December 7, 2023 | Mehroo S.

Ill-Fated Facts About Princess Ka’iulani, The Hawaiian Rose

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.”

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!

Princess Ka’iulani

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

3. Her Appearance Didn’t Go Unnoticed

Princess Ka'iulani's birth was anything but a private affair. Pistol 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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikimedia Commons

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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…

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Likelike lying in state at Iolani Palace. - 1887Hawaii State Archives, Wikimedia Commons

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...

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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...

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikimedia Commons

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

18. News From Home Wasn’t Always Good

The first kick 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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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?

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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!

Princess Ka'iulani factsGetty Images 

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!

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.”

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

US Presidents factsGetty Images

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikimedia Commons

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.”

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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 Battle to his advantage, pressuring Hawaii to welcome American army 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...

William Randolph Hearst factsGetty Images

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 perishing.” 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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Princess Alice of Battenberg FactsShutterstock

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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.

Science factsWikimedia Commons

46. Her Fate Could Have Been Avoided

Ka'iulani's end 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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.”

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikipedia

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...

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikimedia Commons

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsPrincess Kaiulani (2009), Island Film Group

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.

Princess Ka'iulani factsWikimedia Commons

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


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