Catherine of Braganca (1638 - 1705) Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Catherine of Braganca (1638 - 1705)

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Catherine of Bragança, princess of Portugal, was sent to England to marry the 'Merry Monarch,' King Charles II. Although unable to provide an heir to the throne, her contribution to English customs still remains in 'afternoon tea,' the drinking of port wine and tangerines.

Young Catherine

Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança was born on St Catherine's Day, 25 November, 1638, in Vila Vicosa, Alto Alentejo, Portugal. She was the daughter of Dom1 João, the eighth Duke of Bragança and his wife Dona Luísa de Gusmão - and the older sister of Dom Afonso and Dom Pedro.

At the time of her birth, Portugal was still under the rule of King Philip III of Spain, having lost its independence to Spain in 1580. Within 25 months, Portugal would finally liberate itself from 60 years of Spanish subjugation.

In 1635, the Spanish King had nominated the duchess of Mantua as his Vice-Queen in Lisbon. She lived in the Government Palace with her lover, Miguel de Vasconcelos, who executed the duties of Secretary of State. He had control of the entire government and was truly hated by the Portuguese people who considered him a traitor.

Daughter of the King

Catherine's father, Dom João, the Duke of Bragança, along with 40 revolutionaries, seized the Ribeira Palace on the morning of 1 December, 1640. They mortally wounded Miguel de Vasconcelos, throwing the dying man out the window. His body landed in the public plaza below where the crowd terminated his life while patriotically shouting: 'Liberty! Liberty! Long live King João IV!'

Dom João IV was proclaimed King of Portugal the same day. His rule was a tenuous one, as the only foreign countries who recognised him as King of Portugal were France and England, who were enemies of Spain at the time. The Pope, however, under the thumb of the Spaniards, did not, and other countries sided with His Holiness.

An Arranged Marriage

Two years after his acclamation, Dom João IV looked for foreign alliances, to reinforce the sovereignty and independence of Portugal. The ideal way to do this was to marry off his children to princes and princesses of the other European Royal families. Catherine, still a young child, had already been proposed as a bride for John of Austria, the natural son of Philip IV of Spain. Charles I of England had also made enquiries concerning her suitability for his son. Later she was offered as the bride for François de Vendome, Duc de Beaufort, the grandson of Henry IV.

None of these negotiations amounted to anything. Cardinal Mazarin then suggested his sovereign, Louis XIV of France. This seemed an excellent idea, as Portugal, Spain and France would have to make peace by diplomatic means. While João IV was alive, he was very active in pursuing this matter, even seeking out the French Ambassador, the Count of Cominges, when he was in Lisbon. However, Cardinal Mazarin reneged on the plan by dealing direct with Spain, and securing the Spanish princess Maria Teresa for his King.

When Catherine, the Infanta2 of Portugal, was 18, her father died. Her mother, Dona Luísa, became Queen Regent of Portugal since her brother, Afonso, was only 13 years old.

The Queen Regent immediately began new negotiations for the marriage of her daughter, choosing Charles II, King of England, who had recently been restored to his throne.

Charles II of England

Soon after the restoration, the subject of his majesty's marriage had been brought up by Charles's counsellors who hoped it would end his string of mistresses. Also, by bringing him heirs, it might establish him more firmly on the throne.

The King lent a willing ear to this advice, he just had to pick a bride to his taste and one of similar rank. King Louis of France had no sisters and Charles had found his nieces unsuitable during his exile abroad. Spain had two infantas, but one was married to the King of France and the other betrothed to the heir of the royal house of Austria. The German states had princesses in vast numbers, who awaited disposal; but Charles had declared them to be 'all dull and foggy.'

Catherine of Bragança, daughter of Dom João IV of Portugal, was unwedded and to her Charles ultimately addressed himself. Alliance with her commended itself to the English nation from the fact that the late King had previously started negotiations with Portugal concerning this same marriage. The memory of Charles I was now held in great esteem, so compliance was regarded as almost a sacred obligation.

The Portuguese ambassador assured Charles that the princess, due to her beauty, person and age, was most suited to him. He also reported that, while it was true she was a Catholic and would never change her faith; Catherine had been raised by a wise mother and would only wish to practise her religion alone, without interfering with that of others. Finally, he added that the princess would have a dowry befitting her high station, of no less a sum than £500,000 sterling in ready money.

Moreover, the Queen Regent of Portugal was ready to sign over and annex to the English crown the Island of Bombay in the Indies and the city and castle of Tangiers on the North African coast. Both places would be of great benefit to British commerce. But this wasn't all - Portugal was likewise willing to grant England sole free trade in any Portuguese port in Africa, India or the Americas, including trading privileges in Madeira. The only exception was Macao.

