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King of the Hawaiian Islands
Lunalilo, retouched photo by J. J. Williams (PP-98-15-011).jpg
Reign January 8, 1873–February 3, 1874 (1 year, 26 days)
Predecessor Kamehameha V
Successor Kalākaua
Burial Mausoleum behind Kawaiahaʻo Church
Full name
William Charles Lunalilo
House House of Keoua Nui
House of Kalaimamahu
Father High Chief Charles Kanaina
Mother High Chieftess Miriam Auhea Kekauluohi

Lunalilo I, born William Charles Lunalilo (January 31, 1835 –February 3, 1874), was king of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi from January 8, 1873 until February 3, 1874. He was the most liberal king in Hawaiian history, but was the shortest reigning monarch.

Early life

William Charles Lunalilo was born on January 31, 1835 in an area known as Pohukaina, now part of Honolulu. His mother was High Chieftess Miriam Auhea Kekauluohi (later called Kaʻahuman III) and father was High Chief Charles Kanaina. He was grandnephew of Kamehameha I.[1] Through his mother, who was the sister of Elizabeth Kīnaʻu (later called Kaʻahumanu II), he was first cousin to King Kamehameha V, King Kamehameha IV, and Princess Victoria Kamamalu. His name translates as Luna (high) lilo (lost) or "so high up as to be lost to sight" in the Hawaiian language. He was also named after King William IV of Great Britain, a great friend of Hawaiian royalty. He was educated at the Royal School and declared eligible to succeed by the royal decree of Kamehameha III. he was sent to the Royal School when it was founded to be educated by missionaries Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke.


He was one of the few royals (besides David Kalākaua and Liliʻuokalani) to write music. He composed Hawaii's first national anthem, E Ola Ke Alii Ke Akua, which was Hawaii's version of "God Save The King".[2] It was said to be written in twenty minutes in a contest hosted by Kamehameha IV in 1860. He won the contest and was rewarded ten dollars.[citation needed]

Prospective royal brides

He was betrothed to his cousin Princess Victoria Kamamalu, which was a popular choice to most Hawaiians except for Victoria's brothers. They both refused to have her marry him. Their children would outrank the House of Kamehameha in family background (mana). He would try to seek the hand of Liliʻuokalani who refused through the advice of Kamehameha IV. He stated if she was his daughter he would not approve of it, but if each were pleased, he would not oppose it, but advise them to marry. Liliʻuokalani would eventually marry American John Owen Dominis,[3] and Victoria Kamamalu would die unmarried and childless at the age of 27 in 1863.


King Kamehameha V, the last monarch of the House of Kamehameha, died on December 11, 1872 without naming a successor. Under the Kingdom's 1864 constitution, if the King did not appoint a successor, a new king would be elected by the legislature from the Hawaiian Royalty (Aliʻis). The other candidate was David Kalākaua; Lunalilo was the more popular of the two. His grandfather was Prince Kalaimamahu, a half brother of King Kamehameha I and was thus a cousin of King Kamehameha V. His grandmother was Queen Miriam Kalakua Kaheiheimaile, sister of Kamehameha’s favorite wife, Queen Kaahumanu. Because of this, many people believed the throne rightly belonged to Lunalilo since the only person more closely related to Kamehameha V, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, made clear her wish not to take the throne. Another contender was Ruth Keelikolani who was a half sister to King Kamehameha V. She was one of the favorites among the Hawaiian chiefs because she adhered to the old Hawaiian ways. She was governess of Hawaii and refused to speak English even though she was fluent in it. Her genealogy, however, was too controversial and few people considered her suitable to take the throne. This left Kalākaua and Lunalilo, and of the two, Lunalilo was greatly favored. So great was Lunalilo's popularity that some people believed that Lunalilo could have simply walked into the capital and declared himself king. Lunalilo, however, insisted that the constitution be followed. He issued the following message six days after the death of the King:

"Whereas, it is desirable that the wishes of the Hawaiian people be consulted as to a successor to the Throne, therefore, notwithstanding that according to the law of inheritance, I am the rightful heir to the Throne, in order to preserve peace, harmony and good order, I desire to submit the decision of my claim to the voice of the people."

Lunalilo, unlike his more conservative opponent, wanted to amend the constitution to make the government more democratic by removing property qualifications for voting. It was decided that there would be a popular election to give the people a chance to have their voices heard. However, because the constitution gave the legislature the power to decide who would be the next king, the popular election would be unofficial. Lunalilo urged the people of the Kingdom to have their voices heard.

