The history of Bhutan | The monarchy | Jigme Namgyel

Jigme Namgyel

Jigme Namgyel was called the »Black Ruler«. He was given this respectful nickname because he was always dressed in black and rode a black horse.

When Jigme Namgyel was born in 1825, Bhutan had almost bled dry through continuous wars, feuds, intrigues and murders. Many powerful people, noblemen as well as monks, were striving for the ruling power over the country. Those who suffered most were the rural population who either had to go to war themselves or finance it through high taxes.

Due to his enormous physical strength as well as clever diplomacy and politics of alliances, Jigme Namgyel managed to secure unlimited power over the country for himself.


Jigme Namgyel was the son of a chöje family, whose influence covered East and Central Bhutan and whose members held important governmental posts. The family could be derived in direct line from Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), and their relations by marriage included two rebirths of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

Still before his 20th birthday, Jigme Namgyel went into service as a soldier for the then pönlop of the Tongsa Dzong. Because of his unyielding way with enemies, his faithfulness and his strong personality the pönlop was so impressed that he preferred Jigme Namgyel to his own son and made him pönlop of Tongsa.


Jigme Namgyel was quick to strengthen his position of supremacy in Bhutan by waging wars, but also by going into clever alliances and installing relatives and friends in key political positions.

In 1870 Jigme Namgyel became the 50th desi, Bhutan's secular ruler. He used his position to enlarge his power base and force back rivals. After three years as Desi he was able to resign and place a relative in this post.

In the age of 56, Jigme Namgyel had such a bad fall from a yak that he died shortly afterwards. He left behind a country that had almost become peaceful after 200 years of war-like unrest.

The way to real peace and the establishment of a monarchy had thus been prepared; Jigme Namgyel's son, Ugyen Wangchuck, had to finish it off.

The history of Bhutan
.  Bhutan before ..
.  Shabdrung Ngawang ..
.  The monarchy
.  .  Jigme Namgyel
.  .  .  Against the British
.  .  .  The Raven Crown
.  .  Ugyen Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Dorje Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Singye Wangchuck
Bhutans religion
Gods and Sacred ..

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Shield, rhinoceros leather, brass; H: 11 cm, diameter: 44,5 cm; loan from Dasho Sangay Ngedup
The symbols of sun and moon in the upper half of the shield stand for method (upaya*) and wisdom (prajna*) and is intended to protect the bearer by its religious power.

Spear, wood, iron; L: 180 cm; loan from Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup
Spears were dreaded weapons in close combat.

Quiver, bamboo, leather: L: 85 cm; loan from Guy van Strydonck
Today archery is the national sport of Bhutanese men. In the wars of the 19th century, bow and arrow was the weapon most often used.

Helmet, iron, synthetics, Lurex, viscose rayon; H: 48 cm, diameter: 28 cm; loan from Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup
Soldiers' helmets were padded inside and decorated with a braid in five colours as lucky charm.