In view of this, his counsellors strongly supported the marriage. It was to be the largest dowry ever registered in world history.

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

On 8 May, 1661, his majesty, wearing the crown and robes of state, rode in great pomp to open Parliament, which he addressed from the throne. In the course of his speech, he announced his approaching marriage with the princess of Portugal.

A month later the marriage articles were signed; the new Queen being guaranteed the free exercise of her faith and the sum of £30,000 a year for life. Meanwhile the King was assured possession of her dowry, together with the territories and trade treaties promised.

Charles then sent the Portuguese ambassador to Catherine, in order to make arrangements for her journey into England.

The ambassador landed in Portugal, where he was received with much appreciation by the Queen Regent, but with much disgust on the part of the Portuguese people when they learnt that Tangiers and Bombay had been given away.

The Treaty of Windsor, once affirmed by the marriage of King João I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster, had been renewed by this contract nearly three hundred years later.

Collecting the Queen and dowry

Some time after 28 April, 1662, when the contract had been finalised, the English fleet arrived off Lisbon to collect their new Queen. The commander of the fleet was Edward Montagu, Lord Sandwich, who had been appointed Ambassador Extraordinary. Queen Catherine, accompanied by members of her court, attended solemn mass at the cathedral. Salutes of cannon, fanfares and music sounded out as the procession made its way to where the flagship, the Royal Charles, was anchored in the harbour. Finally the new Queen and her ladies-in-waiting boarded the Royal barge and were rowed out to the ship bound for England.

Lord Sandwich had taken possession of Tangiers prior to sailing into Lisbon and had also been instructed to collect the monetary dowry, but here there was a problem.

Gold was hard to come by and although great efforts had been made to collect the necessary sum, Spain had made war on Portugal and some of the ready money had been spent on defending the country. As a stop gap, the Queen Regent had provided sacks of sugar and spice3, together with jewels, in place of the money - but still this covered only half the amount.

Lord Sandwich could do no less than accept things as they stood and the Queen, with her court and retinue, set sail for England.

The rest of the dowry, in bullion, was taken secretly to London a year later.

The King's Mistress

Despite his imminent marriage to Catherine of Bragança, Charles still pursued his then-mistress, Barbara Palmer. His ministers had hoped that a suitable marriage would make him reform his ways; his courtiers concluded he had no intention of abandoning his mistress in favour of his wife. Barbara herself, dreading the loss of her royal lover and the healthy income he provided, conceived a scheme to guarantee close contact with him and the young Queen. She demanded he appoint her as one of the ladies of the bedchamber to her majesty, to which he, heedless of the insult this would deal to his wife, readily consented.

In order to qualify Barbara Palmer for such a position, it was necessary she should be raised to the peerage. This could only be accomplished by ennobling her husband, unless public decency be wholly ignored and she was created a peeress in her own right while he remained a commoner. After some faint show of hesitation, Roger Palmer accepted the honours thrust upon him by reason of his wife's infamy. On 11 December, 1661, he was created Earl of Castlemaine and Baron Limerick, in the peerage of Ireland, whereupon the royal favourite became a countess.

Queen Catherine Arrives

On the night of 13 May, 1662, joyful tidings reached London that the Royal Charles, accompanied by the fleet, was in sight off Portsmouth. At this news there was great rejoicing throughout the country with church bells ringing and bonfires blazing. But at the Countess of Castlemaine's house in London, where the King was at supper, there was no fire, though such signs of joy burned 'at all the rest of the doors almost in the streets, which was much observed.'

On the next day the fleet arrived in the harbour of Portsmouth. People gathered to receive the bride with all possible demonstrations of honour.

The nobility and gentry and multitudes of Londoners, in most rich apparel and in great numbers, waited on the shore for her landing; and the mayor and aldermen and principal persons of that corporation being in their gowns, and with a present and a speech ready to entertain her; the cannon and small shot, both from round that town and the whole fleet echoing to one another the loud proclamations of their joy.

These good people were, however, destined to disappointment. For though the bride was keen to get ashore, having been ill during the voyage, she was not allowed to leave the ship until the King arrived, in observance of court etiquette.

