There were four children of Kīnaʻu, daughter of Kamehameha I, the highest in rank of any of the women chiefs of her day; these were Moses, Lot (afterwards Kamehameha V,) Alexander Liholiho (afterwards Kamehameha IV) and Victoria. (Liliʻuokalani)
“When I was taken from my own parents and adopted by Paki and Konia, or about two months thereafter, a child was born to Kīnaʻu. That little babe was the Princess Victoria, two of whose brothers became sovereigns of the Hawaiian people.”
“While the infant was at its mother’s breast, Kīnaʻu always preferred to take me into her arms to nurse, and would hand her own child to the woman attendant who was there for that purpose.”
“So she frequently declared in the presence of my adopted mother, Konia, that a bond of the closest friendship must always exist between her own baby girl and myself as aikane or foster-children of the same mother, and that all she had would also appertain to me just as if I had been her own child”. (Liliʻuokalani)
Victoria Kamāmalu, the only daughter of Kīnaʻu, Kaʻahumanu II and her third husband Mataio Kekūanāoʻa, was born at the Honolulu Fort, on November 1, 1838.
Through her mother she was granddaughter of King Kamehameha I; she was named after her maternal aunt Queen Kamāmalu, the wife of Kamehameha II, who died in London from the measles.
Kīnaʻu died on April 4, 1839, not long after the birth of her youngest child, Victoria; her father Kekūanāoʻa then raised Victoria. He was the royal governor of Oʻahu. She was educated at Royal School along with all her cousins and brothers.
At the age of 17, Victoria Kamāmalu was appointed Kuhina Nui by her brother Kamehameha IV soon after he ascended the throne in December 1854.
The Kuhina Nui was a unique position in the administration of Hawaiian government and had no specific equivalent in western governments of the day. It has been described in general terms as “Prime Minister,” “Premier” and “Regent.”
The Kuhina Nui held equal authority to the king in all matters of government, including the distribution of land, negotiating treaties and other agreements, and dispensing justice.
Since 1845, by legislative act, the office of Kuhina Nui had been joined with that of the Minister of Interior. Given her young age, it would have been clear to the King, Privy Council and Legislative Council that Victoria was not suited to be Minister of Interior.
Therefore, on January 6, 1855, an act was passed to repeal the earlier legislation. She received her appointment ten days later. (Hawaii State Archives)
Article 45 of the 1852 Constitution of Hawaiian Kingdom stated: “Art. 45. All important business of the kingdom which the King chooses to transact in person, he may do, but not without the approbation of the Kuhina Nui. The King and Kuhina Nui shall have a negative on each other’s public acts.”
The Constitution of 1852 further clarified some of the office’s responsibilities, including its authority in the event of the King’s death or minority of the heir to the throne. The office of Kuhina Nui functioned from 1819 to 1864, through the reigns of Kamehameha II, III, IV and V.
Kaʻahumanu was such a powerful person and Kuhina Nui that subsequent female Kuhina Nui adopted her name, Kīna‘u (Kaʻahumanu II) (1832-1839,) Kekāuluohi (Kaʻahumanu III) (1839-1845) and Victoria Kamāmalu (Kaʻahumanu IV) (1855-1863.) (Keoni Ana (1845-1855) and Mataio Kekūanāo‘a (1863-1864) were the male Kuhina Nui.)
The Constitution (1852 – Article 47) further stated that the Kuhina Nui (Premier), in absence of a Monarch, would fill the vacant office. “Whenever the throne shall become vacant by reason of the King’s death, or otherwise, and during the minority of any heir to the throne, the Kuhina Nui, for the time being, shall, during such vacancy or minority, perform all the duties incumbent on the King, and shall have and exercise all the powers, which by this Constitution are vested in the King.”
This situation occurred once, when Kuhina Nui Victoria Kamāmalu (Kaʻahumanu IV) assumed the powers of the monarchy – and, was conceptually “Queen” for a day (November 30, 1863) – the first sole-ruling female of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.
‘Prince Bill’ (later King Lunalilo) and Victoria Kamāmalu were betrothed to each other in their childhood at the behest of Kamāmalu’s mother Kīna‘u.
The seemingly inevitable marriage was thwarted by Kamehameha IV – Kamāmalu’s brother Alexander Liholiho. The king feared that his own line of succession would be jeopardized by the ardor of prince and princess.
Because he would be outranked by the offspring of their union (as would any children of his own marriage to Emma Rooke), he forced his sister into breaking off her relationship with Lunalilo. (de Silva)
“Kamāmalu died at 10 am on May 29, 1866, at Papakanene house at Mokuʻaikaua… She was in bed for three weeks before she was taken.”
“On Sunday evenings the members of her two churches pleaded with the Lord, but the trouble was too grave for their petitions. The doctors, too, were unable to make her well. The length of her life was 27 years and seven months.” (ʻIʻi; de Silva)
She died without a written will, so her vast landholdings, including much of the original private lands of her mother and Queen Kaʻahumanu, were inherited by her father and eventually passed to her half-sister Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani who willed them to Bernice Pauahi Bishop and where they became part of the Kamehameha Schools.