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Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married Charles II in 1662 and became the merry monarch's Restoration queen. Yet life for her was not so merry - she put up with the king's many mistresses and continuous plots to remove her from the throne. She lived through times of war, plague and fire. Catherine's marriage saw many trials and tribulations including her inability to produce an heir. Yet Charles supported his queen throughout the Restoration, remaining devoted to her no matter what. Outliving her husband, she ended up back in her home country and spent her final days as queen-regent of Portugal.
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Catherine of Braganza
Charles II's Restoration Queen
By Sarah-Beth Watkins
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2016 Sarah-Beth Watkins
All rights reserved.
From Portugal to England 1638–1662
Ribeira Palace was a maelstrom of activity. The English fleet had been spotted arriving in the bay of Lisbon and the exciting news echoed around its halls. Long awaited, this was the moment when Catherine of Braganza knew her destiny was to be fulfilled. Her mother, Donna Luiza, had always sworn to her that she would become Queen of England and today as the court prepared to receive its English visitors and arrange for the departure of their Portuguese princess, Catherine knew she would soon be on her way to wed her new husband, Charles II, England's restoration king.
Whilst Charles had spent the past tumultuous years trying to return to England and his crown, Catherine had led a quiet and secluded life. From the time of her birth at the ducal palace of Villa Viçosa near Evora on the 25th November 1638, Catherine had rarely been at court or been taken outside the palace walls. Yet in 1640, at just two years of age, she was held in front of her father, the Duke of Braganza, in a bid to force his decision on a monumental turning point in Portugal's fortunes.
Portugal was a prosperous trading nation famous for its breakthrough sea voyages, including the discovery of Brazil, and its command of major trade routes. Yet a succession crisis occurred when the young King Sebastian I of Portugal died at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in 1578 without his body being found. Leaving no heir to take his place, there was no clear successor to the Portuguese crown. His uncle, Cardinal Henry, acted as regent until 1580 when several claimants, including Catherine's great grandmother, began to assert their right to the throne. Amidst the chaos that ensued, Spain declared war on Portugal and Philip II of Spain took control of the country. It would be sixty years later that a man would rise to the challenge of taking back Portugal from Spanish rule. That man was Catherine's father.
Now on her second birthday the Duke of Braganza, was being urged to assert his claim to the throne. Dom Gaspar Coutigno, envoy for all the Portuguese nobles who had tired of Spain's tyrannical rule, pressed the duke to be their figurehead and support their bid to take back their country, but the duke wavered. He was a placid man, content with his lot. He owned estates that comprised a third of the kingdom and was happy to spend his time in the countryside away from the politics and intrigue of the capital. But Donna Luiza, Catherine's mother, had other ideas. Spanish by birth, she was determined the family she had married into should assert its right to reign and the duke become crowned king of Portugal. As he continued to prevaricate, she ordered her ladies to fetch their daughter, telling the duke 'Today our friends are gathered round us to celebrate the birthday of our little Catherine. Who knows but that this new guest may have been sent to signify the will of heaven, through especial grace, to invest you with the crown of which you have been so long deprived by Spain?' When Catherine was brought to her Donna Luiza held her up to the duke for his kiss and said 'How can you find it in your heart to refuse to confer the rank of a king's daughter upon your child?' That small kiss changed the duke's mind and he agreed to the rebellion.
Dom Gaspar rode fast for Lisbon to proclaim the duke as King João IV of Portugal. Alerting the rebel nobles to his success, the freedom of the capital and country commenced. The palace was taken by force, the Spanish Secretary of State, Vasconcelles, was slaughtered and the Spanish Vice-Queen was secured, forced to give orders for the town's armed fortress to surrender. Once the city was under control, the Archbishop of Lisbon rode through the city to tell the people they were free from Spanish rule and now had their own king.
King João wasted no time in heading for Lisbon once he had heard it had been captured in his name and the people welcomed him with open arms. Bonfires blazed, bells rang out and firework displays coloured the sky. Portugal had been liberated, but for the new king it would be no easy conquer with years of skirmishes and attempted assassinations.
Whilst her father was concentrating on ruling his reclaimed kingdom, Catherine was growing into an attractive young woman with 'her mother's Spanish complexion and dark eyes and hair', but being educated at a convent where her seclusion was complete. It was even rumoured that she would become a nun and embrace religious life although she knew that her mother had other plans for her. In 1661, Maynard wrote of her as 'not having been out of the palace in five years, and hardly ten times in her life'. Her eventual return to the palace coincided with the death of her beloved father in 1656.
In King João's will, Catherine was left the 'island of Madeira, the city of Lanego, and the town of Moura, with all their territories, rents, tributes and other privileges' but only on the proviso that she married within the kingdom. Catherine's mother, the formidable Donna Luiza, had no intention of letting this happen. Her sights were firmly on the exiled Charles Stuart, who she was certain would one day return to English shores. And Luiza now had the authority to begin pushing this union forward. Her eldest son Alphonso, although now proclaimed king, was not yet of age to take the crown and he had also suffered an illness at the age of three that left him paralysed on his left side and mentally unstable. He spent his days rabble-rousing with his friends, causing his mother great concern for his future. But for now she was regent and could further her daughter's marriage.
