Princess Ka’iulani’s story is unlike any other royal tale. Even though this Hawaiian beauty lost her life at a tragically young age, Princess Ka’iulani certainly made her time on earth count. Amidst her incredibly tumultuous personal life and health struggles, she fiercely fought for Hawaii and for her people. So, put on a lei and join us in paying tribute to Hawaii’s “Island Rose.”
Princess Ka’iulani Facts
1. Her Name Was A Mouthful
When Princess Miriam Likelike gave birth to a little girl in Honolulu in 1875, everyone knew she’d be destined for great things. She was fourth in line for the throne, and so she had to have a special name. Her parents named her Victoria Kawēkiu Ka’iulani Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Cleghorn. Phew. Imagine having to introduce her at a party!
2. Her Monikers Had A Special Significance
Ka’iulani’s father was a Scotsman: Archibald Cleghorn. He wanted to name his daughter Victoria, after his own Queen. Her mother, meanwhile, had other ideas. She gave her baby girl middle names that meant “highest rank” and “so high up as to be lost to sight.” However, her second name had the most important—and tragic—meaning of all. Her mother named her Ka’iulani after her sister who’d passed at a young age.
3. Her Appearance Didn’t Go Unnoticed
Princess Ka’iulani’s birth was anything but a private affair. Gun salutes announced her arrival, churches rang their bells to mark the happy day, and everyone rejoiced that the little princess was born. If you think this sounds like even more fanfare than usual, you’re right. Both the king and his successor were childless, making Princess Ka’iulani the heir to the throne.
4. She Had Constant Companions
Ka’iulani was Princess Miriam’s only daughter, but her dad…well, he’d led a more, shall we say, eventful life. He had three other daughters from a previous relationship with another Hawaiian woman. Princess Ka’iulani had three half-sisters who were–gasp!–born out of wedlock. Hey, every royal family needs a few royal scandals.
5. She Got An Amazing Present
Ka’iulani’s fancy godmother clearly didn’t think a regular gift like a candle would cut it, so she bestowed her young ward with several acres of land, some miles away from Honolulu. Ka’iulani’s family moved to her beautiful estate when she was three. This is where the princess spent an idyllic childhood, surfing, swimming, and horseback riding. Well, until her happy days came to an end.
6. She Experienced Sadness
Not all was hunky-dory in Ka’iulani’s world. Her parents were very different people and they often got into fights over their many disagreements. Cleghorn was a typical Victorian gentleman, brought up to be lord of the house, family, and staff, while Miriam was Hawaiian nobility, also brought up to rule. However, her parents’ squabbles weren’t going to be an issue for too long, as Ka’iulani would sadly realize.
7. She Faced Loss Early On
Being a princess is no guarantee of happiness. Ka’iulani unfortunately learned this lesson at a very young age. The first time she faced tragedy was at the age of six when her beloved godmother passed. But that was just the start of a life filled with heartbreaks. The next loss that Princess Ka’iulani had to face was much closer to home.
8. A Loved One Became Ill
Ka’iulani’s family and friends all doted on her, but she loved her mom most. That’s why it was especially difficult for 11-year-old Ka’iulani to cope when Princess Miriam became terribly sick. The doctors insisted that whatever ailed Miriam could be cured with proper nourishment and a good diet. In a heartbreaking turn of events, however, they were wrong.
9. Her Mother Made An Ominous Prediction
While on her sickbed, Princess Miriam asked to see her beloved only child, Ka’iulani. When she arrived, Miriam revealed that she had a prophecy to share: She seemed convinced that her daughter would leave the island for a long time, never marry, and never ascend to the throne. Tragically, all of Ka’iulani’s mother’s predictions were bound to come true…
10. She Lost Her Mother
Before she was even 12 years old, Ka’iulani lost her mother. Princess Miriam never recovered from her mysterious illness and ultimately passed on February 2, 1887. She was only 36. To this day, no one knows exactly what caused the Princess’s strange and sudden decline. But according to legends, foul play was involved. Some sources say that she was cursed or targeted by black magic.
11. She Met A Distinguished Guest
Miriam had been a vivacious and gracious hostess while she had lived. She always had guests coming and going at Āinahau, including the author Robert Louis Stevenson. He became a great source of support for young Ka’iulani, often telling her stories of Celtic Warrior queens and writing poems in her honor. However, some people have wondered if Stevenson had more on his mind than just friendship…
12. Her Friendship Inspired Rumors
Ka’iulani was just 13 when an almost 40-year-old Stevenson took an interest in her future, leading some commentators to raise their eyebrows. Some have called it a “platonic affair,” others wondered if the two shared a dicey romance, and still more say that Stevenson just had a weird crush on a pre-teen girl. No matter which version is true, we definitely know this: Stevenson was the first of many guys to become a little obsessed with Princess Ka’iulani.
