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 Catherine (1638–1705), by Jacob Huysmans, c.1664 [as a shepherdess] Catherine (1638–1705), by Jacob Huysmans, c.1664 [as a shepherdess]
Catherine [Catherine of Braganza, Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança] (1638–1705), queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles II, was born on 25 November 1638 NS at the Vila Viçosa in Alentejo, Portugal, the third but only surviving daughter of the five children of John (João) de Bragança, eighth duke of Bragança, later King John IV (the Fortunate) of Portugal (1604–1656), and his wife, Luiza Maria (1613–1666), daughter of Juan Manuel Domingo Perez de Guzman, eighth duke of Medina Sidonia. In 1640 a rebellion against the Spanish, who ruled Portugal, established Bragança on the Portuguese throne and the family moved to the royal palace in Lisbon. Four years later only the English had recognized John IV as king of Portugal and he immediately proposed marriage between the infanta, Catherine, and Charles Stuart, prince of Wales, later . The proposal was rejected. Little is known of Catherine's childhood but she was probably brought up in the royal palace rather than a convent as is sometimes suggested. She was later reported by the English consul in Lisbon to have been ‘bred hugely retired. She hath hardly been ten times out of the palace in her life’ (Rosenthal, ‘Notes’, 2.70).

A marriage treaty

John IV died in 1656 and his widow was appointed regent. In 1660, having unsuccessfully tried to secure the French king, Louis XIV, for her daughter, the queen regent revived the proposal to marry Catherine to Charles II. This time the English were willing to listen and the negotiations were conducted by Francisco de Melo, Catherine's godfather. The Spanish vigorously opposed the match but the French supported it and after a year of discussions it was agreed, Charles announcing at the opening of parliament on 8 May 1661 his intention to marry Catherine, and signing a marriage treaty on 23 June 1661. Under the treaty Catherine was to bring Charles the huge portion of 2 million cruzados (about £300,000), the important strategic and trading posts of Tangier in north Africa and Bombay in India, and free trade with Brazil and the East Indies. In return England would give military assistance to help protect Portugal from Spain, while Catherine was to have an income of £30,000 and, as a Roman Catholic, a private chapel in any palace where she might reside, and the right to practise her religion freely. The usual proxy marriage was not conducted before Catherine set off from Portugal on 13 April 1662, probably because Portuguese independence was still not recognized by the pope and any papal dispensations for the marriage would have described Catherine as the daughter of a duke rather than a king. On 14 May 1662 Catherine landed at Portsmouth, where she stayed until Charles II arrived a week later. They were married on 21 May at Portsmouth in both a secret Roman Catholic ceremony, conducted by Catherine's chief almoner, Ludovic Stuart, Lord d'Aubigny, and a public Anglican one, conducted by Bishop Gilbert Sheldon. Charles wrote to his lord chancellor that Catherine's ‘face is not so exact as to be caled a beuty, though her eyes are excelent good, and not any thing in her face that in the least degree can shoque one’ (Hartmann, 43). A later report claimed that Charles privately told one of his companions that he thought they had brought him a bat rather than a woman. The king's contemporaries also concluded that Catherine was not a beauty: she had rather protruding teeth ‘wronging her mouth’ and was very short and slight, but they agreed that her large, dark eyes were, as one observer put it, ‘angelic’ (Evelyn, 3.320; Lorenzo Magalotti, 29).

On 29 May Catherine arrived at Hampton Court with Charles II. Crowds came ‘streaming in’ from London hoping for a glimpse of the new queen and the following day they were able to see her and the king dining in public, but the hall became so crowded and hot that Catherine hurriedly left the room, her make-up being ‘about to run off with sweat’ (Journal of William Schellinks' Travels, 90). At Hampton Court the king admired Catherine's wit and was ‘extremely fond, and spends all his time with her’, while Catherine was ‘of extraordinary piety, full of sweetness and goodnese’. In an indication of future conflicts she was also concerned that the ladies of the court ‘spend soe much time in dressing themselves, she feares they bestow but little on God Almighty, and in housewivry’ (Beaufort MSS, 52–3). The marital harmony soon disappeared. The king had decided to give his mistress, Barbara Palmer, countess of Castlemaine, a place as lady of the bedchamber in Catherine's household but when the two were introduced the queen, who by some means had heard of Castlemaine and resolved never to see her, caused a public scene by bleeding from the nose and fainting. For some weeks thereafter Catherine put up a vigorous resistance, displaying an unexpectedly fierce temper: she erased Castlemaine's name from the list of household servants presented to her by the king, argued passionately with him against the appointment and told the lord chancellor that she would never agree to the king's request. Charles's sister Henriette Anne wrote to him from France on 22 July NS, ‘it is said here that she [Catherine] is grieved beyond measure, and to speak frankly I think it is with reason’ (Hartmann, 51). The quarrel was resolved only when, after threats by Charles II that all her Portuguese attendants would be sent away, Catherine gave way in late August, just before she went to Whitehall.

