Catherine of Braganza

Peter Kingdon Booker 


D Catarina de Bragança (in English Catherine of Braganza) was born on 25 November 1638 to D João eighth Duke of Braganza and his Spanish born wife D Luisa de Gusmão. Catherine was the fourth of their seven children. At the time that his daughter was born, D João was actively considering the question of taking back the Portuguese crown from the Spanish Felipe IV (D Filipe III of Portugal). The two Iberian states had been united under one crown since the death of D Henrique of Portugal in 1580; in history this union is known as the Iberian Union.


The personal union of the crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 under James VI and I was similar; the legislative governments of England and Scotland did not unite until the Act of Union in 1707, at which point the joint country became known officially as the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and the royal arms of the two countries were officially impaled. James I had by royal decree in 1604 called his personally united country Great Britain, and this term was used on proclamations, coins, letters and treaties and was also in general use in Scotland. The two countries were unofficially known as Great Britain from 1604 until 1707. The monarch of Spain and Portugal never took any step of personal or formal unification.


The War of Acclamation


The Duke of Braganza was summoned to Madrid in August 1640 in order to take part both in a meeting of the Cortes of Aragon and Valencia and also in the planned Spanish campaign against the Catalan separatists. He was Governor-General of Arms in Portugal, and the commanders of the military orders in Portugal were also summoned. D João was convinced that he would never be allowed to return to Portugal and so he delayed his departure. On 1 December 1640 the conspirators in Portugal rose in Lisbon to throw off the detested Spanish government and on 15 December the Duke was acclaimed D João IV of Portugal. With the assumption of the office of king by her father, Catherine became an Infanta of Portugal, at the age of two. Each year the 1st of December commemorates in Portugal the Restoration of the Portuguese monarchy.


Spain could not accept this breakaway, and war was declared. The War of Acclamation (or Restoration) between Spain and Portugal lasted from 1640 to 1668. During the years 1640 – 1659, Spain spent most of her effort in subduing the Catalan rebels and in opposing their French allies. After the resolution of the Catalan problem in 1652 and the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659 between Spain and France, the Spanish state was able to concentrate on the reconquest of Portugal. After sixty years of Spanish rule, the Portuguese state was not militarily strong and these nineteen years of respite were of crucial importance in the survival of the new regime.


Catherine´s beloved eldest brother, D Teodósio died in 1653 at the age of 19 and her older sister D Joana also died in 1653. Catherine was then the oldest surviving child of the King and she inherited from D Joana the title of Princesa da Beira, given to the oldest surviving daughter of the monarch. The bitterest blow came in 1656, when her father the King died at the age of 52. D Luisa became Regent on behalf of the new king, Catherine´s younger brother D Afonso VI. At her age of eighteen, it was high time that this princess was married. Catherine spent most of her formative years under the educational regime of a convent. Such an upbringing scarcely prepared her for her adult life at the Restoration court of Charles II.


Betrothal and Marriage


Schemes for her marriage had begun when she was only eight years old. D John of Austria (bastard son of Philip IV of Spain), the duc de Beaufort (grandson of Henri IV of France) and Louis XIV of France himself were actively considered at some point, but nothing resulted from these ideas.


The death of D João IV before the Restoration monarchy was firmly established began a difficult time for Portugal. As Regent on behalf of the thirteen year-old D Afonso VI however, his Dowager Queen D Luisa was equal to her task. It was she who put steel into Portuguese resistance to Spain and it was she who sought allies for her adopted country. One means for winning allies was by a betrothal of her eldest surviving daughter, and by 1661 Catherine would be nearly 23 years old and nearly on the shelf. Fortunately, D Luisa found in England a monarchy in a plight similar to that of Portugal. Charles II had returned to England only in May 1660 and as the newly restored monarch, he was continuously hard up for money.


