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Thursday, 29 November 2018

Catherine of Braganza, Queen Consort of England


Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) may have had a privileged life surrounded by luxury, but she must also be counted as one of the more unfortunate wives of an English king, in that her husband – King Charles II – took very little interest in her. Although she was young and beautiful, he much preferred the company of other women, of whom there were many.

Catherine was a Portuguese princess who married the English king for purely political purposes, as well as bringing a substantial dowry with her. She was 23 at the time of her marriage to Charles, which was quite an advanced age for a royal spouse at that time – the brides of Charles’s father and grandfather had both been only 14 when they married. Charles was 31, and already well provided with female company.

He made it clear to Catherine that he had no intention of changing his ways, and did not. It is not known exactly how many mistresses he had during his life but he fathered at least sixteen illegitimate children, many of whom were later given dukedoms or – if girls – found suitably aristocratic husbands.

However, Catherine remained childless – almost certainly because Charles hardly ever visited her bed during their 24-year marriage. Despite this neglect, Catherine remained faithful to her husband and actually adored him. It is difficult to see what basis this adoration had, especially as she spoke no English and he did not speak Portuguese.

As Charles lay dying in 1685, Catherine was overcome by emotion at his bedside and had to be carried away when she fainted with grief. She sent word to ask Charles to forgive her. His reply was : “She asks my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart”.

After Charles died, Catherine stayed in England for a short time before returning to Portugal, dying and being buried in Lisbon in 1704 at the age of 67.

© John Welford

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