History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia


Kingdom of Laos (South-East Asia)
AD 1945 - 1975

The independent kingdom of Laos emerged out of preceding French Laos and Japanese Occupation. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD the Thai established the principality of Muong Swa (now Louangphrabang) in central South-East Asia, This was woven into early Laotian legend and myth. Evolving out of that early state formation, the first Laotian state was the powerful kingdom of Lan Xang, which flourished between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries AD.

Modern Laos was largely created as a result of colonial French organisations in the nineteenth century, primarily using Lan Xang's territory. When this kingdom collapsed, the three splinter states which emerged - Champasak, Luang Phrabang, and Vientiane - were all picked off by French colonial advances of the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

In 1893 the territory of those three states was forcibly merged along with Siam's province of Xieng Khouang into a French protectorate which formed part of French Indochina. Luang Phrabang survived as a recognisable entity but true power lay in the hands of the protectorate's French administration. Laos came under Japanese occupation in 1940-1941, being forced to give back to Thailand territory which had been gained in 1904.

The French were able to continue many of their usual duties until spring 1945. Then, with Japan being forced onto the back foot in the Pacific, it removed the Vichy French administration of Indochina and authorised Cambodia, Laos, and Annam to declare independence within the Japanese 'Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere'. That was little more than a ploy to gain extra support in the war and its effect was minimal.

Once they realised during the war that they were losing control over their territory, the French had not-so-secretly encouraged a sense of nationalism and patriotism amongst their Laotian subjects. French schools were suddenly built in large number, and the king of Luang Prabang received assurances that any military expansion of his kingdom would not be prevented.

The Japanese were driven out of Laos on 27 August 1945 by Chinese troops in the north and British troops in the south. The latter authorities did their best to allow the French to restore their controls while the Chinese attempted to hinder them until they withdrew in spring 1946.

However, on 15 September 1945 a united kingdom of Laos had already been proclaimed, without the French authorities in Indochina being consulted. Luang Prabang was incorporated into the new kingdom with its first king being Luang Prabang's own King Sisavang Vong. On the same date, the principality of Champasak, nominally a French protectorate, was incorporated as a principality into Laos. The king's title was rath.

Laos beach huts

(Information from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Peter Kessler, from Kingdoms of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Gene Gurney (New York, 1986), from Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopaedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Keat Gin Ooi (ABC-Clio, 2004), from Asia in the Modern World, Claude A Buss (Collier-Macmillan, 1964), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, 1979), and from External Links: Laos (Flags of the World), and Laos (Rulers.org), and Laos (Zárate's Political Collections), and John F Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.)


Sisavang Vong

Formerly ruler of Luang Prabang (Sep-Oct only).


Having acceded from being the ruler of the smaller kingdom of Luang Prabang, Sisavang Vong enjoys just a month in his new position as king of the united kingdom of Laos. On 20 October 1945 he refuses to accept the kingdom's new constitution so he is deposed.

King Sisavang Vong of Laos
Born in 1885, King Sisavang Vong was the last ruler of the Lao kingdom of Luang Prabang and the founding monarch of the kingdom of Laos

1945 - 1946

Prince Phaya Khammao

Chairman, provisional government (Oct-Apr).


Having lost his position and prestige not only as king of Laos but also of Luang Prabang, on 23 April 1946 Sisavang Vong accepts the new constitution and is restored to the throne by supporters who are desperate to halt the regional slide into anarchy. However, France re-establishes its domination in the region by restoring its protectorate of Laos within French Indochina.


Sisavang Vong

Restored: but king of Luang Prabang May-Aug.


In May 1946, Sisavang Vong's title changes from king of Laos to his former title of king of Luang Prabang, even though he remains the head of state of Laos.

French Indochina recognises the unification of Laos on 27 August 1946, although the kingdom remains under French 'protection' and part of Indochina. Even so, Sisavang Vong restores the title 'king of Laos'. On the same date the principality of Champasak is extinguished.

Wat Xiengthong temple in Luang Prabang, Laos
Wat Xiengthong, one of the most renowned temples in Luang Prabang, has a prominent place in local life, having been built in the sixteenth century and being the location for every royal coronation until the revolution

1946 - 1959

Sisavang Vong

Restored (Aug onwards). Abdicated but retained claim.

1949 - 1955

Laos ends its membership in French Indochina on 19 July 1949 to become an associated state within the 'French Union', although some sources state that it leaves this union in 1956, the date of the union's termination.