The idea of marriage between Catherine and Charles had been broached as far back as 1644 when Donna Luiza had contacted the fated King Charles I regarding the marriage of his son and the uniting of England and Portugal. At the time Charles I did not consider his son's marriage to a Catholic princess advisable and Luiza's proposal went no further. But she had never given up on the idea, determined as she was, and watched on as the fortunes of the Stuart kings waxed and waned.
Donna Luiza bided her time and when it seemed that the restoration of Charles II was imminent she contacted General Monck, the man who would see Charles back from exile and restored to the throne, about a possible match. Whether he gave it any consideration or passed her proposal on to Charles is not known. Charles was in Breda at the time and hotly pursuing Princess Henriette Catherine of Orange-Nassau. His thoughts of marriage only revolved around this delightful princess but his proposal was turned down and events overtook the young exile. His country was anxious for his return.
Charles had fled to Europe two years after his father, Charles I was executed. In vain he had tried to regain his father's crown but after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester by Cromwell's New Model Army, he spent the next nine years impoverished and homeless waiting for the day he could return to England. That day came on 25th May 1660, when he answered the call of a new Parliament convened after Cromwell's death and the abdication of his son Richard as Lord Protector, and took ship from Breda to Dover. General Monck who had aided his restoration was the first to greet him back on English soil.
On his 30th birthday, 29th May, Charles rode into London on horseback, flanked by his two brothers, James and Henry, past General Monck and his 30,000 strong army gathered on Blackheath. At Deptford they were greeted by the Lord Mayor of London who offered Charles the sword of the capital and was immediately knighted. Charles continued towards Whitehall, a journey that took him seven hours, 'surrounded by a crowd of the nobility, with great pomp and triumph and in the most stately manner ever seen, amid the acclamations and blessings of the people ... The mayor and magistrates of the city met him and tendered the customary tributes, and he passed from one end to the other of this very long city, between the foot soldiers who kept the streets open, raising his eyes to the windows looking at all, raising his hat to all and consoling all who with loud shouts and a tremendous noise acclaimed the return of this great prince so abounding in virtues and distinguished qualities of every sort'.
Once at Whitehall, Charles continued to greet his people and the city continued to celebrate his arrival. The Venetian ambassador reported 'For three days and three nights they have lighted bonfires and made merry, burning effigies of Cromwell and other rebels with much abuse. The foreign ministers have taken part in these rejoicings, and I also, in addition to the illuminations have kept before the door a fountain of wine and other liquors, according to the custom of the country, much to the delight of the people and amid acclamations'.
As Donna Luiza had been convinced he would, Charles had returned to his kingdom and she could continue her plans to marry Catherine off to the English king. High on the tide of his homecoming, for the moment a wife was far from Charles' mind. He had the nineteen-year-old Barbara Palmer to warm his bed and it was rumoured she had been by his side from his very first night at Whitehall. It is not known when Charles first met Barbara, a woman who would feature in his life for a long time to come, but one suggestion is that she was used to take messages to the exiled king in Breda. Her father, Lord Grandison, had been a staunch Royalist and supporter of Charles I and she had married another Royalist, Roger Palmer, in 1659 who donated £1000 to Charles' cause. But this auburn-haired, blue-eyed beauty was no saint. She had been the lover of the Earl of Chesterfield before her marriage and continued the affair long after. Her relationship with her husband was one of convention and her focus now was on being the king's mistress.
The first few months of Charles' reign were tumultuous and Barbara was his comfort and nightly companion. She was his support through the death of his younger brother Henry in September and his sister Mary of Orange in December, both to smallpox. Charles' other brother James, Duke of York, was also cause for concern but of an entirely different nature.
James had made a trip to the Netherlands to visit their sister Mary, Princess of Orange. While there he met Anne Hyde, his sister's maid of honour, and the daughter of Charles' chancellor, Sir Edward Hyde. Not only was she now pregnant but James and Anne had married in secret on 3rd September. Hyde, soon to become Lord Clarendon, was a staunch Royalist and had accompanied Charles into exile in Jersey. In gratitude for his service the king had given him the position of Lord Chancellor in 1658 before his return and looked upon him as one of his chief advisers. Both the king and his lord chancellor were then horrified to find out what had happened without their knowledge. James panicked and tried to get out of the marriage by saying that the child Anne Hyde carried could be anybody's. Understandably her father was furious both at James' slander and the position his daughter had put him in. Charles decided to calm the situation and declared that James had married the girl and married to her he would stay.
Henrietta Maria, their mother, had other ideas. The indomitable dowager queen who had supported Charles I throughout the English Civil War had now made her home back in France. She was furious when she heard that James had married beneath him and, packing her travelling trunks, swore she was off to England to 'marry the King, my son, and try to unmarry the other', and to prevent 'so great a stain and dishonour to the crown'. But there was nothing she could do about James. His marriage had been declared valid and Anne Hyde was now the Duchess of York. Charles, however, was another matter.
