Queen Emma and Queen Victoria

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

The relationship between Queen Emma and Queen Victoria in fact mirrored the complicated race and class relations in Victorian England where Queen Victoria saw Queen Emma as a royal therefore deserving of respect by virtue of her class but subordinate because of her race. Hawaiian writers tend to use the positive diary entries of Queen Victoria on Queen Emmaʻs visit to England as proof of a friendship (i.e. Queen Victoria remarking on how English Queen Emma was). But that also ignores the negative diary entries of Queen Victoria where Queen Victoria called Queen Emma “that Black Queen” and where Queen Victoria purposely planned the visit at Windsor Castle rather than Buckingham Palace. A problem with Hawaiian scholarship, indeed American scholarship in the last 80 years, has omitting contrary research or selective history writing. Queen Emma on the other hand, while admiring Queen Victoria for being a woman at the head of an empire also strongly disliked British actions in the Pacific specifically the the New Zealand Wars. Although Queen Emma was taught all the manners of a proper aristocrat English woman, the Queen never forgot who her ancestors were and her sympathies always laid with her own people and with other Pacific peoples. She has concerns about French and British colonialism in the Pacific and corresponded with Malay and Indian princes.

Much is also said about Queen Emmaʻs beauty. Photos do not do justice to her. Many foreign ambassadors commented on her charisma and her beauty. Shinmi Masaoki, a member of the first Japanese embassy to the United States, wrote poems about her. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was also an admirer of Queen Emma and in many ways the two women were similar. Both were remarked as great beauties but they both were sharp. Queen Emma was also intellectually curious and had a quick wit. She was an avid writer and subscribed to a large variety of British, French and Hawaiian publications. She understood world events and was also a patron of culture and the arts. She supported the Niʻihau mat industry and encouraged women to write, paint and to gain professions. She was equally comfortable having high tea as well as eating fish and poi in her grass hale. During her visit to England, she complained about the pains of not having fresh fish and good poi.

Queen Emma was also the personal choice of King Kamehameha V and perhaps of King Lunalilo as their successors. But King Kamehameha V felt that Queen Emma having already suffered so much would suffer more if given the Throne and thus he offered the Throne to Princess Bernice Pauahi. In 1874, Queen Emma ran against Colonel David Kalākaua and that election split the loyalties of Hawaiian aliʻi. That campaign was particularly nasty and show some of the ugliness of not just electoral contests but within the Hawaiian community. Some in the Hawaiian community did not want Queen Emma because she was a woman and she was not “pure” Hawaiian. Some said she was “too haole” or “too pro-British”. Allegations were laid about her elitism and favouritism at court. Queen Emma supporters threw mud also at Kalākaua and his wife, Kapiʻolani. Overall, it was a nasty election and it broke Queen Emmaʻs spirit for time and she remained outside of political life for most of the reminder of her life.

But she still a formidable woman. When the Church of England tried to place the Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church (as the Anglican Church was then called in Hawaiʻi) under the Episcopal Church of the US, she threatened to take back her lands and funds before seeing an American bishop set foot at St. Andrewʻs. The Queen had experienced sexism and racism while on her visit to the United States (including by the US president himself) and had come to see the United States as a hypocrite to its own pronounced democratic claims. She was the first Hawaiian royal to visit a Native American reservation directly so she understood the conditions there and feared that the US would try to take over Hawaiʻi and force Hawaiians into those same conditions. When talk of annexation became loud in 1881, Queen Emma stepped out of private life and was vocal in opposition to any sort of annexation to the United States saying that such talk made her “blood boil” and threatened to go to the UK and France to gain support against the annexation. The Queen also raised the possibility of an electoral boycott or running as a legislator herself if annexation was made a real possibility. Although her parentage was Anglo-Hawaiian, her heart solely was Hawaiian. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: