Eldest son of Kamehameha I and Keopuolani, Kamehameha II shared his rule with Ka`ahumanu, appointed kuhina nui (regent) by his father. Under the influence of Ka`ahumanu and his mother, Kamehameha II discredited the gods, overturned the ancient kapu system in 1819
and ordered the destruction of temples and images. Less than a year after overturning the kapu, Protestant missionaries arrived from New England and gradually established a foothold for Christianity. Continuing sandalwood trade brought new profits to chiefs but began to destroy the Islands' ecosystem and disrupt a subsistence agricultural lifestyle. During Kamehameha II's reign, a nascent whaling industry also established itself in the Islands.
Called `Ai Noa (Free Eating), Liholiho and his court broke the ancient kapu when chiefs and chiefesses shared a common meal at the urging of both his mother, Keopuolani and Ka`ahumanu. Prior to this, men and women had been strictly forbidden from eating together, and in addition many foods were forbidden to women. By flaunting the laws so publicly, Liholiho's challenge to the gods could not be ignored.
Kamehameha II had five wives and dowager queens, his half-sister Kamamalu being his favorite. In 1824
, he and Kamamalu set off for England to gain knowledge of the world and establish stronger ties with England for Hawaii's protection. Hosted in London by the British Foreign Office, the royal group attended receptions and theater events but the king and queen fell ill before they could meet with George IV. The royal entourage caught measles, a disease unknown to them and for which they had no natural immunity. Kamamalu contracted pneumonia as well and died July 8; Kamehameha II died a few days later on July 14th. Half the group recovered and Boki, the ranking chief among the survivors, met with the English king before they returned to Hawai`i in May 1825 with the gilded royal coffins.