Hawaii’s first and last Queen, Liliuokalani
She was Hawaii’s first Queen and last monarch until forced from the throne by the United States
It may sound like a riddle but bear with us. Where is the only royal palace in the United States of America? Why, in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii, of course. Hawaii was sovereign and ruled by its own monarchy until annexed by the United States in 1898. At the time of annexation, Hawaii’s throne was occupied by its first – and last, as it would turn out – queen: Queen Liliuokalani. Who was she? And how does history remember her?
From Lydia to Liliuokalani
Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Kamakaʻeha was born into a royal Hawaiian family in 1838. Lydia was the daughter of King Kamehameha III. Her mother was a high-ranking chieftess. Young Lydia attended a missionary-run school where she was taught to speak fluent English.
Lydia’s father ruled as King until his death in 1862. Kamehameha III was succeeded by his nephew, whom the King had adopted. Kamehameha IV died in 1874 without having named a successor. Hawaii’s legislature selected Lydia’s brother David Kalākaua to become King.
David’s intended successor was to be Lydia’s younger brother William, but William died three years later. So, while her father was still King, Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Kamakaʻeha was named as heir to the throne. She would serve as her father’s regent until his death in January 1891.
Upon her father’ s death, Lydia became Queen Liliuokalani.
England’s Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in June 1887. Lydia attended the celebrations with Kalākaua’s queen. On this trip, Lydia learned that Kalākaua had been forced to sign a new constitution that stripped the monarchy of its power. This “Bayonet Constitution” put the former power of the monarchy into the hands of white businessmen from America and Europe.
After assuming the throne, then Queen Liliuokalani proposed a constitution that restored the monarch’s power and conferred voting rights on native Hawaiians. The proposals were not well received. That’s putting it mildly.
Prominent white businessmen in Hawaii formed a Committee of Safety. The committee’s goal? Merely to overthrown the monarchy and to ensure Hawaii’s annexation by the United States. They succeeded.
Congress received a Treaty of Annexation from President Benjamin Harrison. The Republic of Hawaii was formed, with Sanford Dole as first President. Fearing a bloody conflict, Liliuokalani surrendered her throne but pleaded with the United States President Grover Cleveland to reinstate her.
Cleveland agreed, ordered that the Queen be restored to her throne, and rejected the annexation treaty. Hawaii’s “President” Sanford Dole refused to comply.
From Lydia to Queen Liliuokalani to insurrectionist to prisoner to pensioner
In 1895, the Queen’s supporters tried to return Hawaii to royal rule, and Queen Liliuokalani to the throne. The insurrection was squashed. Worse, Queen Liliuokalani was charged with treason and placed under house arrest. Under protest, and in exchange for a pardon for her supporters, Liliuokalani “relinquished” her power. In January 1895, she formally abdicated her throne under protest.
Despite giving up her throne, Liliuokalani established the “Oni pa’a” (Stand Firm) movement that continued to resist Hawaii’s final annexation. She continued advocating the United States government against annexation, before finally relenting. In July 1898, Hawaii was officially and subsequently annexed by the United States. The provisional government granted Liliuokalani a small pension.
Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Kamakaʻeha, once Queen Liliuokalani, spent the rest of her life at her Washington Place estate. There, she often received visitors coming to pay their respects. She died in November 1917 from complications of a stroke. Her death was marked with a state funeral.
It wasn’t all dark
At that missionary school she attended as a child, Lydia didn’t just learn English. She also studied music and remained a musician her whole life. The Queen composed over 160 songs during her life. Her song Aloha Oe (Farewell To Thee), written in 1878, is synonymous with the Hawaiian islands. It tells the story of a royal officer being given a lei and being told goodbye by a Hawaiian girl. As if the original wasn’t enough, imagine it being covered by artists as diverse as Johnny Cash (true story!):
A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:
Read more here about Hawaii’s King Kalakaua
And then there were fifty-one