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Queen Salote of Tonga, Smiles in the Rain

History is never dull, that's why I love reading and writing about it.

Queen Salote Topou III of Tonga in her coronation robes. She was 6ft 3in tall.

Queen Salote Topou III of Tonga in her coronation robes. She was 6ft 3in tall.

Tonga's Royalty: The House of Topou

Salote Mafile‘o Pilolevu was born on the 13th March 1900 in the royal palace at Nuku'alofa, Tonga. She was the daughter of King Siaosi Topou II from the House of Topou and his first wife, Lavinia (nee Veiongo). Tragically, Lavinia passed away from tuberculosis when Salote was two years old.

Salote is the Tongan version of the name Charlotte, and she was named after her great-grandmother. Siaosi is George in English.

As a child, Crown Princess Salote was kept safely in the palace and its grounds, away from dissent. Her parents' marriage had caused riots because it had been expected that Siaosi would marry Princess Ofakivavaʻu, but he chose Lavinia. She was neither royal nor upper class, so she was thought of as not grand enough in comparison to the rejected bride. Salote, by association, lacked popularity. It was said that she was born of the "wrong mother."

The Tongan ministers and chiefs eventually persuaded Siaosi Topou II to remarry so that a male heir might be born for the Tongan throne. On the 11th November 1909, he married Princess Ofakivava'u's half-sister Anaseini Takipō Afuha'amango.

She gave him two more daughters. Princess Elisiva Fusipala Taukiʻonelua, known as Onelua, was born on 20th March 1911; she died on 19th August 1911 after suffering from convulsions. Princess Elisiva Fusipala Taukiʻonetuku, known as Fusipala, was born 26th July 1912.

Salote's parents King Siaosi (George) Topou II and his first wife Lavinia.

Salote's parents King Siaosi (George) Topou II and his first wife Lavinia.

Tonga's position in the South Pacific. It is comprised of 171 islands, 45 of which are populated.

Tonga's position in the South Pacific. It is comprised of 171 islands, 45 of which are populated.

Crown Princess Salote Marries in 1917

In December 1909, Salote was sent to study in Auckland, New Zealand for five years. She only returned home for the Christmas celebrations. Arguably, she was exiled as her father hoped that a male heir would mean that Salote would not succeed him or distract people from his second family.

When Salote returned to Tonga in 1914, King Siaosi Topou II kept his eldest daughter at home. He had given up hope of a male heir, and so he accepted that Salote, the unpopular daughter of the unbeloved Queen Lavinia, was his heir and Tonga's future. She was taught about Tongan history, customs and how to rule.

In a Christian wedding ceremony conducted on 19th September 1916 and a traditional Tongan tu'uvalu two days later, Salote was married to the thirty-year-old chieftain Viliami Tungī Mailefihi, known as Tungi (1888–1941).

Her father chose Viliami not only because he was the son of a former Prime Minister but as direct descendant of Tonga's former rulers from the Tu‘i Ha‘atakalaua and Tu'i Tonga dynasties any children from the marriage would be royal three times over as the bloodlines merged.

Crown Princess Salote in 1908.

Crown Princess Salote in 1908.

Image from 1930. Queen Salote, Prince Tungi and their sons. Just behind the queen is her half sister Princess Fusipala.

Image from 1930. Queen Salote, Prince Tungi and their sons. Just behind the queen is her half sister Princess Fusipala.

Royal Births and Deaths 1918–1936

King Siaosi Topou II died on 5th April 1918, and Salote succeeded him as Queen Salote Topou III. She was the first ever queen regnant (queen in her own right) of Tonga. Six months later, her twenty-five-year-old stepmother Anaseini fell prey to the influenza pandemic. Salote became Princess Fusipala's guardian. Princess Fusipala died aged twenty from tubercular peritonitis on 21st April 1933.

In July 1918, Salote gave birth to her and Viliami's first child Prince Siaosi Tāufaʻāhau Tupoulahi (1918–2006). In November 1919, Prince Viliami Tuku‘aho arrived. He died in April 1936. Another son Prince Sione Ngū Manumataongo (1922–1999), was later known as 5th Tu'ipelehake (Fatafehi).

Salote's three other pregnancies ended in miscarriages.

Queen Salote and Prince Tungi Work Together For Tonga

Queen Salote's early rule was threatened by a republican movement and a church that was separating into two factions. Her consort Prince Tungi helped her to overcome obstacles. When his popularity rose, so too did Salote's.

Between 1923 and 1941, Prince Tungi was also the Prime Minister of Tonga. When he died on 20th July 1941, Salote was devastated, but she placed duty above her grief, and this strengthened her position with the Tongans.

In 1940 Tonga declared war on Germany, and in 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the country went to war against Japan. The British were offered Tongan resources for the war, and Tongans fought with the allies against the Japanese.

In her limited spare time, the queen wrote poetry that has been translated and reprinted for 21st-century readers.

A Song Written in Queen Salote's Honour

Queen Salote and Britain

Between 1900-1970 Tonga was a British Protected State. Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations on the 4th June 1970, and it is still a member.

In June 1953, Queen Salote Topou III attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London. She won the hearts of millions because she refused to close or cover her procession carriage or use an umbrella as the rain poured down. She smiled and waved as if she was basking in sunshine.

Her reason for refusing to close the carriage was because, under Tongan custom, it was unseemly to imitate the person that you're honouring. Elizabeth II travelled to Westminster Abbey in a closed carriage. She also commented that if the British people could get wet, then so could she.

For more on Salote's warm reception from the British in 1953, please read "From the Archives: Queen Salote of Tonga."

Elizabeth II bestowed multiple honours on Salote, including the Order of the British Empire, Royal Victorian Order, Order of St. Michael and St. George, Coronation Medals and the Order of St. John.

The House of Topou Since Queen Salote

After a forty-eight-year reign, the queen of Tonga died in Auckland, New Zealand, on 16th December 1965. She'd endured a long battle against cancer and diabetes, and she was admitted to the hospital with pleurisy.

She was flown back to Tonga for burial in the Mala'ekula royal burial grounds. Salote was succeeded by her eldest son Siaosi who ruled as Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV until his own death on 10th September 2006. He inherited his mother's stature standing at 6 feet and 5 inches tall.

His son Siaosi Topou V (1948–2012) reigned for just six years before he died of cancer, and he was succeeded by his younger brother Aho‘eitu ʻUnuakiʻotonga Tukuʻaho (b. 1959), who still reigns today as King Topou VI.

King Topou VI of Tonga in his coronation robes on 4th July 2015.

King Topou VI of Tonga in his coronation robes on 4th July 2015.

Sources

© 2022 Joanne Hayle