Catherine's arrival by barge at Whitehall Palace on 23 August 1662 was the occasion of spectacular celebrations on the Thames. The diarist Samuel Pepys was among the crowds but his first sighting of Catherine was at the queen mother Henrietta Maria's residence, Somerset House, on 7 September when he thought that ‘though she be not very charming, yet she hath a good modest and innocent look’ (Pepys, 3.191). Once at Whitehall, Catherine appeared determined to please the king by being gracious not only to Lady Castlemaine but also to the king's eldest illegitimate son James Scott, later duke of Monmouth. She was seen sharing a coach with both of them and ‘was merry’ with Castlemaine and ‘talked kindly of her’ (Life of … Clarendon, 2.194). To add to her difficulties Catherine at first spoke very little English and as late as 1668 it was reported that she understood the language with some difficulty. Another source of friction was the continuing difficulty over the payment of her portion which, as might have been predicted, was beyond Portugal's resources. Half the portion had accompanied Catherine to England but much of it had not been in cash as agreed but, to the great annoyance of the English, in commodities such as sugar and in bills of exchange. Negotiations over the remainder continued for years and it was never fully paid.

Disappointed hopes

Despite Catherine's appeasement of the king she did not gain much influence at court, mainly due to her failure (in marked contrast to Charles's mistresses) to have children. She apparently suffered from dysfunctional uterine bleeding; a visitor to the court in 1668 heard that ‘the extraordinary frequency and abundance of her menses’ (Lorenzo Magalotti, 30) made it unlikely that she would have children, while Sir John Reresby also recorded that she had ‘a constant flux upon her’ (Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, 40–41). In September 1662 Charles II was heard joking to his mother that Catherine was pregnant, to which Catherine responded, ‘you lye’ (Pepys, 3.191). Not long afterwards the situation was recognized as serious and already by December that year there was speculation that Catherine was infertile and that the king might legitimate Monmouth. In July 1663 Catherine began the first of several summer visits to the waters of Tunbridge Wells and then Bath in hopes of a cure. Returning to Whitehall without the desired result Catherine fell ill of a fever in October and, revealing the pressure she was under, talked deliriously of the three children she believed she already had. Her misfortunes were increased by Charles's obsession with her maid of honour Frances Stuart, which began in early 1663 and continued until Frances's marriage in 1667.

In 1665 the plague forced the court to leave London, going first to Salisbury and then moving to Oxford. In Oxford Catherine probably suffered a miscarriage in January or February 1666, but it seems that Charles II may not have been present at the time, having already returned to Whitehall, and according to the earl of Clarendon he refused to believe that it had occurred. Indeed, when a pregnancy in 1668 ended in miscarriage at about ten weeks, on 7 May the king wrote to his sister that at least it was proof that she could conceive, ‘which I will not deny to you till now I did feare she was not capable of’ (Hartmann, 208–9). A year later, in May 1669, another pregnancy was announced but ended in early miscarriage by 7 June. According to one report the miscarriage was caused by a fright Catherine received when a tame fox owned by the king jumped on her bed and ran across her face. Thereafter the attempts at conceiving an heir seem to have been largely abandoned. Catherine's failure to produce children had serious implications for the royal succession. Already in 1667 the rumour circulated that Charles would divorce Catherine, the first of many such suggestions. In 1669 the duke of Buckingham claimed to have discussed divorcing Catherine with the king and in March 1670 the notorious divorce case of Lord Roos came before parliament. Charles II displayed an interest and was said to support Roos's desire for a divorce. Catherine was annoyed by Charles's close attention to the case and reportedly declared that if in conscience she could retire to a convent she would be very pleased to do it.

Catherine found some pleasure in the fashionable entertainments of the court. She enjoyed playing cards, shocking protestants such as Pepys and the duke of Ormond by playing on Sundays. She also organized a number of masques and was very fond of dancing. The poet Edmund Waller credited her with making tea a fashionable drink. In 1666 she was said to be considering leading the way in wearing shorter dresses which showed the feet. On one occasion, while staying at Audley End in 1670, Catherine and two of her ladies attended a nearby fair disguised as country women but were soon discovered and, the crowds becoming so great, were forced to make a hasty retreat. Her favourite painter was Jacob Huysmans, a Dutch Catholic. About 1664 he painted her as St Catherine, apparently prompting a fashion for women to be painted in the same guise as a compliment to the queen. Even in her artistic patronage, however, the queen was overshadowed, the countess of Castlemaine setting the fashionable court look and patronizing the most successful court painter, Peter Lely.

