A little known fact about Queen Victoria is set to be revealed this Christmas – that the monarch adopted a tenth child from Nigeria.
The amazing tale is told in the Christmas special of ITV drama Victoria, which shows how the Queen took on orphan Sarah Forbes Bonetta.
Aged just five, the little girl was a princess from the Yoruba royal family, before her parents were brutally killed during a military raid.
After their death, Sarah was captured by the king of a rival state in 1848, but incredibly, was rescued by a British naval officer.
Brit Frederick Forbes of the Royal Navy was visiting the kingdom of Dahomey, and persuaded the King to hand Sarah over to him so he could give her to Queen Victoria as a gift.
Sarah’s great-great grandson Arnold Awoonor-Gordon only learnt of his relative’s unconventional upbringing when he decided to look into his great-gran’s story’s of a family member saved from the slave trade and sent to live in Buckingham Palace.
The 84-year-old said: “For an African slave to be taken on by the British royal family in the 19th century is remarkable.
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“Sarah grew up with the queen’s children around her and was treated just like a member of the queen’s own family.
“Queen Victoria was very kind to her, and it was a relationship that was really ahead of its time.”
After a year in England, Sarah was sent to Sierra Leone for her education, before being summoned back to England, where she was a regular visitor to Windsor Castle.
In the ITV special, Albert is seen persuading the queen that Sarah isn’t happy at the palace, and she instead lives with a family in Kent.
The queen continued her mother-like relationship with Sarah though, even giving the young girl a regular allowance.
Touchingly, Sarah named her first child Victoria, after her regal benefactor – who agreed to become the baby’s godmother.
Whilst the queen’s relationship with an African slave might seem unlikely given the era, show creator Daisy Goodwin echoes Arnold’s belief that the relationship was ahead of its time.
Daisy said: “Victoria didn’t have prejudices at all and I think she saw people as her subjects, and didn’t discriminate between them.
“It’s quite unexpected, but it’s true. She was surprisingly broad-minded and modern, which made her more attractive to write about.”
Tragically, Sarah died aged only 37, after suffering throughout her life with ill health.
Upon hearing of Sarah’s death, the queen wrote in her diary: ‘Saw poor Victoria Davies, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother.’
Arnold, who lives in Kent, added that Queen Victoria continued to pay for her god-daughter’s education after Sarah’s death.
“She continued to help the family and have an influence on them.”
The Victoria special airs on Christmas Day at 9pm on ITV.