The Portuguese ambassador and Catherine's godfather, Francisco de Mello, was working hard to ensure that the next queen would be Catherine of Braganza and the Catholic Henrietta Maria supported the match, as did her patron, Louis XIV, king of France, who felt it advantageous that Portugal be linked with England rather than any other nation. France had long been at war with Spain themselves but had recently signed a peace treaty with them. Still, there was no love lost with Spain and Louis supported the Portuguese marriage over all others.
De Mello began by seeking an audience with the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Manchester suggesting 'that there was in Portugal a princess in her beauty, person, and age, very fit for ... (the king) ... who would have a portion suitable to her birth and quality. She was indeed a catholic, and would never depart from her religion, but she had none of that meddling activity which sometimes made persons of that faith troublesome, when they came into a country where another mode of worship was practised; that she had been bred under a wise mother, who had carefully infused another spirit into her, and kept her from affecting to interfere in state affairs with which she was totally unacquainted, so that she would be contented to enjoy her own religion, without concerning herself with what others professed'.
The Lord Chamberlain, after discussion with Charles, sent for the Portuguese ambassador to address the king with terms for such an arrangement. Catherine's dowry was put forward: £500,000, the possession of Tangier and Bombay, plus free trade with Brazil and the East Indies. Portugal was wealthy and England desperately needed money. It was an appealing proposal. An impressed Charles consulted with his chancellor Clarendon who objected to Catherine on the grounds that she was Catholic and advised him to take a Protestant wife to which Charles replied that he was unlikely to find one.
These sentiments were reiterated again at a secret council meeting to which only the Duke of Ormonde, the Lord Treasurer, the Lord Chamberlain, Secretary Nicholas and, of course, Clarendon were invited. Charles began by explaining he had consulted his two naval captains, Lord Sandwich and Sir John Lawson, as to the whereabouts of Tangier. He had never heard of it before – would it really be of any benefit for England to own such land? His captains felt that it would indeed be a good acquisition and it was better to be in English hands rather than the Dutch, but really would Charles still not consider a Protestant wife and perhaps a German one? Charles retorted negatively 'Oddsfish! They are all dull and foggy! I cannot like any one of them for a wife!' A mention of his old flame the Princess Henriette Catherine of Orange-Nassau incensed him further and so it was agreed that of the Catholic princesses in Europe, Catherine was the best choice.
Francisco de Mello was informed and Charles supplied him with two ships to return to Lisbon to share the good news with Catherine's mother and brothers. Such was the rejoicing in the royal court of Portugal that the ambassador was rewarded for his negotiations with the title of Conde de Ponte. Donna Luiza was delighted that all her machinations had resulted in agreement to the marriage of her daughter to the king of England. The Portuguese ambassador was asked to return forthwith and conclude the arrangements – no easy voyage – but on his return to England, he found the mood at court had changed and Charles would not yet agree to meet him.
There were factions at court who still wished to dissuade Charles from his alliance with Portugal. The Earl of Bristol had recently been at the Spanish court and on hearing that Charles may marry a Portuguese princess, he rushed to tell the Spanish ambassador, Vatteville, who was horrified that the king would join forces with Spain's old foe. He remonstrated with Charles but on getting nowhere began to cast slanderous aspersions about the young princess. She was deformed, suffered from bad health and all in Spain knew she was barren. There were also rumours that Lord Chancellor Clarendon was persuading the king to marry Catherine because he'd also heard she was barren which meant his grandchildren, by the Duke and Duchess of York, would inherit the throne.
Vatteville made a suggestion. Why not marry an Italian princess? There were two in Parma he could choose from. Charles actually considered this suggestion and sent the Earl of Bristol off to find out more about them. He was waiting for Bristol's return when the Portuguese ambassador arrived back at court and so he made him wait until he heard Bristol's unflattering report; one was extremely fat, the other 'so ugly that he dared not go forward with any negotiation'. The Spanish ambassador, on seeing that Charles' mind would not be changed, swore that Spain would give the king a dowry to match Catherine's if he would only marry a Protestant bride. Failing that if he continued on his cause, Spain would have no option but to declare war on England. Charles had had enough of being dictated to, he had decided to marry Catherine, and he told Vatteville, who had kept threatening to leave, he was most welcome to and that he 'would not receive orders from the Catholic King (of Spain) how to dispose of himself in marriage'.
Excerpted from Catherine of Braganza by Sarah-Beth Watkins. Copyright © 2016 Sarah-Beth Watkins. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter One: From Portugal to England,
Chapter Two: After the Wedding,
Chapter Three: War, Plague and Fire,
Chapter Four: Mistresses and Enemies,
Chapter Five: A French Alliance,
Chapter Six: The Peaceful Years,
Chapter Seven: The Popish Plot,
Chapter Eight: Conspiracy and Exoneration,
Chapter Nine: Happiness and Disaster,
Chapter Ten: The Final Years,