The popular vote was held on January 1, 1873 and Lunalilo won by an overwhelming majority.[1] The week after the legislature unanimously voted Lunalilo king. It has been speculated that the reason for the unanimous vote was because each legislator was required to sign his name on the back of his ballot, and the legislators were afraid to go against the wishes of the people. Queen Emma later wrote in a letter that hundreds of Hawaiians were ready to tear to pieces anyone who opposed Lunalilo.[4]

At Lunalilo's coronation ceremony, held on January 9, 1873 at Kawaiahaʻo Church, the courtyard was filled to capacity and a large crowd watched from outside. Because Lunalilo's popularity was so great, and because he became king through a democratic process, he became known as "The People's King."

Reign as King

When Lunalilo assumed the duties of the king, a huge change in the government's policy began to form. His predecessor, Kamehameha V, had spent his reign increasing the powers of his office and trying to restore the absolute monarchy of his grandfather, Kamehameha I. Lunalilo, however, spent his reign trying to make the Hawaiian government more democratic. He started by writing to the legislature, recommending that the constitution be amended. He wanted to undo some of the changes that his predecessor had made when he enacted the 1864 Constitution.

For example, the legislature prior to 1864 met in two houses: The House of Nobles and the House of Representatives. The members of the House of Nobles were appointed by the King and the Representatives were elected by popular vote. Under King Kamehameha V, the two houses of legislature were combined into one. Lunalilo wished to restore the bicameral legislature. He also wanted to add a provision to the constitution that required the king to include a written explanation to accompany any veto by the king. He wanted cabinet ministers to be heard in the House of Representatives.

The King also wanted to improve Hawaii's economic situation. The kingdom was in a state of depression, with the whaling industry failing. Commerce groups asked the king to look at sugar to improve the economy and recommended that a treaty be drawn with the United States to allow Hawaiian sugar to enter the nation tax-free. To make such a treaty, many thought that the kingdom would have to offer the Pearl Harbor area to the United States in exchange. There was much controversy over this, with both the public and in the legislature. When Lunalilo saw this opposition, he dropped the proposal.

During Lunalilo's reign, a mutiny took place in the small Hawaiian army. Some members of the army revolted against the drillmaster and the adjutant general. The king interviewed the troops involved in the mutiny and he persuaded them to lay down their arms. Following this, the king disbanded the army. From that point on, the Kingdom had no armed forces until King Kalākaua restored them.

Illness and death

King Lunalilo did not enjoy good health during his reign. He had some bad health habits; for example, he was an alcoholic like many of the Hawaiian kings. At about the time of the mutiny in the army, the King developed a lung infection. In hopes of regaining his health, he moved to Kailua-Kona. A few months later, on February 3, 1874, he died from tuberculosis at the age of 39. The King had reigned for one year and 25 days.

King Lunalilo's tomb.

On his deathbed, he requested a burial at Kawaiahaʻo Church, with his mother on the church's ground. He wanted, he said, to be "entombed among (my) people, rather than the kings and chiefs" at the Royal Mausoleum in Nuʻuanu Valley. This was due to a feud between Lunalilo and the Kamehameha family over his mother Miriam Auhea Kekauluohi's exclusion from the list of royalty to be buried there. Thus, in 1875, he was taken from the Mausoleum to the church. During this procession, eyewitness reports stated that a sudden storm arose, and that twenty-one rapid thunderclaps echoed across Honolulu which came to be known as the "21-gun salute."

Like his predecessor, Lunalilo did not designate an heir to the throne. He had intended for Queen Emma to succeed him, but died before a formal proclamation could be made. The most prevalent explanation of this delay being his democratic principles: he wished to have the people choose their next ruler. However, the constitution of 1864 had charged the legislature, not the people, with the task of electing the next king. In the end, David Kalākaua was voted to succeed Lunalilo as king.


  1. ^ a b A. Francis Judd (1936), "Lunalilo, the sixth king of Hawaii", his letters to J.R. Boyd in 1873-1874, Hawaiian Historical Society, pp. 27–43 
  2. ^ English version by Makua Laiana. "E Ola Ke Ali'i Ke Akua". Hawaiian Music and Hula Archives. Kaiulani Kanoa-Martin. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  3. ^ Liliuokalani (Queen of Hawaii) (1898). Hawaii's story by Hawaii's queen, Liliuokalani. Lee and Shepard, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, LLC (July 25, 2007). p. 14. ISBN 978-0548222652. 
  4. ^ Norris W. Potter, Lawrence M. Kasdon, Ann Rayson (2003), History of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Bess Press, p. 123, ISBN 9781573061506 

External links

Hawaiian royalty
Preceded by
Kamehameha V
King of Hawai‘i
1873 - 1874
Succeeded by