13. Her Dad Had Big Plans
Ka’iulani was unique in being the first hapa haole, which means half-western, heir to the Hawaiian throne. Her father had strong opinions on what sort of education his daughter, who would one day be queen, should receive. He did not think it was enough to hire tutors to give her a European education in Hawaii, and wanted to send her to Europe to learn how to be a queen according to Victorian standards–whether or not Ka’iulani wanted that for herself…
14. She Was Chosen For A Special Task
The Hawaiians wanted to make sure that the foreigners who seemed so interested in their island knew they were a proud, capable kingdom with as much culture as any European nation. Indeed, in some ways it seemed the Hawaiians were more advanced. Iolani Palace received electricity before the White House did, with Ka’iulani herself turning on the lights.
15. She Went Abroad
Although Ka’iulani wasn’t happy about it, she agreed to go to Europe along with her older half-sister, Annie. She studied privately at Great Harrowden Hall in England and excelled at Latin, math, literature, and history. Keeping up with the athletic side of her nature, she also played tennis and cricket, and took lessons to learn German and French!
Hawaii might have done really well under such an accomplished queen, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
16. Her Life Changed
Ka’iulani’s life changed enormously once she stepped away from the island. She was still royalty, but she was also an international student, like many other girls who were studying with her. Originally sent to study abroad for a year, Ka’iulani soon realized that she would be away in this strange country for much longer. You see, back home, a dangerous uprising was underway.
17. She Knew Things Were Changing In Hawaii
Back home, Ka’iulani’s uncle, King Kalākaua, was in the middle of a huge catastrophe. He had signed the Bayonet Constitution a couple of years ago, which diluted his powers and gave more control to the Euro-Americans on the island. This decision didn’t just doom the king. In time, it would also change the course of Princes Ka’iulani’s life too.
18. News From Home Wasn’t Always Good
The first blow hit Ka’iulani when she heard that her uncle, the king, had passed in San Fransisco. This news was both tragic and mysterious. Just a few months ago, Ka’iulani had received a letter from her uncle. In it, he begged her to be on her “guard against certain enemies” that he couldn’t name. Was it one of those “enemies” who had a hand in his demise? Nobody knows.
However, the loss of her uncle meant that Ka’iulani’s aunt was Queen now. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before Ka’iulani herself would take the throne.
19. There Was Talk Of Her Marriage
While she was still in Europe, her aunt, now the Queen, wrote to Ka’iulani and asked her to consider marriage to one of her eligible Hawaiian cousins, or an unnamed Japanese prince studying in England. Apparently, the Hawaiian family was really into this Japanese prince. Historians believe that they’d already tried to set Ka’iulani up with him when she was just a child. Royal families, amirite?
20. She Had Different Plans
Ka’iulani tried to put off replying to her aunt’s suggestions of possible suitors for a while. Eventually, though she did write back, telling her that she felt it would be unfair to herself, and the other person, if she married them when she felt no love for them. Preach, Ka’iulani!
21. She Couldn’t Stop The Rumors
Ka’iulani was absolutely hounded by rumors. After all, she was a young girl living away from her family in the glamorous world of Europe. Naturally, her name started being linked with several men. One of her possible suitors was especially scandalous. It belonged to a definitely-not-royal beau: the humble son of Ka’iulani’s chaperone, Clive Davis. A princess and a commoner? Someone write this fan fiction, stat!
22. She Was A Gal About Town
When Ka’iulani’s father heard about this rumor, he denied it categorically. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to do much good. As soon as he shut down one piece of gossip about his daughter’s love life, another popped up. People started to whisper that Ka’iulani had ended her fling with Clive and was now seeing, of all people, her ex-boyfriend’s brother George.
23. People Were Obsessed With Her Love Life
Oh, and it didn’t stop there. Many people wondered if Ka’iulani was secretly involved with her cousin, handsome Prince David Kawānanakoa. If she was, her family would be thrilled. Ka’iulani’s own aunt had already tried to set the two up.
24. Her Personal Life Is Mysterious
According to some records, Ka’iulani and her cousin Kawānanakoa may have actually been the real deal. Multiple newspapers published announcements that the cousins were bethrothed. When he heard about the notices, Kawānanakoa denied the entire thing. Today, most historians insist that the cousins didn’t feel that way about each other. However, that might not be the whole story.
25. She Was Irresistible
Someone very close to Prince Kawānanakoa has suggested that he may have had more feelings for Ka’iulani than he let on. According to the woman that the prince eventually married, Kawānanakoa may have carried a torch for Ka’iulani, even if she didn’t return his feelings. His wife even stated that he would never have married her if Ka’iulani had lived.
