Kamehameha II was the second king of the Kingdom of Hawaii. His birth name was Liholiho and full name was Kalaninui kua Liholiho i ke kapu ʻIolani. It was lengthened to Kalani Kaleiʻaimoku o Kaiwikapu o Laʻamea i Kauikawekiu Ahilapalapa Kealiʻi Kauinamoku o Kahekili Kalaninui i Mamao ʻIolani i Ka Liholiho when he took the throne.
He was born circa 1797 in Hilo, on the island of Hawaiʻi, the first born son of Kamehameha I with his highest-ranking wife Keōpuolani. It was originally planned that he would be born at the Kūkaniloko birth site on the island of Oʻahu but the Queen's sickness prevented travel.
Liholiho officially inherited the throne upon Kamehameha I's death in May 1819. However, Queen Kaʻahumanu had no intention to give him actual leadership. When Liholiho sailed toward the shores of Kailua-Kona (the capital at the time), she greeted him wearing Kamehameha's royal red cape, and she announced to the people on shore and to the surprised Liholiho, "We two shall rule the land." Liholiho, young and inexperienced, had no other choice. Kaʻahumanu became the first Kuhina Nui (co-regent) of Hawaii. He was forced to take on merely a ceremonial role; administrative power was to be vested in Kaʻahumanu. He took the title "King Kamehameha II", but preferred to be called ʻIolani, which means "heavenly (or royal) hawk".
Kamehameha II is best remembered for the 'Ai Noa, the breaking of the ancient kapu (taboo) system of religious laws six months into his reign when he sat down with Kaʻahumanu and his mother Keopuolani and ate a meal together. What followed was the disbanding of the social class of priest and the destruction of temples and images.
Kamehameha I had bequeathed his war god Kūkaʻilimoku and his temples to his cousin Kekuaokalani. Kekuaokalani demanded that Liholiho withdraw his edicts against the Hawaiian priesthood, permit rebuilding of the temples, and dismiss both Kalanimōkū and Kaʻahumanu. Kamehameha II refused. At the battle of Kuamoʻo on the island of Hawaiʻi, the king's better-armed forces, led by Kalanimōkū, defeated the last defenders of the Hawaiian gods, temples, and priesthoods of the ancient organized religion. The first Christian missionaries arrived only a few months later in the Hawaiian Islands.
He never officially converted to Christianity because he refused to give up four of his five wives and his love of alcohol. He (like his father) married several relatives of high rank, but he was the last Hawaiian king to practice polygamy. His favorite wife was his half-sister Kamāmalu. Kīnaʻu (Kamāmalu's full-blood sister) was his second wife who would later remarry and become Kuhina Nui. Princess Kalani Pauahi was his niece by his half-brother Pauli Kaōleiokū. She later remarried and gave birth to Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani. Kekāuluohi was half-sister of Kamāmalu and Kīnaʻu through their mother Kaheiheimālie who was another of his father's wives. Princess Kekauʻōnohi was Liholiho's niece and granddaughter of Kamehameha I, and would later become royal governor of the islands of Maui and Kauaʻi.