Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) was Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland during her marriage to King Charles II as part of an alliance between England and Portugal.
Early Life and Marriage
Catherine was born on November 25 1638 at the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa. She was the daughter of King John IV of Portugal and Luisa de Guzmán. Catherine spent most of her youth in a convent under the watch of her mother, who took an active interest in her upbringing. As her father was one of the most important monarchs in Europe, she was proposed as a wife to John of Austria, Louis XIV of France and Charles II of England. In the end, Charles became the best choice, as the marriage would be a useful tool to establish an alliance between Portugal and England.
On June 23 1661, the marriage contract was signed. On one hand, England would have control of Tangier and the Seven Islands of Bombay, trading privileges in Brazil and the Portuguese Indies, as well as religious and commercial freedom for English residents in Portugal. On the other, Portugal gained English military and naval support against Spain and the liberty of worship for Catherine. The couple married at Portsmouth in May 1662 in two ceremonies, a Catholic one conducted in secret and a public Anglican one.
During their marriage, Catherine had three miscarriages and it became unlikely that she would bear an heir to the throne. In the meanwhile, Charles had several children with his mistresses and royal advisors encouraged him to seek a divorce and marry a Protestant woman. However, Charles refused firmly to divorce Catherine.
Catherine as Queen Consort
Since the beginning of her marriage, Catherine was very unpopular due to her devotion to the Roman Catholic faith. In fact, as Roman Catholics were not allowed to take part in Anglican services, she could not be crowned. Still, her decorum, loyalty and affection for the king soon changed the public’s perception of her.
Catherine preferred not to involve herself in English politics but kept an active interest in her home country. Aiming to have good relations with the pope and gain recognition for Portuguese independence, she sent her secretary to Rome with letters for the pope and several cardinals. In 1669, she tried to persuade her husband to intervene in the liberation of Candia (Crete) from the Turks, whose cause was promoted by Rome. Even though her attempt was unsuccessful, she gained the favour of the Pope, who granted her devotional objects in 1670.
Soon afterwards, Charles and Catherine’s relationship soured because Charles made his official mistress, Barbara Palmer, Catherine’s Lady of the Bedchamber. Consequently, she ceased to take part in court life and spend time with the king.
Even though Catherine kept her faith private, her religion made her a target of anti-Catholic segments. Her position was heavily threatened due to the Popish Plot of 1678, a fictitious conspiracy invented by Titus Oates, who claimed that there was a Catholic plot to assassinate Charles II. Catherine was initially accused of being one of the conspirators, but both the king and the House of Lords refused to impeach her. This event seemed to improve her relationship with the king and when he died in 1685, she expressed great grief.
Death and Legacy
Catherine remained in England through the reign of James and his overthrow in the Glorious Revolution. In 1692, she returned to Portugal, where she acted as a regent for her brother, Peter II, in 1701 and 1704-1705. She passed away in Lisbon on 31 December 1705.
Catherine’s figure has been generally overlooked by historians, who described her as a long-suffering woman who found refuge in her faith. However, the reality was very different. Throughout her life, she decided to become an independent figure and establish herself as a cultural rival to her husband’s mistresses. She was a patron of the arts and music, influencing them with her Portuguese heritage. Even though Portugal had a rich musical tradition, it was not very appreciated in England, and Catherine sought to promote it. Moreover, she is credited with the popularisation of tea drinking in Britain. Finally, her marriage had an important outcome for the history of India and the British Empire. This is because after gaining the Seven Islands of Bombay as part of Catherine’s dowry, Charles rented them to the East India Company, which moved its Presidency there. As a result, Bombay eventually became one of the main cities in India.
- catherine of braganza
- charles ii
- british empire
- john iv
- roman catholic
- queen consort
- popish plot