The archive relating to Queen Ranavalona III (1861- 1917) and her aunt, Princess Ramisindrazana, came from the family of Clara Herbert (b.1871), a devout protestant of Irish descent who became a paid companion to the ladies from the 1890s and stayed with the family until 1924.
Auctioneer Kerry Taylor was presented with the personal items after a descendant of Herbert found them in the loft in their house in Guildford, Surrey, when they were moving home. Taylor said: “This has been one of the most fascinating research projects of my career – sorting through the numerous documents and photographs, handling the princess’ opulent embroidered Malagasy court gown and following these brave women through the trials of their lives.”
During Herbert’s time with the family, Madagascar was invaded by France and its monarchy was deposed. In September 1895, Ranavalona was forced to surrender Madagascar’s capital , Tananarive, to the French. While initially retained as a figurehead, in 1897 she was exiled to the island of Réunion to prevent rebels from rallying to her cause. She later moved to Algiers and although barred from returning to her homeland, she led a comfortable life and even visited France. She died in 1917 aged 55.
On December 8 the items were sold for £43,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium), well above the estimate of £1000- 1500. The purchase was funded by the Anglo-Malagasy Society.
The president of the Republic of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, was on the phone authorising the bidding. Taylor added: “I shouldn’t be biased but I have never been more glad to bring the gavel down for them. There was fierce bidding via the other phones and the internet.”
Rajoelina said: “Madagascar attaches great importance to the acquisition of these royal items as part of the re-appropriation of Malagasy national history and cultural heritage.
“They will be installed in the newly reopened, restored Queen’s Palace where they will be displayed to the general public, alongside the Royal Dais of Queen Ranavalona III, recently returned to us from France.”
A spokesperson for the Anglo-Malagasy Society said: “It is wonderful to be able to bring to life the story of Miss Clara Herbert and highlight the long history of friendship between British and Malagasy people.”