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At Her Majesty's Request: An African…

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess In Victorian England

by Walter Dean Myers

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My nine-year-old daughter and I read this together and very much enjoyed this story of a young girl orphaned in tribal violence and then, essentially, gifted to England's Queen Victoria. I think we were both drawn to the narrative of a child traveling without family to a foreign land and then trying to find a home there.

I appreciated that Myers included excerpts from the primary sources that he used, not only because they help my daughter see how to weave material from primary documents into a narrative but also because I enjoy hearing the story in the words of those who lived it. As Myers mentions in the epilogue, there are many questions left unanswered about Sarah Forbes Bonetta's life, particularly how she felt and what she thought about her circumstances. We can make guesses from her letters to loved ones, but throughout the book, I wondered about the woman behind those words.

Reading about Sarah Forbes Bonetta reminded me of how I felt when I learned about Native Americans who had been taken to England in the 17th century, either as captives or as curiosities. Much as I wonder what it was like in England for Squanto or Pocahontas, I wonder how Sarah Forbes Bonetta experienced England. She lived her life among the English and made her home primarily in England, but did she feel accepted in English society? Did she feel at home? Her choices seemed limited, but were they more limited than the choices any woman in Victorian England would have had?

This book exposed my daughter and me to a different side of England in the 19th century, and we enjoyed it despite (or maybe because of) the unanswered questions. It prompted discussion not only about the historical and cultural context of Bonetta's life, but also about what makes a family and what makes a place "home." ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jan 25, 2015 |
This is a very interesting tale based on the true story of an English captain who rescued an African princess from sure death via sacrifice by a brutal African King of Dahome. Attacking and killing members of villages, the King of Dahome, kept some members, bringing them back to Dahome to hold in pens until his ritual of sacrifice was held.

When Captain Frederick Forbes is meeting with the King, he is told that a sacrificial ceremony is about to occur. Watching in horror, he notes a small five year old girl about to be killed. Asking the King to give the girl to him as a present for Queen Victoria, he then rescues the girl, bringing her back to England, naming her Sarah Forbes Bonetta.

The Queen is smitten with Sarah and from then on provides funding for her upkeep. Frequent visits to the palace set Sarah apart from others and she is held in great esteem.

Befriended by Queen Victoria's children, Sarah forms a bond that lasts a lifetime. Sharp, sensitive and very intelligent, Sarah adapts to her life and, while she dies at a young time in her life, she marries, has two children and is forever grateful to her rescuer. ( )
1 vote Whisper1 | May 28, 2014 |
This was a very interesting historical book. Just a different history story than is usually told. This would be good for a book report or historical project for perhaps a middle school student or even high school. The author does a good job of telling fact, but keeping it interesting.
  ediekm1990 | May 12, 2014 |
At Her Majesty’s Request: This a rather dense book that covers in great detail the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, her capture and travels. I think this book would be good to pair with a Pocahontas story that students may be more familiar with. It may help them to understand the material, but I believe this is a great resource and story for students to learn about.
  pyattlori | Dec 7, 2013 |
This is a very unusual and relatively unknown but important piece of history that takes place just after the ending of slavery. A girl in an African country, Dahomey (now Benin), about to be sacrificed in a ceremony is seen by the English army officer, Captain Frederick Forbes who is attending the event. When the King points out that the girl in the cage is actually a princess, the Captain is horrified and said he didn't think that Queen Victoria would approve of that at all. The King then gives the princess to the Queen, "This Black King gives your White Queen this African Princess".

On return to England, the Captain takes her to Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria gave her the name of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, placed her with a middle-class family and took a close interest in her for the rest of her life, including inviting her to the palace regularly to play with her children and later becoming godmother to her child, Vicky.

The author, Walter Dean Myers who primarily specialises in African-American Young Adult literature - and has won every major prize in this category - also writes in the genre of biography, history and poetry was in an antiques shop in London when he discovered a letter and the photographs with which this book is illustrated and followed up on the story. It is fascinating from many points of view, not least the fact that no one seems to be racist. As its written by a black man, I presume that he isn't putting a contemporary gloss on the non-racist attitudes of all the people she met and grew up with but that in the UK at that time, racism was not a common sentiment.

For more about Africans in the UK before and during Victorian times, see http://www.blackhistorymonthuk.co.uk/features/black_victorians.html

Edit: 19 Jan 2013 because I had a factual error pointed out.
( )
  Petra.Xs | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0590486705, Paperback)

Once there was a little girl--an orphaned African princess--who narrowly escaped death by human sacrifice in a West African village in 1850. A British sea captain named Frederick E. Forbes saved her life by talking King Gezo of Dahomey into giving the girl to Queen Victoria of England as a gift: "She would be a present from the King of the blacks to the Queen of the Whites." As impossible as this tale sounds, it is a true one. Award-winning author Walter Dean Myers--piecing together her story from letters he found in a rare book and ephemera shop in London--paints a hauntingly detached portrait of the small African princess whom the heroic captain named Sarah Forbes Bonetta.

We follow her charmed but unlucky life as the Queen's protégée through a succession of British middle-class households, beginning with the Forbes home. Because of her celebrated association and frequent visits with the Queen, Sarah grows up in an unusual position of privilege, education, and celebrity. On the flip side, she is keenly aware that her decisions are not her own, and as a rescued orphan under the Queen's protection, her life's path is dictated by those acting in what they perceive to be her best interests. It is hard not to feel that it was cruel of her protectors to wrench her (more than once in her life) from the adopted family she adores, and eventually to encourage her to marry a West African businessman whom she clearly stated she could never love, and who would take her away from her adopted country. As the epilogue states, "She was both unfortunate in her losses, and fortunate that those losses were not greater.... She seemed to find a measure of comfort wherever she was, but was destined to be apart from the world in which she lived." This story, rich with historic prints, photographs, newspaper clippings, excerpts from Queen Victoria's diary, and Sarah's letters, is both fascinating and tragic. We have Myers to thank for rescuing this fine woman again--this time from the forgotten shelf of a London bookstore. (Ages 11 and older)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:10 -0400)

Biography of the African princess saved from execution and taken to England where Queen Victoria oversaw her upbringing and where she lived for a time before marrying an African missionary.

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