British sphere of influence and Ugyen Wangchuk was popular after his mediatory role with both the British and the Bhutanese. This resulted in the foundation of the hereditary monarchy of Bhutan when Ugyen Wangchuk was elected King of Bhutan in 1907.

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