No doubt Catherine's deep faith sustained her, the English remarking with some amazement on her manifest piety. Before she arrived Charles II rebuilt the Catholic chapel at St James's Palace for her use, and invited six English Benedictine monks from Douai to staff it. In her own household there were between four and six priests. In December 1663 the king requested his sister to send some pictures to put in prayer books for Catherine. They would be a ‘greate present to her, and she will looke upon them often, for she is not only content to say the great ofice in the breviere every day, but likewise that of our Lady too, and this is besides goeing to chapell’ (Hartmann, 89). When the pictures arrived Charles wrote that ‘they are very fine ones and she never saw such before’ (ibid., 94). About 1665 Catherine decided to build a religious house east of the chapel at St James's, to be occupied by thirteen Portuguese Franciscans of the order of St Peter of Alcantara. The convent, which no longer exists, was known as The Friary, and was completed and being lived in by January 1667. The order chosen to inhabit it occasioned some criticism of their lack of sophistication but their simplicity may have appealed to the queen. Her attendance at mass before seven o'clock in the morning on St Katherine's day in 1666 provoked one contemporary to remark that ‘he never saw anything have so much zeale … much beyond the bigotery that ever the old Queen-mother had’ (Pepys, 7.384). In 1668 she was reported to have publicly rejoiced at the news of the French Marshal Turenne's conversion to Catholicism, while the protestant women of the court wept. Eager to establish cordial relations with the pope and gain recognition for Portuguese independence she sent Richard Bellings, later her principal secretary, to Rome in October 1662 with letters for the pope and several cardinals. In 1669 she interested herself in the relief of Candia in Crete, which was under siege by the Turks and whose cause was promoted by Rome, although she could not persuade the king to take any action. In 1670 she requested and received devotional objects from the pope.

Increasing difficulties

Catherine had been given Somerset House on the death of Henrietta Maria in August 1669 and in 1671 she moved her chapel, priests, and monks there. The move caused some confusion with many reports that she was going to live permanently at Somerset House, but this did not happen. Continuing to fulfil her role as queen consort Catherine usually accompanied the king on his journeys outside London. In September 1671 they made a tour of Norfolk, visiting Norwich, where Catherine was praised for being ‘infinitely gratious’ and allowing many the privilege of kissing her hand, so ‘our whole inhabitants … sing of nothing else but her prayses’ (T. C., 16). In February 1673 Catherine suffered a serious illness and told one of her ladies that she had been poisoned. She seems to have become genuinely afraid of further ‘attempts’, her fears probably stimulated by repeated moves, which increased in urgency after the conversion of the duke of York (later James II) to Catholicism became generally known in 1673, to convince Charles II to abandon her. Throughout the 1673–4 session of parliament the earl of Shaftesbury, by this time in opposition to the court, was known to be offering a reconciliation with Charles if only he would consent to divorce. Charles again refused to countenance the suggestion, but after a summer spent at Windsor in 1674 royal relations seem to have reached a low ebb. That autumn Catherine did not go to Newmarket and instead spent some weeks at Hampton Court ‘in retirement’. According to the Venetian ambassador, ‘Contrary to her usual custom, stifling the pangs of jealousy by which she is tormented, her Majesty made an effort to amuse herself during the whole of this last season with hunting and dancing’, and she returned ‘unwillingly to London where the customary freedoms of the king and even more the flaunting of his mistresses dispirit her and render her incapable of disguising her sorrows’ (CSP Venice, 1673–5, 305). Undoubtedly the presence of the latest royal mistress, Louise de Kéroualle, duchess of Portsmouth, affected Catherine's mood. She was again seriously ill in March 1675, which her doctors believed was due as much to mental as physical causes, in particular the stress of a possible revival of the divorce project and the increasing measures against Catholics.

In 1675 all English and Irish Catholic priests were ordered to leave the country, making Catherine thenceforth rely on her foreign priests. Other Catholics in the queen's entourage also caused concern. In 1670 Francisco de Melo returned to England privately and was shown great favour by the queen. When he was appointed ambassador to England in 1671 it was left to Catherine to uphold the honour of Portugal and pay his expenses, part of his salary (despite protests in the privy council), and insist that he be allowed to make a formal entry to London. In 1675 Catherine appointed the ambassador as her lord chamberlain, an unusual and controversial move, for which the king, wishing to please Catherine and perhaps demonstrate the futility of moves for divorce, gave his permission. De Melo was dismissed a year later after it was discovered that he had ordered the printing of a Catholic book.