The ambassador charged by Charles II with finalising the betrothal was Sir Richard Fanshawe. He was to inform himself about everything in the state of Portugal: the government, the factions, the humour of the people and their attitude towards Spain, the strength of the army, fleet, exchequer, trade (especially the chances of the extension of English trade even to their allies´ loss), the privileges of English merchants, the handing over to England of the dowry, the port of Bombay as soon as possible and Bassein too if it could be managed. Fanshawe had to see if he could obtain Goa by playing on the threat posed by the Dutch. He was to find out about Brazil and the West Indies, in particular the sugar trade, with the aim of benefiting English merchants. Fanshawe set sail for Lisbon on 6 September 1661 and he discharged his mission with success. On 23 June 1661, Charles agreed to the terms of betrothal, and it may be that the prospect of an enormous dowry was very attractive. D Luisa announced the betrothal in Portugal on 18 August 1661. Fanshawe´s embassy is described at length in They Went to Portugal Too by Rose Macaulay.


Catherine brought with her a substantial dowry: the ports of Tangier and Bombay; 2m cruzados in money (possibly equivalent to 32 tonnes of gold); and the right of English merchants to trade in Portugal and the Portuguese empire. Tangier seemed important, but the English were not able to make the most of its opportunities and they abandoned Tangier in 1684, without giving the Portuguese the chance to reoccupy it, much to the chagrin of Portugal. When they returned to England, many of those men who had colonised Tangier were given grants of land in New York Province. Bombay was given up reluctantly by its Governor and later became a port of major importance in the English occupation of India, without which perhaps the Raj might have assumed a different shape. English merchants built a trading empire out of the permission to trade in Portugal and its overseas possessions, and we find English interest in and purchase of Algarvian dried fruits dating from this time, and the port wine trade expanded enormously, and in particular after the conclusion of the Methuen Treaty of 1703. A concession made by the Portuguese at this time was the freedom of English merchants to worship according to their own Anglican rites. This concession was fiercely resisted by the Inquisition in Portugal.


An English fleet commanded by Edward Montagu 1st Earl of Sandwich arrived in Lisbon to take the Princess Catherine to England. Her dowry was in sacks on the quay ready to be loaded onto the English ships and it was discovered that the sacks contained only sugar and spices instead of bullion and gold coins. The Earl was in an awkward spot. Should he repudiate the marriage contract on behalf of his royal master? What would His Majesty say to the Earl if he accepted this unexpected dowry? Under protest, Sandwich decided to accept the sugar and spices, which were undoubtedly valuable, and were probably sold in London, but they were not the gold which Charles needed. This trick by D Luisa was typical of her resourceful management of Portuguese national affairs at a difficult juncture. So it was that Catherine left Lisbon on 23 April 1662 in the fleet commanded the Earl of Sandwich, but with the question of the unpaid dowry hanging over her.


Brass plaque at Portsmouth sally port 


Princess Catherine landed at Portsmouth on 14 May, and there is a brass plaque on the site of the sally port which commemorates her first landing in England.


When her impatient bridegroom arrived at Portsmouth, they were quickly married on 22 May first privately under Catholic rites and then in an Anglican service at the Domus Dei in Portsmouth. Charles was enamoured of his bride, even though they had to converse in Spanish, since she spoke neither French nor English. Although she was never crowned because she was Catholic, she became by marriage Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. His coins bore the inscription Carolus Secundus Dei Gratia Mag Brit Fran et Hiber Rex, and her new seal as Queen bore a similar inscription, mutatis mutandis.


When she arrived in England, Catherine and her ladies-in-waiting were ridiculed for the old-fashioned clothes they wore. The skirts were supported by farthingales and were very wide. Her hairstyle too was some forty years out of date to English eyes. When the court moved from Portsmouth to Hampton Court in that summer of 1662, it was found that the ladies-in-waiting to the Queen were wearing skirts so voluminous that they could not fit into the carriages provided. It is recorded that ordinary farm carts were commandeered to transport them to Hampton Court.