Charles was detained in London as he had to sign some important bills then passing in Parliament, so he did not arrive until six days later. He had, however, sent his brother, the Duke of York, then Lord High Admiral of England, to meet her at sea, and give her greeting in his name. Accordingly, the Duke had encountered the fleet at the Isle of Wight and gone on board the Queen's ship, where she received him in her cabin seated under a canopy on a chair of state. His royal highness expressed his joy at her arrival, presented 'his majesty's high respects and his exceeding affection for her', and paid her many compliments. He refrained from kissing her in greeting, as he believed the first person to so greet her should be her husband and, besides that, it was not a Portuguese custom at the time.

The Queen and her brother-in-law then held a conversation in Spanish, when James assured her of his affection and besought her to accept his services. When he rose to depart, the Queen advanced three paces with him, ignoring his protest against such courtesy. At this she smiled, and answered with much sweetness, 'She wished to do that out of affection, which she was not obliged to do.' This reply made a favourable impression on his mind. Probably at the express desire of the King, she eventually left the ship before his arrival, and was conveyed to his majesty's house at Portsmouth, where she was received by the Countess of Suffolk, first lady of the bedchamber, and four other ladies who had been appointed members of her household. One of her first requests to these was that she be dressed in a manner that would be most pleasing to the King.

At nine o'clock on the night of 19 May, his majesty left London and drove to Guildford, stopping for the night. In the morning he was up early and posted4 to Portsmouth, where he arrived at noon. The Queen, suffering from a slight fever, was still in bed: but the King, impatient to see his bride, sought admittance to her chamber. The poor princess evidently did not look her best; for his majesty told Colonel Legg he thought at first glance 'they had brought him a bat instead of a woman', for she was small of stature with dark hair.

Queen Catherine of England

The wedding ceremonies took place on 21 May.

The first was performed according to the rites of the Catholic Church, by the Rev Lord Aubigny, brother to the Duke of Richmond. It was held in the Queen's bedchamber since this apartment afforded the necessary privacy - (prejudice towards Catholicism was widespread at the time). Those present were the Duke of York, Philip (afterwards Cardinal Howard) and five witnesses from Portugual, all of whom were bound to the strictest secrecy.

Later in the day, Dr Sheldon, Bishop of London, married their majesties according to the form prescribed by the Church of England. The latter ceremony took place in Domus Dei, the Garrison Church5, Portsmouth. When Dr Sheldon had declared their majesties married, the Countess of Suffolk, according to a custom of the time, detached the ribbons from the bride's dress, cut them into pieces and distributed them among those present.

Feasting, balls, and diversions of all kinds followed the celebration of the royal nuptials and for a time the King was delighted with his bride. Four days after the marriage, he wrote to the Lord Chancellor in most cheerful tone:

My brother will tell you of all that passes here, which I hope will be to your satisfaction. I am sure 'tis so much to mine that I cannot easily tell you how happy I think myself, and must be the worst man living (which I hope I am not) if I be not a good husband. I am confident never two humours were better fitted together than ours are. We cannot stir from hence till Tuesday, by reason that there is not carts to be had to-morrow to transport all our GUARDE INFANTAS6, without which there is no stirring: so you are not to expect me till Thursday night at Hampton Court.


On 30 May, the Royal couple entered London, disembarking on a jetty which had been organised next to Hampton Court. The Queen mother and other court members awaited them, with much pomp and ceremony.

Double lines of soldiers, both mounted and on foot, lined the way from the gates to the entrance. In the great hall the Lord Chancellor, foreign ambassadors, judges and councillors of state awaited to pay homage to their majesties; while in various apartments were the nobility and men of quality with their ladies, ranged according to their rank - all eager to kiss the new Queen's hand.

For a while it seemed as if happiness was in store for the young Queen. Her love for her husband, her delight in his affection, her pride in his accomplishments, together with her simplicity, innocence and naivete, completely won his heart. The affection he bore his wife in the first weeks of their married life was due to the novelty he found in her society, together with the absence of temptation in the shape of his mistress.

Afternoon Tea and Oranges

Due to its contact with the courts of the Far East such as Japan, China and Macao, the Portuguese Court was, at that time, one of the most sophisticated in Europe. This Portuguese Queen of England was accompanied by her maids of honour and with them introduced the 'five o'clock tea' to the British Court. Queen Catherine also introduced the use of the fork in ceremonial banquets together with port and madeira wines. She also introduced tangerines, which she loved, to Great Britain. Tangerines, oranges and grapefruits originated in China and were brought to Lisbon by the Portuguese navigators. Tangerines are called mandarins in China, but Queen Catherine's mandarin plantations were located in Tangier. For this reason they were called tangerines instead of mandarins when the delicious fruits arrived in London.