Catherine herself did not seek any active role in the religious politics of the country although she inevitably had some interest in the support of her religion. In 1672 she was said to be pressing her claims for a place in the first promotion of cardinals based on the advantages Catholics in England had by her presence. She renewed her claims for a cardinal's place in 1675 and, taking an interest in the government of Catholics in England, apparently supported the idea of appointing a bishop to England who would resolve the internal disputes among Catholics. Despite orders to the contrary her chapel continued to be attended by English Catholics and in 1671 the Venetian ambassador had reported that ‘she causes the free exercise of the Roman Church to glow amid the fog of these heresies’ (CSP Venice, 1671–2, 62).

The Popish Plot of 1678 directly threatened Catherine's position, as she and her household were immediately under suspicion of involvement in the alleged conspiracy to kill the king. Catherine's Catholic servants were accused by William Bedloe of murdering the magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey at Somerset House, which was searched for evidence on 8 November. Titus Oates then accused the queen of high treason, claiming that Catherine knew and approved the plot, her motive supposedly being revenge for the king's infidelities and desire to bring in Catholicism. Under questioning it was clear that both had invented their stories but on 28 and 29 November 1678 Bedloe and Oates made their depositions against the queen before parliament and such was the belief in the plot that the House of Commons voted for an address calling for Catherine and her household's banishment from Whitehall. The address did not pass the Lords but the accusations continued and further depositions were made against her.

Catherine's peril prompted Charles to new displays of affection. After the 1678 Test Act restricted the queen to nine Catholic servants besides her Portuguese attendants she quickly reappointed the duchess of Portsmouth (the king's mistress) as one of her ladies because, it was said, she ‘out of civility thinkes shee could do no less; since the king stuck to her and showed so much concerne for her’ (Beaufort MSS, 83). The pressure on the king to remove all Catholics from his presence seemed inexorable, however, and in a letter to her brother on 17 March 1679 Catherine subtly criticized her husband's decision to send away the duke of York and highlighted the apparent precariousness of her own position. Charles II:
hath seemingly clos'd his Eyes … and taken a Step soe contrary to the affection he bears toward this Brother to whom he owes soe much. Such Decision evokes alarm that were others to support his [the duke of York's] attitudes they must suffer the same fate. (Rau, ‘Letters’, 564)
She protested her innocence of all accusations against her and wrote that the king believed her innocent. A special envoy, the marquez de Arronches, arrived from Portugal in April 1679 with the proposal that she return to Portugal for her own safety, but she refused. In July there was renewed speculation that Charles would now consent to divorce her but the case against her largely collapsed the same month when Catherine's physician Sir George Wakeman was acquitted of preparing the poison that was to kill Charles. Bedloe died in August saying that she was indeed innocent. On 15 August 1679 the countess of Sunderland wrote, ‘The king and queen, who is now a mistress, the passion her spouse has for her is so great, go both to Newmarket the 18th of September, together with the whole court’ (Henry Sidney's Diary, 1.86). At the end of the year Catherine wrote to her brother praising ‘the loving kindness’ with which the king supported her (Rau, ‘Letters’, 565–7). Charles again rejected proposals by Shaftesbury at the end of the year that he divorce Catherine. The unpopularity of Catholics led to Catherine being publicly insulted as she went to her chapel at Somerset House and in January 1680 it was decided that she would go back to the chapel at St James's, the access to which was more private. The earl of Shaftesbury made a final attempt to convince the king to abandon Catherine, introducing a divorce bill in the House of Lords on 17 November 1680 but, the bill finding few supporters, it was soon dropped. Afterwards Charles signalled his support for his wife by going immediately to tell her the news and sleeping for some time in her chamber after dinner, something he usually did at the duchess of Portsmouth's.

