The Other Princess

Denny S Bryce

With a brilliant mind and a fierce will to survive, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a kidnapped African princess, is rescued from enslavement at seven years old and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift.”

To the Queen, the girl is an exotic trophy to be trotted out for the entertainment of the royal court and to showcase Victoria’s magnanimity. Sarah charms most of the people she meets, even those who would cast her aside. Her keen intelligence and her aptitude for languages and musical composition helps Sarah navigate the Victorian era as an outsider given insider privileges.

But embedded in Sarah’s past is her destiny. Haunted by visions of destruction and decapitations, she desperately seeks a place, a home she will never run from, never fear, a refuge from nightmares and memories of death.


The Other Princess tells the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an African orphan, who was presented to Queen Victoria as a gift in 1850 by King Ghezo of Dahomey who had captured her people. Although Sarah lived with the Forbes family, Queen Victoria took on the responsibility of overseeing her education and wellbeing. A year later, Sarah was sent to the Church Missionary Society school in Freetown, Sierra Leone as there were concerns over her health and it was felt she would benefit from a warmer climate. Sarah returned to England four years later and stayed with the Schoen family until she was sent to Brighton to prepare for her introduction into British society.

The fictionalised account of Sarah’s life starts out strongly as we are introduced to Aina, the seventh child of the King of Egbado who is soon captured by the Dahomey people after they slaughter her family in a surprise raid. Aina, who is five years old, survives for two years after being taken under the wing of another girl who helps her search for her older brother who may have survived. However, Aina has the markings of royalty on her face and she knows King Ghezo likes to sacrifice high ranking slaves and it looks like her time may have ran out. Aina is rescued by Captain Frederick Forbes who persuades the king the girl would make a good gift to Queen Victoria.

Aina is given the name Sarah Forbes Bonetta and taught how to speak English on the ship to England where she has to wait several months before she is presented to the Queen. On that first meeting, Sarah meets the Queen’s second daughter, Princess Alice, and they form a close friendship. Much to her delight, Sarah remains with the Forbes family but her happiness is short-lived when she is sent to Sierra Leone for the sake of her health. Sarah resents living at the missionary school as the Dahomey people are not that far away and she lives in fear of being recaptured. Sarah also maintains a distant relationship with the other girls at the school which is explained as a fear of forming an attachment.

Once Sarah leaves Africa, her personality changes a lot as she becomes fixated on the fact Queen Victoria is her benefactress and is frustrated if she is not shown proper deference as a princess. Sarah is seen to be in the company of the royal family a lot of the time and she contributes much of the racist comments to jealousy of her close relationship with them. I don’t know enough about Sarah’s time in England to know whether she did move about in the same social circles as the younger members of the royal family or whether she had a friendship with Princess Alice but she was invited to her wedding.

When Sarah returns to England to live with the Schoen family, she eventually falls in love with the eldest son but is distraught when she learns Queen Victoria has already decided she is to marry Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a wealthy Yoruba business man. Sarah refuses to marry him and is sent to Brighton as punishment by the Queen and only agrees to marry James if she is given a large and lavish wedding befitting her status. Once married, Sarah and James settle in Africa where the last few chapters rush through her life as a wife and mother. She does eventually learn to love her husband but there is precious little evidence of it before she succumbs to tuberculosis in 1880.

The Other Princess could have been so much better but its portrayal of Sarah is nothing more than a shallow young woman obsessed by her social standing in a society that she repeatedly claims won’t accept her. There is a lot of talk about the nasty comments in the newspapers but we are not really shown any of this which would have added some much needed depth. Instead we are offered a fabricated romance with the son of James Frederick Schön which sets up a conflict between Sarah and Queen Victoria. Exiled to Brighton, Sarah does nothing but whine about how unfairly she is being treated before caving in exchange for a big wedding.

Although she is determined she will never love her husband, Sarah nevertheless does her marital duty and gives birth to three children. Her eldest daughter, Victoria Matilda, was named after Queen Victoria who was also her godmother. Towards the end of the book, Victoria arrives in England to present the Queen with the diaries Sarah wrote over her lifetime but decides at the last minute to keep them as they are an important part of her mother’s legacy. Sadly, the final chapters are rushed through to such an extent, we don’t really get a glimpse of any such legacy.