26. She Hated Like Restrictions
Ka’iulani was no different from other young girls her age. She enjoyed meeting new people and supposedly had plenty of suitors. She even wrote to her aunt about rejecting a German count. However, she realized that she could not marry at will, and lamented to a friend that she’d been “born under an unlucky star” because she couldn’t live as she wished.
It’s tragic when you look at her life as a whole: So many unfulfilled dreams, and thwarted ambitions.
27. She Heard More Disturbing News
Unfortunately, things just did not seem to be looking up for Ka’iulani. She tried to focus on completing her studies and learning how to conduct herself as a future queen when she received terrible news: Queen Lili’uokalani’s had been forced to step down from the throne. Suddenly it looked as if everything Ka’iulani had been working for would be snatched away from her.
Who was behind this turn of events? A group of European-American businessmen, backed by the US marines and government. Their aim was to rid Hawaii of monarchy and make it an American state.
28. She Sailed To New York
Ka’iulani had been away from Hawaii for four years at this point. The plan was for her to return the next year and assist the Queen in the running of the kingdom. However, she now found herself torn between staying in Europe and rushing back to fight for Hawaii. In the end, she surprised everyone by sailing to New York on a mission. She would try to persuade the American government to rethink their plans and let Hawaii stay independent.
29. She Made Impassioned Speeches
Ka’iulani was only 17 when her life turned upside down. At an age when she should have been studying and socializing, she realized she had a duty to try and regain Hawaii’s independence from the Americans. She delivered an emotionally-charged speech in New York, where she declared, “I, a poor, weak girl, with not one of my people near me, have the strength to stand up for the rights of my people.”
She pleaded with the Americans not to undo the work of their forefathers and not to allow their flag to cover and dishonor hers.
30. She Made An Impression
The American Press had not expected a princess with Ka’iulani’s charm and passion. She became very popular in the United States, and one newspaper even described her as a “flower of civilization.”
31. She Even Impressed The President
President Grover Cleveland, and his wife, met with Ka’iulani and sympathized with her cause. Cleveland withdrew the Treaty of Annexation, and initiated an investigation of the overthrow. Ka’iulani had succeeded in at least making the Americans realize that the situation was not as black and white as they might have thought.
Though this did put off the annexation for a while, it still meant political uncertainty in Hawaii. As a result, Cleghorn asked Ka’iulani to go back to Europe until things became clearer.
32. The People Loved Her
There were quite a few people who suggested that it would be better to allow Ka’iulani to wear the crown instead of her aunt. Even some of the leaders of the Provisional Government in Hawaii figured it could be a more tactful way of gaining power, if they allowed her on the throne and controlled it by assisting her in managing the kingdom’s affairs until she reached maturity.
This was impossible, however. Ka’iulani would never have dreamed of stepping over her aunt to accede the throne.
33. She Went Back To Europe
Ka’iulani went back to Europe following her visit to the United States. She spent some time with Davies and his family, and then made her way to Germany with his daughter. She enjoyed those days by all accounts, spending time learning the language, making friends, and also earning admiration from young German officers. Looking back, it’s a good thing that she had fun while she still could.
34. She Considered Making It Her Permanent Home
Ka’iulani began to feel Hawaii and its troubled politics were far away, and she started getting more and more used to life in Europe. So much so, that she convinced her father to live abroad with her, instead of going back to Hawaii. Father and daughter spent time in Scotland, England, the French Riviera, and Paris. This may sound glamorous, but nothing could be further from the truth.
35. Her Financial Situation Was Precarious
As Heir Apparent, Ka’iulani received a stipend from the Hawaiian government until her aunt’s overthrow. Unfortunately, after that the stipend stopped coming in and Cleghorn’s financial status wasn’t looking pretty either. She wondered if she could ask the American government to support her, but realized that would mean she had accepted that they had overpowered Hawaii.
Ka’iulani refused to do this, so she held her head high and pinched those pennies. Sadly, the princess’s financial strain wasn’t the only thing going wrong in her life.
36. Her Health Suffered
During her last two years in Europe, Ka’iulani began to suffer from multiple health issues. These included weight loss, migraines, flu-like symptoms, and eye problems. She would frequently faint as well. Had she developed an undiagnosed thyroid problem then? There is no way to be sure, although it does seem she had thyroid issues when she returned to Hawaii.
37. Another Loss Broke Her
In 1897, when Ka’iulani and her father were in Europe, they received the heartbreaking news that her dearest sister, Annie, had passed. Ka’iulani was devastated, especially since she had not seen her sister since she had left Europe several years ago. Whether it was because she felt there was no joy left in staying there now, or because she wanted to go back before she lost anyone else she loved, Ka’iulani decided to leave Europe once and for all.