Yet further, the word 'marmalade', which in English means a citrus preserve, became common. Marmelada is the Portuguese word derived from marmelo, quince, describing quince jelly. Hence the Queen's jam and oranges were combined to add a new word to the English language.

Honeymoon Over

Once settled in London, however, Queen Catherine began to recognise that her husband was not as she had expected; not serious and virtuous, but a libertine. Charles carried on his merry way and installed his mistress, Barbara Palmer, as a lady-in-waiting to his wife. This resulted in a grave discord between man and wife - Charles began to ignore Catherine's presence. In the library of the Ajuda Palace in Lisbon, the unhappy correspondence of this time between Catherine and her mother and brothers is still preserved.

Early in the month of June, while the court was still at Hampton, Lady Castlemaine, who had remained in town through supposed illness, gave birth to a second child. The infant was baptised Charles Palmer, adopted by the King as his own and titled as Duke of Southampton. This event seemed to renew all his majesty's tenderness towards Barbara Palmer. Wearied by the naivety of his wife, his weak nature yielded to the attraction of his mistress. He frequently left Hampton Court to ride to London, visit the countess, and fritter away a few hours. Not only was he heedless of the insult he dealt the Queen, but also of the scandal he gave the nation.

Catherine faced many hardships in the British Court, not only because of having to learn a new language, but also because of the many intrigues motivated by the disputes between Catholics and Anglicans. Catherine was pregnant four times, but they were all miscarriages and she provided no heirs to the throne.

When the Queen failed to produce an heir and it became clear that she was barren, there was much political intrigue in the hope that Charles II would divorce her and marry someone who could give him an heir. That the King was capable of doing so was evident from the number of children he had with his mistresses. Still, this merry monarch, much beloved by his people who viewed his amorous escapades with amusement, refused to discard his faithful and loyal wife, despite the fact that the public were not satisfied with her. She was criticised and reviled openly as a curious outsider.

Playing on the public's antipathy toward Catholics, the King's advisors, including the Duke of Buckingham, hatched a number of plots against Catherine, proposing to Parliament that the Queen should be beheaded at the Tower of London or banished to America, where she might fade into obscurity and die.

Fully aware of all his wife had put up with over the years and not unappreciative of her character and good nature, Charles defended her publicly in Parliament and stood by her, declaring himself a loyal husband true to his wife.

Ultimately, that indeed came to pass.

A Serious Illness

On Friday, 14 October, 1663, a fever took possession of the Queen. When the doctors were summoned, her head was shaven and pigeons placed at her feet. Her illness, however, rapidly increased and believing she was about to die, she made her will, put her affairs in order and received extreme unction. Upon this the King, mindful of many injuries he had done her, flung himself at the foot of her bed and burst into tears.

Trying to console him, Catherine told Charles she had no desire to live and no sorrow to die, save that caused by parting from him. She hoped he would soon wed a consort more worthy of his love than she had been; one who would contribute more to his happiness and the satisfaction of the nation than she had. Now they were about to part, she had two requests to make: that he would never separate his interests from those of the King her brother, or cease to protect her distressed nation and that her body might be sent back to Portugal and laid in the tomb of her ancestors. At this the King was so overcome by grief that he was obliged to be led from her room.

The court was saddened by her majesty's illness, for she had won the goodwill of all by her kindness and gentle manner. Trade became suddenly depressed. Crowds gathered by night and day outside the palace to learn her condition - many thinking her death inevitable, because the doctors had pronounced her recovery impossible.

On the night of the 19 October, a fierce storm raged over England and Samuel Pepys, woken by the roaring of mighty winds, turned to his wife and said: 'I pray God I hear not of the death of any great person, this wind is so high.' And fearing the Queen might have departed, he rose immediately, took a coach to the palace and made inquiries. She was still alive.

Catherine was now barely conscious though; and gave free voice to the secret sorrow that she had not borne children to the King. Had she given him heirs, she felt sure he would love her as well as he loved his mistresses and would feel as proud of her offspring as of those borne him by other women. Although she had proved capable of becoming a mother on more than one occasion, it pleased heaven to leave her childless. Therefore in her delirium, desires shaped themselves into realities, and she believed she had given birth to three children, two boys and a girl. This delusion continued through her illness so strongly that one morning when she was on her way to recovery, on waking suddenly and seeing the doctor bending over her, she exclaimed, 'How do the children?'


The British captured the city of New Amsterdam from the Dutch and immediately changed its name to New York City in honour of the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II. From that moment on, the two largest boroughs of the big city were called: King's and Queen's. Today the King's Borough is called Brooklyn, and the Queen's Borough is still called Queen's, after Queen Catherine.

