Hawaiian Royal Hats Part III: Bayonet Constitution and Illegal Overthrow

We continue with the third installment of a series on Hawaiian royal hats today by longtime reader Jake Short. You can find Jake on Instagram or Twitter @bestdressedmenno and can link back to any of his previous guests posts at the bottom. Thanks, Jake for this fascinating series!

Bayonet Constitution

While Queen Kapi‘olani and sister Princess Lili‘uokalani were in Europe attending Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, King Kalākaua faced more dire circumstances. The Hawaiian League (a secret society that formed in early 1887 with the purpose of annexing Hawaii to the United States) and American businessmen controlled a vast majority of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s wealth at the time. On  June 30, 1887, the Honolulu Rifles (white soldiers who had become the secret military arm of the Hawaiian League) and Reformed Party politicians joined forces, demanding that King Kalākaua dismiss his loyal Cabinet and endorse a new constitution stripping him of his personal authority and transferring power to the legislature and cabinet of the government.


Pre-1874 portrait of King Kalākaua

King Kalākaua found himself with no choice but to comply with these demands. Within a week, a new constitution was drafted by lawyers all associated with the Hawaiian League. The king signed it on July 6, 1887 under duress (multiple sources suggest he genuinely believed his life was in danger if he did not) but it was never ratified in the Hawaiian legislature. Because of the force used to gain Kalākaua’s cooperation, it became widely known as the “Bayonet Constitution.”

The Bayonet Constitution allowed the Hawaiian monarch to appoint a cabinet but placed that cabinet under the sole authority of the legislature. It also required any executive actions of the monarch receive cabinet approval. Voting rights were denied to naturalized Asians and vastly restricted for many native Hawaiians, leaving power in the hands of American and European men, most of whom were already profiting greatly from their business interests on the island kingdom.

Illegal Overthrow

In late 1890, King Kalākaua traveled to California, officially for health reasons but possibly also for further political negotiations with the United States. 

Already unwell, he died on January 20 ,1891 and his sister Lili‘uokalani succeeded him as Hawai‘i’s first Queen Regnant. Queen Lili‘uokalani is among the most photographed hatted Hawaiian royals.

In the first year of her reign she toured all the islands in the Kingdom. During a visit to Waimānalo on O‘ahu, she and her retinue wore a variation of the feminine boater popular at the end of the Victorian era.

In an undated photograph, she wears a beautiful pleated fabric hat with ostrich feather trim. 

A learned intellectual and effective governmental leader, Lili‘uokalani was also a composer of at least 165 songs, the most famous being “Aloha ‘Oe”. You can listen to it here

In early 1893, Queen Lili‘uokalani tried to overrule the Bayonet Constitution with the introduction of a new constitution that would restore the power of the monarchy and voting rights of the economically disenfranchised. Threatened by this, the pro-American Western elites, bolstered by the landing of US Marines to protect American interests, overthrew the monarchy on January 17,1893.

Despite U.S. President Cleveland’s administration’s conclusion that the overthrow was illegal and condemnation of the use of U.S. troops in the takeover, the Republic of Hawai‘i was declared on July 4, 1894. Six months later, a rebellion was launched with the aim of restoring the queen and the monarchy. Its failure led to the arrest of many of the participants and monarchist sympathizers, including the queen herself. Imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom at Iolani Palace, she creatively broke through the embargo of political information around her by requesting daily hula performances. She was granted this seemingly innocent request, her captors oblivious to the updates and information conveyed to her each day through the dance! 

On January 24, 1895 Queen Liliʻuokalani abdicated her throne in return for the release (and commutation of the death sentences) of her jailed supporters, officially ending the deposed monarchy. The Hawaiian League met their ultimate goal in 1898 when the republic was annexed by the U.S.;  the territory became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.

In the years after her overthrow, Queen Lili‘uokalani dressed like most of her contemporaries in the late Victoria and Edwardian fashions of the day.  

Embed from Getty Images

King Kalākaua’s order of succession decreed Lili‘uokalani’s successor was to be his niece, Princess Victoria Ka‘iulani.

Ka‘iulani traveled to the U.K. in 1889 at age 13 to pursue a British education in the hopes it would better prepare her to become queen. During her studies abroad, news of her aunt’s deposition arrived and Crown Princess Ka‘iulani traveled to the U.S. to draw support of her Kingdom’s independence. Her education, articulation, and fashionable appearance endeared her to many despite the heavily racist attitudes of the time.

Her efforts were unfortunately in vain and she returned to Europe for a few more years of study before traveling home to Hawai‘i in 1897. As a way to help secure the line of succession for future generations,Queen Lili‘uokalani asked Princess Ka‘iulani to marry one of three men: Prince David Kawānanakoa, Prince Jonah Kūhiō, or Prince Komatsu Akihito (half-brother of Prince Higashifushimi Yorihito, who King Kalākaua tried to arrange a marriage with in 1881). Ka‘iulani chose Prince David Kawānanakoa but sadly, she died at age 23 in 1899 before they married.

