There is a common misunderstanding that if you are a direct descendent of Kamehameha I today you are an heir to the throne as well as an heir to the Crown Lands. This is incorrect.
It is true that Kamehameha I had many wives. According to the second revised edition of the book Kamehameha’s Children Today by Charles Ahlo, Rubellite Kawena Kinney Johson, and Jerry Walker, Kamehameha I had 30 wives, 18 of whom had 35 children. The other 12 did not have any children. Of the 18 was Keōpūolani who gave birth to Liholiho, who later succeeded to the throne as Kamehameha II in 1819, Kauikeaouli, who succeeded to the throne as Kamehameha III in 1824, and a daughter, Nahiʻenaʻena who died in 1836 while her brother Kamehameha III was King. Of all the wives, she had the highest chiefly rank and she was acknowledged as such by Kamehameha’s Chiefs.
The Kamehameha extended family was not the leadership of the kingdom. Rather, the leadership of the Island of Kingdom of Hawai‘i was comprised of Kamehameha as its Ali‘i Nui (King) and his most trusted Chiefs, which included Kalaʻimamahu, Chief of Hāmākua, Ke‘eaumoku, Chief of Kona, Ka‘iana, Chief of Puna, and Kame‘eiamoku, Chief of Kohala. After defeating the Maui Kingdom of Kalanikupule in 1795 and acquiring the Kaua‘i Kingdom from Kaumuali‘i in 1810, the leadership of Chiefs increased due to the acquisition of additional islands of his expanded domain. These Chiefs extended from Kamehameha’s Chiefs, while the Kamehameha Dynasty extended from the children of Keōpūolani and not from the other 17 wives who had children. The decision of which wife’s children were to be the heirs to the throne was not the decision for Kamehameha I to make on his own. It had to be sanctioned by his Council of Chiefs. Without the support of his Chiefs, Kamehameha’s kingdom would be fractured after his death.
As Kuykendal wrote, “The desertion of Kaʻiana [in 1795], the revolt of Nāmākēhā [in 1796], and Kaumuialiʻi’s dalliance with the Russians [in 1817] were overt acts showing clearly how unwillingly some of the chiefs submitted to his authority.” The Russian explorer, Lieutenant Otto von Kotzebue, who arrived in the islands in 1816 and 1817, was made aware of Kamehameha’s concerns of the longevity of his kingdom. In his 1821 book, Voyage of Discovery, Kotzebue states of a proposed division of the kingdom with Kalanimoku having O‘ahu, Ke‘eaumoku having Maui, Kaumuali‘i retaining Kaua‘i, and Liholiho, Kamehameha’s heir, having Hawai‘i island. Kamehameha took the necessary steps to prevent such breakup from happening. According to Kamakau, Kamehameha sought to strengthen the British alliance because he believed the British supported his dynasty. He was correct.
On May 18, 1824, Kamehameha II arrived in London with the Hawaiian royal retinue that included Mataio Kekūanāo‘a husband to Kamehameha II’s sister, Kīnaʻu. Before the King could meet with King George IV he and his wife Queen Kalama died of measles. High Chief Boki was the highest ranking Chief and he and the royal retinue met with King George IV. According Kekuanao‘a:
The King then asked Boki what was the business on which you and your King came to this country?
Then Boki declared to him the reason of our sailing to Great Britain We have come to confirm the words which Kamehameha I gave in charge to Vancouver thus—“Go back and tell King George to watch over me and my whole Kingdom. I acknowledge him as my landlord and myself as tenant (or him as superior and I inferior). Should the foreigners of any other nation come to take possesion of my lands, then let him help me.”
And when King George had heard he thus said to Boki, “I have heard these words, I will attend to the evils from without. The evils within your Kingdom it is not for me to regard; they are with yourselves. Return and say to the King, to Kaahumanu and to Kalaimoku, I will watch over your country, I will not take possession of it for mine, but I will watch over it, lest evils should come from others to the Kingdom. I therefore will watch over him agreeably to those ancient words.”
Kamehameha II’s body arrived in Lahaina on May 4, 1825. After the funeral and time of mourning had passed, the Council of Chiefs met on June 6, 1824, in Honolulu with Lord Byron and the British Consul. It was confirmed that Liholiho’s brother, Kauikeaouli, was to be Kamehameha III, but since he was only eleven years old, Ka‘ahumanu would continue to serve as Regent and Kalanimōkū as Premier. Kalanimōkū addressed the Council “setting forth the defects of many of their laws and customs, particularly the reversion of lands” to a new King for redistribution and assignment. The chiefs collectively agreed to forgo this ancient custom, and the lands were maintained in the hands of the original tenants in chief and their successors, subject to reversion only in times of treason. Lord Byron was invited to address the Council, and without violating his specific orders of non-intervention in the political affairs of the kingdom, he prepared eight recommendations on paper and presented it to the chiefs for their consideration.
1. That the king be head of the people.
2. That all the chiefs swear allegiance.
3. That the lands descend in hereditary succession.
4. That taxes be established to support the king.
5. That no man’s life be taken except by consent of the king or regent and twelve chiefs.
6. That the king or regent grant pardons at all times.
7. That all the people be free and not bound to one chief.
8. That a port duty be laid on all foreign vessels.
Lord Byron introduced the fundamental principles of British governance to the chiefs and set them on a course of national consolidation and uniformity. His suggestions referred “to the form of government, and the respective and relative rights of the king, chiefs, and people, and to the tenure of lands,” but not to a uniform code of laws. Since the death of Kamehameha in 1819, the Hawaiian Kingdom, as a feudal autocracy, had no uniform system of laws systematically applied throughout the islands. Rather it fell on each of the tenants in chief and their designated vassals to be both lawmaker and arbiter over their own particular tenants living on the granted lands from the King.