Catherine is also commemorated in England by Braganza, the regimental march of The Queen's Regiment (the Second Regiment of Foot), formed in 1661 in her honour.

Meanwhile, back in Portugal, King Afonso, who could only have been in his twenties, lost his senses completely. He was deposed in 1667 and sent to an island in the Azores. Dom Pedro, his brother, took over the rule as Regent and immediately treated for peace with Spain. The King's marriage with Maria Francesca Isabel was cancelled, due to the deterioration of his mental health.

In 1678 Queen Catherine was accused by Titus Oates of a plot to poison her King but was protected from the charge by Charles himself. As the King aged, it was noted that his new mistress was the Queen herself.

King Charles falls ill

On his deathbed in 1685, Charles begged Catherine for her forgiveness, which, of course she gave. The Queen scarcely left her husband's side during his illness. It was when she was absent at the last, overcome by love and grief, that Charles spoke most tenderly of her. When she sent a message praying he would pardon her absence in regard to her excessive grief, and forgive her if at any time she had offended him, he replied: 'Alas, poor woman! She beg my pardon? I beg hers, with all my heart.'

Charles ll died later that same day, 6 February, 1685, becoming a Roman Catholic on his deathbed.

The widowed Queen moved to Somerset House, which she had taken over in 1665, when the Queen Mother, Henrietta-Maria moved abroad. Her alternative residence while she remained in England was at the nunnery she had founded at Hammersmith.

After the death of Charles, his brother, James became King until 1688 when, due to the controversy over the Roman Catholic religion which he professed, he was exiled. The English crown then passed to William III and Mary II, husband and wife and both grandchildren of Charles I.

Catherine had initially stayed in England to prosecute a lawsuit against the Earl of Clarendon, who had been her chamberlain and found herself still there when James was deposed. Initially on good terms with William and Mary, her position deteriorated as the practice of her religion led to many misunderstandings and Somerset House was rumoured to be a centre of fomentation against the government.

Catherine was on a quest to return home. It would take seven years and succeed only when her brother helped her secure safe passage and the necessary funds.

Home again

On 29 March, 1692, she left for Lisbon, with a train of 100 retainers. Taking an overland route through France and Spain, they entered Portugal in the province of Beira, not arriving in Lisbon until 20 January, 1693. Her entrance into the capital was heralded with cheers, celebrations and fireworks from the people.

Her brother, now King Pedro II, waited at the village of Lumiar, north of Lisbon, to conduct her to the palace of Alcântara. Catherine, however, did not like this palace and moved to that of the Counts of Redondo at Santa Marta. She later moved to another palace, that of the Count Soure à Penha de França, before seeming to settle, at last, at the river palace of the Count of Aveiro in Belém. Above all she desired her own residence, and decided to build it at Bemposta, at that time little populated, with spacious lands, clean air and marvelous vistas.

It was in her new house that she greeted Charles, Duke of Austria, in 1701 and there that she dealt with all the affairs of state, for she took charge of the kingdom twice, as regent. The first when in May, 1701, King Pedro II left for Beira at the head of his troops, the Archduke of Austria by his side with the allies, to commence the War of Succession of Spain. She also supported the commercial Treaty of Methuen in 1703, with England. Portuguese wines were allowed into England in exchange for English woollen goods. The price advantage was such that the English were more or less compelled to drink Portuguese wine.

The second time she acted as regent was in 1705, when her brother was gravely ill.

Catherine died on 31 December, 1705, at the age of 67 in the Bemposta Palace, Lisbon, leaving all her possessions to her brother, the King.

Catherine of Bragança, daughter of Dom João IV, Queen of Charles II of England, is buried in the Monastery of Jeronimous, Belem, Lisbon, with her brothers Teodosio and Afonso.

From the time the eighth Duke of Bragança became King João IV (1640), the House of Bragança continued to be the royal power in Portugal until 1910, when it became a republic and King Manuel II went into exile in England. The current Duke of Bragança, although not strictly in direct descent (though considered King by Portuguese monarchists) resides in Portugal with his wife and children.


1Dom is the Portuguese honourific translating to Lord, and Dona as Lady.2Infanta is the title of a Royal Princess in Portugal and Spain.3The occasion may have prompted the line in the English children's rhyme 'What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice.' 4Travelled in the fastest way possible by using a relay of fresh horses.5The original marriage certificate is held at St Thomas's Cathedral, Portsmouth.6Guardians of the Royal Princess, that is, her ladies-in-waiting.

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