Here is an excellent overview of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s life and reign (featuring lots of great Hawaiians hats!)

Thank you Jake, for another insightful installment in this series and this look at the very unfortunate end of this royal house. 

Jake returns next Wednesday with the fourth installment in this series. His previous guest posts at Royal Hats include: 

Hawaiian Royal Hats Part I   
Hawaiian Royal Hats Part II: World Tour and Golden Jubilee
Men’s Royal Hats
Royal Men’s Hats: Fedoras and Trilbys
Royal Men’s Hats: Caps and Berets
Royal Men’s Hats: Pork Pies, Hombergs, Boaters, Bowlers and the Rest
Recommend Hat Repeats for  Queen Elizabeth
Recommend Hat Repeats for Queen Máxima Part I and Part II
Recommend Hat Repeats for Queen Margrethe
Recommend Hat Repeats for Queen Mathilde

Images from Getty and social media as indicated; photo collection of Queen Liliuokalani

10 thoughts on “Hawaiian Royal Hats Part III: Bayonet Constitution and Illegal Overthrow

  1. I would have just glanced past the name of the translator of today’s poem from poem-a-day.com but for this post.

    Kumulipo

    Translated by Queen Liliʻuokalani
    Hawaiian creation chant

    At the time that turned the heat of the earth,
    At the time when the heavens turned and changed,
    At the time when the light of the sun was subdued
    To cause light to break forth,
    At the time of the night of Makalii (winter)
    Then began the slime which established the earth,
    The source of deepest darkness.
    Of the depth of darkness, of the depth of darkness,
    Of the darkness of the sun, in the depth of night,
    It is night,
    So was night born

  2. I’m glad everyone is enjoying this series. I tried to find as many hats as possible (this is Royal Hats after all!) in sources that could be embedded on here or could be easily linked to, but it was hard for many reasons; luckily we get to enjoy what we can see! Like I said in the beginning, it didn’t feel right showing off these hats without the historical context, especially since these stories are over 100 years old. And Queen Lili’uokalani is one of my favorite people in history, a woman who I believe would’ve been viewed as one of the great monarchs of history had she been allowed to reign in the way she saw fit.

    P.S. Princess Ka’iulani had multiple pet peacocks in Hawai’i, and an apocryphal story states at the moment of her death they all began to screech that could be heard miles away; others say the peacocks began to cry later that night when her body was being removed from the house. Either way, it is a tragic reminder of what happened to so many in Hawai’i, royal and not, during that time.

    P.P.S. Princess Ka’iulani’s surfboard is apparently still on display at the Bishop Museum.

  3. Thank you Jake for another fascinating look at the Hawaiian Royal Family. What a very sad and tragic end to their reign. You have done a wonderful job bringing their history to life, and, as such, I have a deeper appreciation of the Hawaiian people and culture.

  4. Jake, thanks again for the great lesson on the 50th state! Two things jumped at me:
    1. When King Kalakaua died in 1891 in San Francisco, how strange the announcement was from the doctor: “King Kalakaua….ceased to exist.”
    2. The tragedy (among so many others in your post) of the premature death at age 23 of the lovely Princess Victoria Kaiulana. Fortunately, you found a marvelous photo of her, holding her large brimmed hat in front of her home.
    Terrific job, Jake. (I wish I was as well dressed as you!)

  5. I was in elementary school in 1959 when Hawaii became a state, and I remember learning that it had previously been ruled by a monarchy, and even the name Queen Liliʻuokalani (with possibly a different spelling), but nothing of the way in which this royal house was treated or brought to an end. Thank you, Jake, for this fascinating and well researched history, and I look forward to the next installment!

  6. Thank you for the history lesson Jake, and with bonus hats thrown in too. I knew nothing about Hawaii, so this was fascinating.

  7. It’s absolutely enraging to look at the blatant injustices perpetrated in the lust for wealth and power. This post may not be exactly hat-centric, but I’m glad it’s here!

  8. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been to Hawaii a few times and never stopped to learn about this history. I read more about it today and how the Hawaiian people and royal family were treated was terrible. Thank you for this amazing series. If I ever go back to Honolulu I’m going to go to the royal palace for sure.

  9. Such elegance!

    While it is far from being the most elaborate hat, I love the hat worn by Princess Ka’iulani in the picture where she is wearing glasses. It has very much the air of a ‘modern young woman’.

    Thank you, as well, Jake, for teaching me about Hawaiian history. A fascinating story.

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