Today is the birthday (1638) of Catherine of Braganza, queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1662 to 1685, as the wife of Charles II. She was the daughter of John IV, who became the first king of Portugal from the House of Braganza in 1640 after overthrowing the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs in Portugal.
Negotiations for the marriage of Catherine and Charles began during the reign of Charles I, were suspended during the Commonwealth, and then renewed immediately after the Restoration. On 23rd June 1661, in spite of Spanish opposition, the marriage contract was signed. In the contract, England secured Tangier (in North Africa) and the Seven Islands of Bombay (in India), trading privileges in Brazil and the East Indies, religious and commercial freedom in Portugal, and two million Portuguese crowns (about £300,000). In return Portugal got assurance of British military and naval support in its fight against Spain and liberty of worship for Catherine. She arrived at Portsmouth on the night of 13–14th May 1662, but was not visited there by Charles until 20th May. The following day they were married in Portsmouth at two ceremonies – a Catholic one conducted in secret, followed by a public Anglican service.
On 30th September 1662 Charles and Catharine entered London as part of a large procession, which included the Portuguese delegation and many members of the court. There were also minstrels and musicians, among them ten playing shawms and twelve playing Portuguese bagpipes, Catharine’s favorite instruments. The procession continued over a large bridge, especially designed and built for the occasion, which led into the palace where Henrietta Maria, the queen mother waited, along with the British court and nobility. This was followed by feasting and firework displays.
Catherine had been brought up in a convent, secluded from the world, and was scarcely a wife Charles would have chosen for himself. The queen mother wrote that she is “The best creature in the world, from whom I have so much affection, I have the joy to see the King love her extremely. She is a Saint!” In reality, Catherine’s personal charms could not draw Charles away from the society of his mistresses, and in a few weeks after her arrival she became aware of her position as the wife of a licentious king.
Little is known of Catherine’s own thoughts on the match. While her mother plotted to secure an alliance with England and thus support in Portugal’s fight for independence, and her future husband celebrated his restoration with his mistresses, Catherine’s time had been spent in the seclusion of her convent home, with little opportunity for fun or frivolity. Even outside the convent her actions were governed by the strict etiquette of the royal court of Portugal. By all accounts Catherine grew into a quiet, even-tempered young woman.
At the time of her marriage she was already 23 and had long since resigned herself to the necessity of making a match abroad to help her family and country. Catherine’s response on being told of her impending nuptials was to request permission to make a pilgrimage to a favorite shrine of hers in Lisbon. Catherine became pregnant and miscarried at least three times, and during a severe illness in 1663, she imagined, for a time, that she had given birth. Charles comforted her by telling her she had indeed given birth to two sons and a daughter. Her position was a difficult one, and though Charles continued to have children by his many mistresses, he insisted she be treated with respect, and sided with her against his mistresses when he felt she was not receiving the respect she was due. After her three miscarriages, it seemed to be more and more unlikely that the queen would bear an heir. Royal advisors urged Charles to seek a divorce, hoping that the new wife would be Protestant and fertile – but Charles refused. This eventually led to her being made a target by courtiers. Throughout his reign, Charles firmly dismissed the idea of divorcing Catherine, and she remained faithful to Charles throughout their marriage.
Catherine was not a particularly popular choice of queen since she was Roman Catholic. Her religion prevented her from being crowned, as Catholics were forbidden to take part in Anglican services. She initially faced hardships due to the language barrier, the king’s infidelities and the political conflicts between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Over time, her quiet decorum, loyalty and genuine affection for Charles changed the public’s perception of her.
Although her difficulties with the English language persisted, as time went on, the once rigidly formal Portuguese Infanta mellowed and began to enjoy some of the more innocent pleasures of the court. She loved to play cards and shocked devout Protestants by playing on Sundays. She enjoyed dancing and took great delight in organising masques. She had a great love for the countryside and picnics; fishing and archery were also favourite pastimes. In a far cry from her convent-days the newly liberated Catherine displayed a fondness for the recent trend of court ladies wearing men’s clothing, which we are told, “showed off her pretty, neat legs and ankles”; and she was even reported to have considered leading the way in wearing shorter dresses, which would show off her feet. In 1670, on a trip to Audley End with her ladies-in-waiting, the once chronically shy Catherine attended a country fair disguised as a village maiden, but was soon discovered and, due to the large crowds, forced to make a hasty retreat. And when in 1664 her favorite painter, Jacob Huysmans, a Flemish Catholic, painted her as St Catherine, it promptly set a trend among court ladies.
She did not involve herself in English politics, instead she kept up an active interest in her native country. Anxious to re-establish good relations with the Pope and perhaps gain recognition for Portuguese independence, she sent Richard Bellings, later her principal secretary, to Rome with letters for the pope and several cardinals. In 1669 she involved herself in the last-ditch effort to relieve Candia in Crete, which was under siege by the Turks and whose cause Rome was promoting, although she failed to persuade Charles to take any action. In 1670, as a sign of her rising favor with the pope she requested, and was granted, devotional objects. In 1670 Charles II ordered the building of a Royal yacht HMY Saudadoes for her, used for pleasure trips on the Thames and to maintain communications with the Queen’s homeland of Portugal, making the journey twice.