The Royal Procession from Hampton Court to Whitehall


From Hampton Court, they made their way to Whitehall, King Charles´s palace west of London. The royal procession by water from Hampton Court to Whitehall in August 1662 was the biggest royal procession on the Thames until the Jubilee celebration of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. The diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed the procession from the roof of Inigo Jones´s Banqueting House at Whitehall. Such was the mass of vessels crowded on the River Thames that it appeared to be boarded over. Pepys estimated that there were a thousand barges and boats, I think, for we could see no water for them. He was unable to see the King and the new Queen and glutted himself instead with ogling at the King´s current mistress, the voluptuous Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Countess of Castlemaine.


John Evelyn did manage to see the royal couple and described the procession: His Majesty and the Queen came in an antique-shaped open vessel, covered with a …canopy of cloth of gold, made in the form of a cupola, supported by high Corinthian pillars, wreathed with flowers, festoons and garlands. Plumes of ostrich feathers rose from the corners of the canopy and crowned the centre, and a heavy gold fringe hung from its edges. At Chelsea, the King and Queen were met by the dignitaries of the City of London. First the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, the size of whose barge dwarfed the King´s own, and then the barges of the great city Livery Companies or Guilds, the effective government of the capital city. There were entertainments and Evelyn declared it to be the most magnificent triumph that ever floated on the Thames.


It was however Barbara Palmer who stole the show, even as a spectator. In fashionable dishabille,in front of her husband she dandled the king´s bastard on her knee; rushed to the aid of an injured child; chatted up a handsome young man, and begged his hat to protect her magnificent hair against the rising wind. Pepys drooled in his diary, Methought it became her mightily, as everything else do.


 Queen Catherine´s life in England


In the Restoration court of England, women´s clothes were as loose as many of their sexual morals, and Catherine found that over time her own tastes in clothing were influenced. By 1663 she was already taking advantage of the more relaxed style of English dress, in spite of the fact that her mother had warned her to resist such depravity.


Catherine was naturally very upset at her royal husband´s continuing affairs, but found that in an alien country, of an alien religion, and without friends she could not alter his behaviour. She had to endure what she could not cure. The Queen conceived at least four times, but also miscarried four times. It is possible that her miscarriages were induced by the stress and upset caused by Charles´s public infidelities. She was forced by the King to accept as Lady of the Bedchamber his mistress, Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine. Stunningly beautiful, Barbara was notoriously spendthrift and bad-tempered. But she was also fertile and bore six children, at least five of whom were fathered by the King. Other royal mistresses included Louise de Kéroualle, Nell Gwynn and Moll Davies. The complete list is much longer, and it is impossible to be definitive about it, since many of the King´s affairs were brief and transient. His personal valet William Chiffinch personally conducted his ladies up the secret stair to his chamber. It is not known to what extent Chiffinch was the King´s procurer.


Urged on numerous occasions to divorce Queen Catherine because of her infertility, Charles always refused. He was pressed also to acknowledge that he had been married to Lucy Walters, his first mistress and mother of his oldest bastard, James, Duke of Monmouth, who must therefore be his legitimate heir. Charles was forced to declare in Parliament that he had ever had only one wife, who was the present Queen.


Queen Catherine is reputed to have introduced to England the custom of taking afternoon tea; the use of forks at table; the word marmalade; and tangerines from Tangier made their appearance. Queen Catherine was also the sponsor of Italian and Portuguese music in England, including Montiverdi (d 1643), and the music of the English Henry Purcell (rhymes with Persil)(1659-1695).


It is believed that the present New York borough of Queen´s was named after Queen Catherine when it was founded as a county in 1683. Another of the twelve counties was King´s County (now Brooklyn) named after her husband the King. Queen Catherine was the queen who gave her name to the Tangier Regiment, which was posted to hold Tangier on behalf of Charles II; this regiment held the town 1662-1684 and on its return to England became known as The Queen´s Regiment. On the death of King Charles II, it was renamed The Queen Dowager´s Regiment. Later on known as the Queen´s Royal Surrey Regiment, it is now a part of The Princess of Wales´ Royal Regiment.


Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller


We are lucky that two of the greatest of royal portraitists were at hand to illustrate this era. Sir Peter Lely (1618 – 1680) was born in Germany and when he came to England in 1641, soon became portrait artist to Charles I. After the Restoration, he became Principal Painter in Ordinary to Charles II. He painted a great many portraits, among them a series of ten portraits of ladies at court, known as the Windsor Beauties, and he also portrayed Queen Catherine. Also born in Germany, Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) succeeded Lely as Principal Painter to Charles II and was court painter to the English and British monarchs until his death. He painted ten beauties of the court of William III to match the Windsor Beauties of Sir Peter Lely. These portraitists (and in particular Kneller) produced their work in industrial quantities because each painter had an army of underlings in a workshop to finish the portraits in a common style after Lely and Kneller had sketched the head.


 lelys portrait of Q Catherine


Queen Catherine by Sir Peter Lely (1665) (at her age 27)


Catholic trouble


One of the articles of the marriage treaty was that Queen Catherine would be allowed freely to practise her faith, and during her stay in England, her chapels in St James´s Palace and Somerset House were the only two places in London where Catholics could legally worship according to the Catholic rite.


A major political difficulty during the years after the Restoration was the hostility of the general population to the Roman Catholic Church and Roman Catholics in general. In consequence the Test Act of 1673 drove Catholics out of public office. As the highest ranking Catholic in England, Queen Catherine was an obvious target for criticism, and in 1675 the stress of a possible revival of the divorce question led to another illness for the Queen, caused as much by stress as by physical causes. All English and Irish Catholic priests were expelled from England in that year and in 1678, the Queen became a principal figure in the Popish Plot.


Titus Oates and Israel Tonge wrote a large tract accusing the Catholic church and the Jesuits of plotting to assassinate the king. The magistrate and MP Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey examined Oates, who in a later examination by the Privy Council named 81 plotters. Godfrey was found murdered in October, 1678, and the whole of London was in uproar against the Catholic menace. During one tense period Oates even accused the Queen herself of plotting to murder the King. Charles himself never wavered in his support for his Queen, and she returned his devotion. It was not until three years later that a courageous magistrate began publicly to doubt the validity of Oates´ accusations, and those accused were one by one released from prison. The hysterical outburst of anti-Catholicism had claimed the lives of fifteen innocent Catholics already executed. In 1687, Catholics were required to leave London and Westminster and to remain outside a radius of twelve miles, and this anti-Catholic legislation was not repealed until the Catholic Relief Act of 1829.


Queen Catherine´s Pleasures


Queen Catherine was never fluent in English, but she enjoyed playing cards (even on Sundays, to the amazement of the Puritans around her) and took great pleasure in organising masques and dances. She loved the countryside and picnics as well as archery and fishing. She participated in the recent trend for wearing men´s clothing, which showed off her pretty neat legs and ankles, and liked the fashion for shorter dresses to show off her feet. Her favourite painter Jacob Huysmans painted her as St Catherine (1664) and this portrait set a trend among the ladies at court to be portrayed in a religious pose. This picture is shown here as a mezzotint.


Queen as St Catherine 


The Death of Charles II


After suffering a sudden apoplexy on 2 February 1685, the King lay ill and dying for four days. The treatment given by his physicians was quite barbarous and Macaulay in his History of England reported that the King had been tortured like an Indian at the stake. He was bled, cupped and blistered. They administered anything to cause pain so that he would not lose consciousness. As he lay dying, the Queen begged his forgiveness. I suspect that he was taken aback by this request, since he believed that she had more to forgive than he had. Nell Gwynne had been a cheerful concubine to him and her fate after his death would not be certain. Let not poor Nelly starve, he asked of his brother and successor, James, Duke of York. One of the King´s last comments was that he had been an unconscionable time a-dying, but he hoped they would excuse it.


After the slow and agonized death of her husband in 1685, the Dowager Queen Catherine lived at Somerset House in the Strand. She was 47 years old at his death, and grieved for him. The pious Queen Catherine had grown to love this most libidinous of monarchs, and Dryden wrote:


The best of Queens, the most obedient wife;

His life the theme of her eternal prayer.


This couplet captures the eventual deep love which she had for the King, and also hints at the unfailing support she gave him at the times when he was suffering from the greatest stress, and the fact that she spent much of her life on her knees and at prayer.


