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The Poignant Story of Ranavalona III, the Last Queen of Madagascar

It began with a fabulous 19th-century dress and a box of jumbled photographs cleared out of a Guildford attic before a move to the country. Ranavalona’s remarkable life of can be revealed thanks to the auction this week of personal effects unearthed by a descendent of Clara Herbert, who worked for the Madagascan royal family from the 1890s to the 1920s. Herbert was the paid companion to a queen whose adventures were the stuff of fiction. Widowed at 22, she was made to marry an elderly prime minister, dethroned after a French invasion and exiled to Algiers, never to return. The auctioneer Kerry Taylor has pieced together Ranavalona’s story from the box of photographs, postcards, souvenirs, receipts and diaries that she is selling on Tuesday. Taylor said it was incredibly rare to find high fashion from the 19th century worn by black women, “and even more rare to find such a wealth of documents, photographs and ephemera to augment our understanding of them”. Taylor has an estimate of £1,000-1,500 on the archive, but she admits the figure is a stab in the dark.