On 22 October 1953 Laos becomes fully independent, shortly before French Indochina is officially dissolved. Laos joins the United Nations just two years later, on 14 December 1955.

1959 - 1975

Savang Vatthana

Son. Headed tumultuous period. Abdicated.


The country's army chief-of-staff, Sounthone Pathammavong, takes control of the government in December 1959, deposing the prime minister, Phoui Sananikone. In January 1960, the right-wing pro-western General Phoumi Nosavan takes power, and Kou Abhay is appointed prime minister.


With the right-wing victory of 1959, Prince Souphanouvong, leader of the Pathet Lao (a nominally national front which in fact is controlled by the communist 'Lao People's Revolutionary Party') returns to Laos from Vietnam on 24 May 1960. He gains control of eastern and northern Laos.

King Savang Vatthana of Laos
Savang Vatthana started a term as prime minister of Laos in 1951, but succeeded his father as king in October 1959 before being forced to abdicate on 2 December 1975 due to the communist revolution within Laos

In June another right-wing advocate, Prince Tiao Somsanith, succeeds Kou Abhay as prime minister. On 9 August, General Kong Le, a left-wing neutralist, takes control of Vientiane during his own revolt. He deposes Prince Somsanith as prime minister and replaces him with Prince Souvanna Phouma.

General Phoumi Nosavan flees to Thailand where his uncle, General Sarit Thanarat helps him to return to Laos. Establishing his capital at Savannakhet, he installs a rival prime minister, Prince Buon Gan, and gains control over southern Laos.

In September 1960, Nosavan attacks Vientiane but is defeated by the neutralists who are helped by the Pathen Lao and the USSR. In November 1960 a coalition of neutralists, communists, and rightists form a government under Souvanna Phouma who, in December, removes Kong Le from army command.

On 9 December, one day after being removed, Kong Le deposes Souvanna Phouma who flees to Cambodia. Quinim Pholsena, a leftist, is appointed the next prime minister in this merry-go-round. A few days later Nosavan captures Vientiane and appoints the rightist Prince Buon as prime minister.

Pathen Lao  communist forces in Laos
Pathet Lao was a communist-orientated nationalist group in Laos which took control of the country in 1975, having been founded in 1950


Kong Le has allied himself to the Pathet Lao and, together, they now control more than half of Laos. Prime Minister Buon Oum dies in June 1962, so the returned Souvanna Phouma forms a coalition government.

In November 1962, the neutralist, communist, and rightist armies are merged into one, with Kong Le as the commander. Soon after, the neutral faction becomes divided between a right-sympathising neutralist faction which is headed by Kong Le and a leftist-sympathising neutralist faction which is headed by Quinim Pholsena and Colonel Deuane Sispaseuth.


Kong Le's second-in-command is murdered, probably on the orders of Sispaseuth, and Pholsena is murdered, probably on Kong Le's orders. Pholsena's second-in-command is also soon murdered. The left-neutralist and Pathet Lao members of the government flee to Pathet Lao-controlled territory.

Kong Le of Laos
Kong Le (1934-2014) overturned a government and delivered Laos a communist-led republic


The rightist General Kuprasith Abhay deposes the neutralist government in April 1964, but international pressure forces Souvanna Phouma's return to power at the head of a coalition government.


Kong Le's troops defeat a coup attempt in February 1965 in which Nosavan is involved, and Nosavan flees to Thailand. In March and April other rightist revolts are also suppressed.


Souvanna Phouma dissolves the rightist parliament in July 1966. Kong Le is deposed when the army's rightist sector attempts to seize power. By November, Kong Le is defeated and leaves Laos. The Pathet Lao gain control over the army's neutralist sector.


The United States of America becomes involved in attacks in Cambodia and Laos as its war spills over from Vietnam thanks to North Vietnamese forces using Laos-based routes to transport troops and material into South Vietnam and as staging bases for attacks against the South Vietnamese and Americans.

Vietnam War
As the Vietnam War took hold in the 1960s, North Vietnamese troops started using Laos as a way of getting past US and South Vietnamese defences, thereby bringing the war to Laos itself


The Pathet Lao take advantage of the confusion and chaos of the end-of-war situation to assume control of Laos with North Vietnamese help. The king, Savang Vatthana, abdicates the throne although he retains his claim. The Pathet Lao dissolves the monarchy and creates the 'Lao People's Democratic Republic of Laos'.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.