End of the reign, last years in England

Catherine had survived as England's queen but thereafter seems to have become more withdrawn. In March 1681 she was at Newmarket when one of her dressers reported that although the other ladies of the court went out riding every day, ‘our good Mistres entertaines better thoughts in her solitude, being retired most part of the day at her devotions and reading’ (Lady Tuke to Mary Evelyn, 20 March 1681[–2], BL, Evelyn MS ME6). She was also not playing cards, something that she usually did a great deal. The dominance of the duchess of Portsmouth increased to unbearable proportions for Catherine who in 1683 complained to Charles in the course of an argument about her servants' privileges that ‘the queen mother did a great deal more [than she], but that now the mistresses governe all’ (CSP dom., 1683, pt 1, 202). In April 1684 she chose Lord Halifax as her new lord chancellor, apparently because of his opposition to that faction at court which included the duchess of Portsmouth. Catherine suffered ‘many swoons and nervous attacks’ during Charles II's last illness, but remained at his bedside as much as possible until the night before his death on 6 February 1685 when she was taken back to her own room (Rau, ‘King Charles’, 517). She had no role in arranging the king's deathbed conversion to Catholicism but probably knew of it at the time. She ordered an elaborate marble bust of Charles II and fell into a ‘profound depression and melancholy’ which lasted for some months (ibid., 519). After a year she recovered somewhat, took an interest in her household affairs, and resolved firmly to maintain her recent weight loss through diet and exercise.

In the reign of James II, Catherine lived at Somerset House and had a summer residence in Hammersmith, Middlesex. She experienced fewer difficulties regarding her religion under the Catholic James II and established a community of nuns at Hammersmith but, as a former queen consort, her public role was negligible. An increasingly isolated figure, from at least 1687 Catherine wished to return to Portugal, but she had still to depend on the whims of kings, and in letters to her brother Pedro II pleaded with him to give her permission to leave England. She wrote revealingly that there was little purpose in remaining now that ‘the Almighty hath seen fitt to set me free’. She offered to live some distance away from him so that she would not cause jealousy among courtiers who might fear her influence, and wrote:
there remains nothing more to say than, if Hermitages were not forbidden to Women, or were I of the other Sex, it wd. be no longer necessary for the World to take account of me, certain it be I shd. no longer be Here. (Rau, ‘Letters’, 570–71)
Pedro II, however, seemed reluctant to act and Catherine was still in England when the revolution of 1688 took place. She remained carefully neutral but her presence seems to have been an irritation to the protestant William and Mary, the former requesting, unsuccessfully, that she might move to somewhere less conspicuous than Somerset House. She seems to have spent the summers from 1689 at a house in Islington.

Homecoming and conclusion

Catherine remained in England until 30 March 1692, when she left for Portugal, travelling overland across France and Spain. She reached Lisbon in January 1693 and after residing at palaces at Alcantara, Santa Marta, Moinho de Vento, and Belem, in and near Lisbon, settled at Bemposta near Lisbon, where she had a new palace and chapel built. Her court was much reduced and in 1700 an observer wrote of her retired life; ‘there is now no noise, nor Ostentation of Grandeur about her House but all things are quiet and still’ (Rosenthal, ‘Notes’, 2.74). There seems little to indicate that she had anything to do with the Methuen treaty between England and Portugal in 1703. In 1704, however, she came out of retirement, being appointed regent to Pedro II due to his ill health. Portugal had a series of military victories against Spain under Catherine and she remained regent until her death on 31 December 1705 at the palace at Bemposta. She was buried in the monastery at Belem, near Lisbon. In the twentieth century her body was moved to the Bragança mausoleum of St Vincent, Lisbon.

Catherine had not been unwilling to fulfil her role as the British queen consort but circumstances conspired to make her success unlikely. Her ‘ordinary mind’ and lack of beauty and sophistication disappointed her court, and while she came to love her husband, who for his part welcomed her non-interference in politics and praised her goodness, his mistresses were the bane of her life, and her childlessness the cause of great misery (Lorenzo Magalotti, 31). Looking back in 1687 on her marriage Catherine wrote with some bitterness, ‘There were then Reasons for my coming to this Kingdom, solely for the advantage of Portugal, & for this cause & for the interests of our House I was Sacrific'd’ (Rau, ‘Letters’, 567).

S. M. Wynne


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BL, corresp., Add MS 17020 · Lincs. Arch., accounts of the queen; privy purse |  BL, corresp. with her brother Pedro II, Egerton MS 1534


oils, mid 17th cent. (aged ten), Museu Regional de Evora, Portugal · oils, c.1660–1661 (after D. Stoop), NPG; version, NPG · W. Hollar, etching, 1661, BM · N. Munier, etching, pubd 1662, BM · P. Lely, oils, c.1663–1665, Royal Collection · J. Huysmans, oils, c.1664, Royal Collection [see illus.] · attrib. studio of J. Huysmans, oils, c.1670, NPG · B. Gennari, oils, c.1675–1685, Goodwood House, West Sussex · G. Bower, medals, BM · S. Cooper, miniature, Royal Collection · J. Roettier, medals and badges, BM