The Dowager Queen Catherine was keen to return to Portugal. She had saudades duma vista do Tejo and for the sol de Portugal. But for various reasons she was unable immediately to go back. James II wanted to keep her in England as a Catholic ally; Catherine began a successful lawsuit against the Earl of Clarendon who was withholding a part of her allowance; and her brother D Pedro II was anxious to keep a Roman Catholic and Portuguese ally at the heart of England´s government for some protection of Portugal´s hard won independence.


It was her right as the Dowager Queen to occupy Somerset House (which had belonged to the Dowager Queen of Charles I), and she resisted attempts to evict her although in her huge palace she was lonely. After the flight to France of James II, she was the only royal Catholic in England, and King William and Queen Mary were suspicious of her Catholic life and her Catholic circle. Queen Mary II, daughter of James II and Anne Hyde, was especially nasty and unsupportive to the Dowager Queen. After the threat of James II gradually disappeared, the hostility towards Queen Catherine diminished.


Queen Catherine´s return to Portugal


Catherine was allowed to leave England only on March 30 1692, and the King provided transport for her to reach Dieppe. From there she travelled overland to Portugal via Bourbon, Avignon, Bayonne and Irun. She entered Portugal at Almeida, and continued via Stª Comba Dão to Coimbra and continued via Pombal, Leiria, Batalha and Alcobaça and met her brother D Pedro II outside Lisbon. In the same coach, they descended to the palace at Alcântara. She had been criticized when she arrived in England for her old fashioned clothes, and returning to Portugal she was criticized for her avant-garde and daring fashions, which she insisted on retaining, and she invited to Lisbon dressmakers from the fashion houses of northern Europe.


Catherine lived for a time in the Convent of S José Ribamar, from which she could overlook the Tejo, a view for which she had pined when in England. She had a palace (begun in 1699) built for her at Bemposta and her arms as Queen of England (the English royal arms impaling the Portuguese in a lozenge) are still to be seen on the façade of Bemposta Palace. (Female arms were usually displayed in a lozenge shape, rather than escutcheon.)


She was reputed to be helpful to the English negotiators when the famous Methuen Treaty was signed in 1703, but there is no proof of this supposition. Although she was criticised by the English Envoy for her partisanship for James II and for her ostentatious mourning when he died in 1701, she supported the English alliance during the War of Spanish Succession 1701 – 1714. She was nominated Regent of Portugal for the time in 1704 when D Pedro was at the frontier commanding the Portuguese forces, and the successful Portuguese (and English) efforts in 1705 to capture Alcântara and Albuquerque owed much to her ability to find the resources to equip the army.


Queen Catherine died quite suddenly on 31 December 1705 of the collic having been taken ill only that day. She was sixty-seven years old. At her own request, she was buried next to her brother D Teodósio at the monastery of Stª Maria de Belém, now known as the Jerónimos. In 1855, when the Braganza Pantheon was created at S Vicente de Fora in Lisbon, Queen Catherine of England was also taken and her coffin now lies behind a plain slab marked



1638 – 1705


It is interesting to note that her name on this slab is neither in the Portuguese format Catarina, nor in its English form Catherine but a mixture of both.


Why was Catherine of Braganza important?


Queen Catherine was the only queen of England who was originally Portuguese, and of course she was a Roman Catholic. Apart from Queen Mary of Modena, consort to James II, she was the last Catholic queen in the British Isles. At a time in England when religious questions were of the utmost importance, her marriage to Charles II was not uniformly popular, and there was always a lingering suspicion of the Queen because of her faith. On the other hand, Charles II was entirely comfortable with his wife´s faith, and almost at his last breath, he too joined the Roman church. Queen Catherine was therefore a secret and perhaps unwitting supporter and refuge for the king and his hidden faith. Since Charles endured a great deal of opposition during his reign, this covert support was indubitably very important to him.


