The Kamehameha Dynasty ruled for nearly a century from the late-1700s to the late-1800s, while the Kalākaua Dynasty ruled from 1874 to 1893.
Kamehameha I, Paiʻea, Kamehameha the Great (1758-1819)
Born in North Kohala on the Big Island, Kamehameha united all the major islands under one rule in 1810.
The king traded with foreign ships arriving in the islands and enlisted some of the foreigners into his service. During his reign, the export of sandalwood to the Orient brought about the ability for island chiefs to purchase merchandise from abroad.
Kamehameha II, Liholiho – (1796-1824)
The son of Kamehameha and his sacred wife Keōpūolani, Liholiho overthrew the ancient kapu system by allowing men and women of the court to eat at the same table. At the same time, he announced that the heiau (temples) should be destroyed with all the old idols.
Believing like his father that the islands were under the protection of Great Britain, Liholiho and his favorite wife Kamamalu traveled to England in May of 1824, where they were received by the government of King George IV. However, measles afflicted the royal party and Kamāmalu died on July 8 followed by Liholiho on July 14, 1824.
Kamehameha III, Kauikeaouli (1813-1854)
The younger brother of Liholiho had the longest reign in Hawaiian history. He was 10 years old when he was proclaimed king in 1825 under a regency with Ka‘ahumanu, his father’s favorite queen, as joint ruler.
Realizing the need for written laws to control growing problems brought about by increasing numbers of foreigners settling in the kingdom, the declaration of rights, called the Hawaiian Magna Charta, was issued on June 7, 1839. The rights of residents were repeated in the Constitution of 1840.
The Great Mahele (division), the first legal basis for land ownership in the kingdom, was enacted and divided the land between the king, his chiefs and others.
Kamehameha IV, Alexander Liholiho (1834-1863)
The nephew of Kauikeaouli, Alexander Liholiho was the son of Kekūanāoʻa and his wife Kīna‘u, the grandson of Kamehameha I, younger brother of Lot Kapuāiwa and elder brother of Victoria Kamāmalu.
He ascended to the throne after the death of his uncle in December of 1854. On June 19, 1856, he married Emma Rooke.
Concerned about the toll that foreign diseases were taking on his subjects, the king signed a law on April 20, 1859 that established a hospital in Honolulu for sick and destitute Hawaiians. He and Emma personally solicited funds to erect Queen’s Hospital, named in honor of Emma.
Kamehameha V, Lot Kapuāiwa (1830-1872)
Four years older than his brother Kamehameha IV, Lot would also rule for just nine years. In 1864, when it appeared that a new constitution could not be agreed upon, he declared that the Constitution of 1852 be replaced by one he had written himself.
Known as “the bachelor king,” Lot Kamehameha did not name a successor, which led to the invoking of the constitutional provision for electing kings of Hawai`i.
William Charles Lunalilo (1835-1874)
The grandson of a half-brother of Kamehameha I, Lunalilo was the son of Charles Kanaina and Kekauluohi, a sister of Kīnaʻu.
He defeated David Kalākaua in 1873 to become the first king to be elected (therefore, technically, not a part of the Kamehameha Dynasty, although he was related.) He offered many amendments to the Constitution of 1864, such as abolishing the property qualifications for voting.
Lunalilo died of tuberculosis on February 3, 1874, a little more than a year after his election. He became the first Hawaiian to leave his property to a work of charity, creating the Lunalilo Home, which accommodates elderly Hawaiians who are poor, destitute and infirm.
David Kalākaua (1836-1891)
After the death of Lunalilo, Kalākaua (married to Kapiʻolani) ran against and defeated the queen dowager, Emma. Kalākaua was the first king in history to visit the United States.
“The Merry Monarch” was fond of old Hawaiian customs, and he attempted to restore the people’s lost heritage – such actions gave rise to anti-monarchy movements, such as the Reform Party.
In 1887, Kalākaua signed the “Bayonet Constitution,” (signed under threat of an armed uprising) that stripped the king of most of his power and gave foreigners the right to vote. Kalākaua died while on a trip to San Francisco on January 20, 1891, leaving his younger sister Liliuokalani to ascend the throne.
Queen Lili‘uokalani, Lydia Kamakaʻeha Pākī (1839-1917)
Liliʻuokalani (married to John Owen Dominis and living at his mother’s home, Washington Place) inherited the throne from her brother, King Kalākaua, on January 29, 1891.
Two years later, a group composed of Hawaiian Nationals, Americans and Europeans formed a Committee of Safety seeking to overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom, depose the Queen and seek annexation to the United States; the Queen was deposed on January 17, 1893.
Queen Lili‘uokalani flew the US flag over her personal residence, Washington Place, in 1917 to mourn and honor Hawaiians killed in World War I.