When the Hawaiian Kingdom was transformed into a constitutional monarchy, written laws became the legal foundation for the kingdom. Confirming that only the children of Keōpūolani were the heirs to the Throne, the 1840 Constitution stated:
The origin of the present government, and system of polity, is as follows: KAMEHAMEHA I, was the founder of the kingdom, and to him belonged all the land from one end of the Islands to the other, though it was not his own private property. It belonged to the chiefs and people in common, of whom Kamehameha I was the head, and had the management of the landed property. Wherefore, there was not formerly, and is not now any person who could or can convey away the smallest portion of land without consent of the one who had, or has the direction of the kingdom.
These are the persons who have had the direction of it from that time down, Kamehameha II, Kaahumanu I, and at the present time Kamehameha III. These persons have had the direction of the kingdom down to the present time, and all documents written by them, and no others are the documents of the kingdom.
The kingdom is permanently confirmed to Kamehameha III, and his heirs, and his heir shall be the person whom he and the chiefs shall appoint, during his life time, but should there be no appointment, then the decision shall rest with the chiefs and house of Representatives.
In the 1852 Constitution, Article 25 states:
The crown is hereby permanently confirmed to His Majesty Kamehameha III during his life, and to his successor. The successor shall be the person whom the King and the House of Nobles shall appoint and publicly proclaim as such, during the King’s life; but should there be no such appointment and proclamation, then the successor shall be chosen by the House of Nobles and the House of Representatives in joint ballot.
In the 1864 Constitution, Article 22 states:
The Crown is hereby permanently confirmed to His Majesty Kamehameha V, and to the Heirs of His body lawfully begotten, and to their lawful Descendants in a direct line; failing whom, the Crown shall descend to Her Royal Highness the Princess Victoria Kamamalu Kaahumanu, and their heirs of her body, lawfully begotten, and their lawful descendants in a direct line. The Succession shall be to the senior male child, and to the heirs of his body; failing a male child, the succession shall be to the senior female child, and the heirs of her body. In case there is no heir as above provided, then the successor shall be the person whom the Sovereign shall appoint with the consent of the Nobles, and publicly proclaim as such during the King’s life; but should there be no appointment and proclamation, and the Throne should become vacant, then the Cabinet Council, immediately after the occurring of such vacancy, shall cause a meeting of the Legislative Assembly, who shall elect by ballot some native Aliʻi of the Kingdom as Successor to the Throne; and the Successor so elected shall become a new Stirps for a Royal Family; and the succession from the Sovereign thus elected, shall be regulated by the same law as the present Royal Family.
According to this constitutional provision, the Kamehameha Dynasty would continue if Kamehameha V had “Heirs of His body lawfully begotten.” The term “lawfully begotten” is a child born in wedlock. A child born out of wedlock was called a bastard child. Kamehameha was not married, and he had no children. In that case, his sister Princess Victoria Kamamalu Kaahumanu would be the successor to the Throne should Kamehameha V not “appoint [a successor to the throne] with the consent of the Nobles, and publicly proclaim as such during the King’s life.” She never married before her death on May 29, 1866, leaving the successor to the Throne to be decided by Kamehameha V. The are some who claim that the Princess had a child. Whether this is true or not, it does not matter because the Constitution states that a child shall be “lawfully begotten,” which can only happen if the child is born in wedlock. The Princess was never married.
When Kamehameha V died on December 11, 1872, he did not appoint a successor and receive confirmation by the Nobles. This was precisely why the Cabinet of Kamehameha V, serving as a Council of Regency, stated to the Legislative Assembly on January 8, 1873, when it was convened in extraordinary session to elect a successor to the throne:
His Majesty left no Heirs.
Her late Royal Highness the Princess Victoria Kamamalu Kaahumanu, to whom in the event of the death of His late Majesty without heirs, the Constitution declared that the Throne should descend, died, also without heirs, on the twenty-ninth day of May, in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-six.
His late Majesty did not appoint any successor in the mode set forth in the Constitution, with the consent of the Nobles or make a Proclamation thereof during his life. There having been no such appointment or Proclamation, the Throne became vacant, and the Cabinet Council immediately thereupon considered the form of the Constitution in such case made and provided.
There is no doubt that there are descendants of Kamehameha I from his 17 wives, other than Keōpūolani. Ahlo, Johnson and Walkerʻs book Kamehameha’s Children Today reveals that. There is no dispute.
These descendants, however, which include Ahlo, Johnson and Walker, are not a part of the Kamehameha Dynasty that headed the government from 1791, after the death of High Chief Keōua, until the death of Kamehameha V in 1872. Those children and grandchildren that headed the Hawaiian government as an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy were Kamehameha II, Kamehameha III, Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. The Kamehameha Dynasty was succeeded by the Lunalilo Dynasty in 1873, and the Kalākaua Dynasty replaced the Lunalilo Dynasty in 1874. In 1922, the Kalākaua Dynasty ended with the passing of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole.
The Lunalilo and Kalākaua Dynasties descended from Kamehameha Iʻs Chiefs, which are part of the nobility class of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The genealogies published throughout 1896 in the Maka‘anana newspapers reveal the families of the nobility class. To access these genealogies go to The Three Estates of the Hawaiian Kingdom.