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The Tragic Story of Hawaii's Princess Ka’iulani

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Painting of  Princess Ka’iulani

Painting of Princess Ka’iulani

A Princess' Tragic Story

Princess Ka’iulani was the last heir apparent to the throne of the Hawaiian Kingdom. When she was 13, her mother died and she was sent to Europe to finish her education. Everything seemed fine until 1893: when Ka’iulani was 17, the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown. There were pleas from Ka’iulani's father and Sanford B. Dole, the provisional president of Hawaii, to end the takeover of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Queen Lili’uokalani was convinced her best chance at justice for Hawaii was to temporarily relinquish ruling authority to the United States. Ruling power was never returned to Hawaii's constitutional monarchy.

Young Princess Ka’iulani

Young Princess Ka’iulani

Early Years

Princess Ka’iulani was born on October 16, 1875. Her father was Archibald Scott Cleghorn, a Scottish businessman. Her mother was Princess Miriam Likelike. During this time, the kingdom of Hawaii was ruled by her uncle, King Kalākaua. When Princess Ka’iulani was born, her birth was announced by the ringing of bells in all the churches as well as gun salutes. She was second in the line of succession to the throne of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Princess Ka’iulani had three older half-sisters. Their names were Annie Pauahi, Rose Kaipuala, Helen Maniʻiailehua. They were from her father's relationship with another Hawaiian woman.

 Princess Ka’iulani and governess

Princess Ka’iulani and governess

Tragedy at an Early Age

When Princess Ka’iulani was only six years old, her beloved godmother, as well as governess, died. At the age of eleven, her mother died of a mysterious illness. When her mother was on her deathbed, she predicted her daughter Princess Ka’iulani would have a life of loss and loneliness. She said Princess Ka’iulani would never fulfill her destiny of becoming the queen of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Loss of Hawaiian Independence

Princess Ka’iulani was sent to a boarding school in England at the age of 13. The reason for this was that her father wanted Princess Ka’iulani to have the best possible education. He wanted his daughter to know how to conduct herself as a proper young lady. She was considered royalty and everyone believed she would have important responsibilities in the future. It was believed she eventually became the ruler of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Once she left for boarding school, Princess Ka’iulani would not return to Hawaii for nine years. When she finally made her way back to her native country, Hawaii was no longer an independent nation

Forced From the Throne

Queen Lili’uokalani was the aunt of Princess Ka’iulani. In January 1893, the queen was forced from her throne. This was done by a group of businessmen of British and American descent. They were backed by U.S. Marines. This group of businessmen referred to themselves as the Committee of Safety. Their goal was to overthrow the queen of the Hawaiian Kingdom and have the United States annex Hawaii. Queen Lili’uokalani decided to concede her power. She then appealed to the people of the United States to restore Hawaii's constitutional monarchy as the true government of the Hawaiian people.

 Princess Ka’iulani at the age of 17

Princess Ka’iulani at the age of 17

Direct Appeal

At the age of 17, Princess Ka’iulani boarded a ship and headed to New York. She was determined to make her own direct appeal to the citizens of the United States for the restoration of her government for her people. Upon arrival in New York, she calmly addressed the press. All who met Princess Ka’iulani were impressed by her being extremely articulate and intelligent at such a young age. She told them how seventy years ago, Christians sent men and women to the Hawaiian Kingdom to give them religion and civilization. She went on to explain how she could hear the pain of her people in her heart from their loss of freedom. It is what gave her the strength to continue with her mission. Several members of the press described Princess Ka’iulani as a fascinating and charming person.

Winning Hearts and Minds

After staying in New York for a short time, she went to Washington D.C. where she was invited to visit the White House. She was then able to meet with President Grover Cleveland and his wife. This is something no other member of Hawaiian royalty had been able to achieve. Princess Ka’iulani was able to make those she spoke with understand the situation in Hawaii and what was at stake with the Hawaiian Islands. She did this more effectively than it had ever been previously explained.

Annexation Removed

After meeting with Princess Ka’iulani, President Grover Cleveland ordered the US Senate to remove the Hawaiian annexation treaty from consideration. James H. Blount was the former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He was sent to Hawaii to investigate the situation. After conducting a thorough investigation, Blount was critical of the takeover of the Kingdom of Hawaii. He recommended that Queen Lili’uokalani be restored to her throne.

Newspaper about annexation of Hawaii

Newspaper about annexation of Hawaii


President Cleveland ordered the provisional governments in Hawaii to return power over the islands to the queen, but they refused. Cleveland was not willing to use force to make this happen. He appealed to the US Congress and asked them to demand the lawless occupation of Hawaii be ended. He was unable to stop the annexation. The next president was McKinley, who was known as an annexationist. The annexation of Hawaii was made official in 1898.

Lavish Celebration

Princess Ka’iulani returned to Hawaii and accepted the annexation. She then joined with other members of Hawaii's royal family and decided to work for voting rights for the Hawaiian people. When a delegation of commissioners was sent by President McKinley to the Hawaiian islands, Princess Ka’iulani invited them to a lavish celebration. She made certain each of the commissioners was seated next to Hawaiians who were very well-educated. Her goal was to make them realize that Hawaiians were cultured and intelligent.


On March 6, 1899, Princess Ka’iulani died of inflammatory rheumatism. She was 23 years old. Many believed it is possible she died of a broken heart. The tradition of the native Hawaiians dictated the body of royalty not be moved until after midnight following a death. It then had to be interred on the sabbath. The body of Princess Ka’iulani remained in her home until March 11. Her body was then moved after she lay in state. The funeral procession had thousands of Hawaiians walking behind her with lit torches as many of them wailed mournfully.


Smithsonian Magazine


Princess Ka'iulani Project

Adventures in History

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Readmikenow


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 04, 2021:

ReadMikeNow, you're welcome.

Readmikenow (author) on February 04, 2021:

L.M., Thanks.

L.M. Hosler on February 03, 2021:

Good article. I always enjoy stories about history and this was a good one.

Readmikenow (author) on February 03, 2021:

Pamela, thanks. Yeah, it was quite an amazing true prediction.

Readmikenow (author) on February 03, 2021:

Miebakagh, thanks.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 02, 2021:

This is a very interesting article, Mike. Princess Ka’iulani had such a sad life, but her history is very interesting. It is also a shame her mother made such an awful prediction on her death bed, but it did come true.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 02, 2021:

What pain me much was her death at 23. Otherwise, I think she would have agitate and won independence for the Hawaii kingdom.

Readmikenow (author) on February 02, 2021:

Liz, thanks. I agree with you. We can only imagine what would have happened if she had lived longer.

Readmikenow (author) on February 02, 2021:

MG, thanks.

Readmikenow (author) on February 02, 2021:

Fran, thanks. It was a tragic story.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 02, 2021:

This is a sad biography. It seems that this Hawaiian princess had much to give. It's a shame that she died so young.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 02, 2021:

Very interesting historical account. A great addition to my knowledge.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on February 02, 2021:

Mike, what a marvelous true story of Hawaii. And the princess to die so young without seeing her dream of her land. Thank you for such a historical piece.