Catherine fainted when Charles’s official mistress, Barbara Palmer was presented to her. Charles insisted on making Palmer Catherine’s Lady of the Bedchamber. After this incident, Catherine withdrew from spending time with the king, declaring she would return to Portugal rather than openly accept the arrangement with Palmer. Clarendon failed to convince her to change her mind. Charles then dismissed nearly all the members of Catherine’s Portuguese retinue, after which she stopped actively resisting, which pleased the king, however she participated very little in court life and activities.
In 1675 the stress of a possible revival of the divorce project indirectly led to another illness, which Catherine’s physicians claimed was “due as much to mental as physical causes”. In the same year, all Irish and English Catholic priests were ordered to leave the country, which left Catherine dependent upon foreign priests. As increasingly harsher measures were put in place against Catholics, Catherine appointed her close friend and adviser, the devoutly Catholic Francisco de Mello, former Portuguese Ambassador to England, as her Lord Chamberlain. It was an unusual and controversial move but wishing to please Catherine and perhaps demonstrate the futility of moves for divorce, the King granted his permission. De Mello was dismissed the following year for ordering the printing of a Catholic book, leaving Catherine even more isolated at court. One consolation was that Louise de Kérouaille, duchess of Portsmouth, who replaced Barbara Palmer as reigning mistress, always treated Catharine with proper deference. Catharine in return showed her gratitude by using her own influence to protect Louise during the Popish Plot.
The Test Act of 1673 had driven all Catholics out of public office, and anti-Catholic feelings intensified the following years. Although she was not active in religious politics, in 1675 Catherine was criticized for supposedly supporting the idea of appointing a bishop to England who, it was hoped, would resolve the internal disputes of Catholics. Critics also noted the fact that, despite orders to the contrary, English Catholics attended her private chapel. As the highest-ranking Catholic in the country, Catherine was an obvious target for Protestant extremists, and it was hardly surprising that the Popish Plot of 1678 would directly threaten her position. The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that gripped England and Scotland in anti-Catholic hysteria between 1678 and 1681. Oates alleged that there was an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, accusations that led to the executions of at least 22 men and precipitated the Exclusion Bill Crisis. Eventually Oates’s intricate web of accusations fell apart, leading to his arrest and conviction for perjury.
Fortunately, Catherine was completely secure in her husband’s favor (“she could never do anything wicked, and it would be a horrible thing to abandon her” he told Gilbert Burnet), and the House of Lords, most of whom knew her and liked her, refused by an overwhelming majority to impeach her. Relations between the royal couple became notably warmer: Catherine wrote of Charles’ “wonderful kindness” to her. and it was noted that his visits to her apartments became longer and more frequent.
At Charles’ final illness in 1685, Catharine showed expectations for his reconciliation with Catholic faith, and she exhibited great grief at his death. When he lay dying in 1685, he asked for Catherine, but she sent a message asking that her presence be excused and “to beg his pardon if she had offended him all his life.” He answered, “Alas poor woman! she asks for my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart; take her back that answer.” Later in the same year, she unsuccessfully interceded with James II for the life of James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, Charles’s illegitimate son and leader of the Monmouth Rebellion – even though Monmouth in rebellion had called upon the support represented by the staunch Protestants opposed to the Catholic Church.
Catherine remained in England, living at Somerset House, through the reign of James and his deposition in the Glorious Revolution by William and Mary. She remained in England partly because of a protracted lawsuit against her former Lord Chamberlain, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, over money that she claimed as part of her allowance and that he claimed was part of the perquisite of his office. Catherine’s fondness for money is one of the more unexpected features of her character: her brother-in-law James, who was himself notably avaricious, remarked that she always drove a hard bargain.
Initially on good terms with William and Mary, her position deteriorated as the practice of her religion led to misunderstandings and increasing isolation. A bill was introduced to Parliament to limit the number of Catherine’s Catholic servants, and she was warned not to agitate against the government. She finally returned to Portugal in March 1692, where she took care of and mentored her nephew, prince John. His mother, Maria Sofia of Neuburg, had recently died, and the prince had fallen into a depression. Catherine was instrumental in lifting the young prince’s spirits, and soon became a key part in his life, as his tutor and main female figure in his life. Her death would, in fact, cause John to experience another depression.
In 1703, she supported the Treaty of Methuen between Portugal and England. She acted as regent for her brother, Peter II, in 1701 and 1704–05. She died at the Bemposta Palace in Lisbon on 31st December 1705 and was buried at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora Lisbon.
Here is a Stuart era recipe from The Whole Duty of a Woman: Or a Guide to the Female Sex, (1696). It is described as a way to prepare lamb so that it tastes like venison. The “coffin” mentioned in the recipe means pastry, so it appears to be a kind of lamb roulade en croute.
Lamb to make like Venison.
Bone it, and take the side or quarter, and dip it in its Blood, sprinkle it over with Salt, Cinamon and Pepper, rowl it up, and parboyl it, adding some Vinegar to the Water you boyl it in, a sprig or two of Hysop and Thyme, let it stand six hours in the water when it is off the Fire, put it into a coffin, and pour to it when half Baked, Claret and Melted Butter, with some Cloves Mace and dryed Rosemary, finely beaten.