Many of the queens of England produced a royal heir; and we struggle to remember the names of these queens. Who remembers for example the name of the prolific Queen of George III? Or the Queen of James I? On the other hand, Queen Catherine´s most important contribution to history was in the negative - the fact that she was unable to bear children. Her inability to bear children was a source of immense sorrow to her and to her husband the King. It is after all a primary duty of an hereditary monarch to produce an heir.


The successor to the throne of Charles II was his brother James II (1685 – 1688) who was openly Roman Catholic. When James´s Queen Mary of Modena produced a male (Catholic) heir, the Whig opposition in England was induced to invite a Protestant monarch to take the crown. In 1688, William of Orange (soon to be William III as joint monarch with Queen Mary II) invaded England at Torbay, and King James fled for the continent, reputedly dropping the Great Seal in the Thames as he went. There followed the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights in which the supremacy of Parliament over the monarch, and the succession of a Protestant to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland was finally established.


Of course we cannot know whether Charles II would have allowed his legitimate son to be brought up as a Catholic. What we do know of him and his character allows us to believe that he would have put reasons of state above everything else, and it is highly likely that any legitimate heir of his body would have been brought up in the Anglican tradition.


Charles II was notorious for his libido, and John Wilmot, the outspoken Earl of Rochester wrote the following lewd couplet about the king:


Restless he rolls from whore to whore,

A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.


Charles acknowledged at least a dozen bastards, many of whom were endowed with dukedoms and earldoms, and the present dukes of Buccleuch, Grafton, Richmond and St Albans are direct descendants of these creations in an unbroken male line. Diana, Princess of Wales was descended from two of his illegitimate sons, the Dukes of Grafton and Richmond, and it may be that Diana´s son, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, will be the first descendant of Charles II to occupy the British throne. The coats of arms of the Dukes of Buccleuch, Grafton and St Albans still bear the bend sinister, which is the heraldic sign that the original bearer was a bastard.


Advantages to Portugal


What did the Portuguese crown gain from the match of Princess Catherine with Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland? At a time when Spain was trying to regain the lost territory of Portugal, the Portuguese crown needed allies, and Portugal was prepared to pay to get them. The cost of the dowry could be seen as an insurance premium, since by one of the clauses the Portuguese state was permitted to recruit mercenary soldiers in England. An examination of the records of the battles of the War of Restoration shows that before 1661, only Portuguese soldiers opposed Spanish forces (for example at Montijo 1644 and Linhas de Elvas 1659). After 1661, there was an English contingent (at the successful battles of Ameixial 1663 and Montes Claros and Vila Viçosa 1665). The English also mediated in a treaty between Portugal and the Netherlands (Treaty of the Hague 1661) by which the Netherlands undertook to acknowledge Portuguese rule in Brazil in return for uncontested control of Ceylon and a payment of 4m cruzados (possibly 63 tonnes of gold). Finally, the Treaty of Lisbon of 1668 which brought to a close the war between Portugal and Spain was mediated by an English ambassador (the same Earl of Sandwich who had originally chaperoned Catherine on her journey to England in 1662). It was by this treaty that Spain recognized Portugal´s independence and the resumption of her empire. English interest in the independence of Portugal was of historical importance, and dated from the middle of the 14th century. But it is undeniable that the military and diplomatic aid of the 1660s was instrumental in safeguarding that independence; and the marriage of Catherine was an integral part of the insurance premium which was paid by Portugal.




We should not underestimate the contribution made by England to the continued independence of Portugal as a result of this marriage. Without the support of English soldiers and the strength of a powerful England at the negotiating table, the outcome for Portugal could have been re-absorption into the Iberian Union.


As far as England was concerned, an indirect consequence of the barrenness of Queen Catherine was the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the development of parliamentary democracy in England. The Bill of Rights 1688 determined the succession to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland of the Protestant monarchs William and Mary and the ultimate advent of the House of Hanover in the person of George I in 1714. The Bill of Rights is of course one of the cornerstones of the unwritten British Constitution.


The legacy of Queen Catherine of Braganza to Great Britain through her unfortunate disability was of some magnitude. How different the history of Britain would have been if she had borne a son.