38. She Went Back Home
Ka’iulani left Europe in October 1897. She went to Washington DC first, to meet Queen Lili’uokalani who was protesting against the annexation there. She went to San Fransisco, and finally set sail for Honolulu in November. The American press and people fell in love with her all over again, especially since she shattered their stereotype of a “barbarian princess.”
39. She Did Her Duty
Hawaii could have stayed independent, but unfortunately the new President, William McKinley, made sure that didn’t happen. He used the Spanish-American War to his advantage, pressuring Hawaii to welcome American troops onto their land during the conflict. Ka’iulani’s father had no problem with this idea, but Ka’iulani? She felt “disgusted” by the idea. Spoiler: Ka’iulani’s instinct would soon be proved right…
40. She Grieved The Change
Ka’iulani hated the way things had changed in Hawaii. It mortified her to see Honolulu was decked up for US forces, and when the Hawaiian flag was lowered and replaced by the US flag, she said the sight was “bitterer than death.” Neither she, nor Lili’uokalani, went to the Annexation Ceremony, preferring to stay at home dressed in funeral robes as a protest against Hawaii becoming part of the US. Several other natives and royals also boycotted the events.
41. She Fought For Her People
Ka’iulani still tried to do what she could to work for her people. She joined the Red Cross and became its second vice-president. She also worked hard to make sure that Hawaii’s customs and traditions would continue to be honored, even after becoming part of the United States. On one occasion, she held a Luau for the United States Congressional commission party.
42. She Went To A Wedding
While life was very different from what it might have been, Ka’iulani still tried to live as well as she could. She went to stay at childhood friend, Eva Parker’s estate for her marriage. The festivities lasted several days as Christmas and New Year celebrations also became a part of it. Tragically, all this merriment would have a heartbreaking end.
43. She Made An Unwise Choice
Even though she was a princess, Ka’iulani was still a tomboy at heart. She loved the outdoors and never missed an opportunity to ride a horse, so when some guests went out for a picnic, of course she joined them. However, her expedition would have terrible consequences. During the outing, a windy rainstorm struck the party. Ka’iulani rode home as fast as she could, but she couldn’t escape the stormy weather.
44. She Did Not Make It
Once Ka’iulani’s father heard about his daughter’s condition, he sailed to see her with a doctor in tow. After two weeks of intensive treatment, the weakened princess returned home to Āinahau. However, she wouldn’t stay there for long. Ka’iulani passed of inflammatory rheumatism on March 6, 1889. At the time, she was just 23 years old.
45. Her Pets Knew
As a sign of the Princess’s tragic passing, her beloved peacocks were heard howling that night. Many people believed that the birds somehow sensed that they had lost their beautiful owner, Ka’iulani.
46. Her Fate Could Have Been Avoided
Ka’iulani’s death was a horrible loss for both Hawaii and the world, but the saddest aspect has to be its preventability. On the day that she got caught in the rainstorm, Ka’iulani refused to wear a coat or jacket to keep her warm. She thought the tight garments would ruin her ability to ride and wanted to be as free as possible. Sadly, the princess’s characteristic rebellion is exactly what caused her downfall.
47. She Was Mourned By Many
The Hawaiian government gave her a state funeral, and hundreds of people came to pay their last respects to her. Thousands of mourners lined the streets. As a sign of her popularity, even Princess Ka’iulani’s political opponents grieved her loss. As they said, they may have disagreed with her on some issues, but “It was impossible not to love her.”
48. Her Name Lives On In Hawaii
She may have lived for only 23 years, but Ka’iulani certainly made a big impact. Her name lives on in Hawaii to this day, with a Sheraton hotel named after her in Honolulu and, of course, her story is often celebrated in song, hula, and drama. However, some people remember Hawaii’s Island Rose in, shall we say, controversial ways…
49. She Inspired A Movie
Ka’iulani’s story inspired a movie with a contentious title: Barbarian Princess. Yes, seriously. One really has to wonder what people are thinking sometimes. After a (justified) hue and cry about the title, the film’s title became Princess Ka’iulani. It did not do too well on the box office, and critics called it more of a TV movie than a proper biopic.
50. Is She Still Around?
Perhaps more interesting than the film itself were the anecdotes that surrounded it. Supposedly, production assistants felt the presence of someone during filming at Iolani Palace, a hotel room caught fire during filming, and someone also fell from the hotel balcony. The hotel in question was naturally the Sheraton Princess Ka’iulani Hotel.
All the strange incidents led to people wondering if the film was cursed, or if Ka’iulani was haunting the place, unhappy with her story’s portrayal.