Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of King Joao IV of Portugal, lived a very sheltered life up until she was twenty-three years old. But during that time, her mother, Queen Luisa Maria Francisca had worked long and hard to arrange a marriage for Catherine to Charles Stuart. For years, Charles had been in exile while Oliver Cromwell ruled as Protector of England. But after Cromwell’s death, the people of England wanted their king back and he was restored to the throne as King Charles II in the spring of 1660. The plan to marry Catherine and Charles went into over drive and became a reality.
Many preparations were made and by April 23, 1662, everything was ready for Catherine’s departure. The English ship Royal Charles was waiting at the mouth of the Tagus River to receive her on board. It was now a reality that Catherine had to say goodbye to her beloved mother. That morning, Catherine emerged from the antechamber of her mother’s apartments followed by her two brothers, King Alphonso and Dom Pedro. Behind them was a long and imposing procession of the grandees of Portugal, the officers of the household and the Court nobles.
Catherine wore the traditional costume of Portugal consisting of a wide hoop skirt made of rich material with farthingale, huge bishop sleeves, a deep lace collar, a stiff stomacher and a long ostrich feather in her hair. The entire party descended the great staircase of the palace to the Hall of the Germans. This was the appointed place for Catherine make her final leave-taking with her mother. Charles’ representative, the Earl of Sandwich also waited for her here. Being a dutiful daughter, Catherine begged permission to kiss her mother’s hand. But Catherine was now Queen of England, not just her daughter so Queen Luisa would not allow her to humble herself before the Queen Mother of Portugal.
Luisa formally embraced Catherine and gave her a blessing. Neither one of them showed any emotion but the courtiers, grandees and duennas surrounding them openly wept. Following this, Catherine turned to her two brothers and they escorted her to her coach. She turned back to her mother and made a deep curtsey. The Queen blessed her again and retired from the scene before Catherine even entered the coach. Catherine was placed in the right-hand seat, Alphonso sat at her side and Pedro sat with his back to the horses.
The royal coach and procession of English and Portuguese nobles along with numerous guards made its way to the cathedral for the farewell Mass. Canon boomed from the fortresses and ships and the bells of the cathedral and monastery chimed. Music and dancers filled the streets. The cortège reached the cathedral at nine o’clock where a special benedictory Mass was to be held. The cathedral was beautifully decorated.
As the coach arrived, Lord Sandwich, followed by Dom Pedro and then Catherine led by King Alphonso entered the great door. The King and Dom Pedro dropped to their knees to kiss a cross under a canopy held by six priests. Catherine took her seat in the place of honor in the church and the English Protestants were taken to stroll in the shady cloisters while the Mass proceeded. The Te Deum was sung and the entire party returned to their coaches.
The stately royal train made its way to the Terreiro do Paço and the quay through streets hung with silks, damasks and cloth of gold. Part of the cavalcade included effigies of Catherine and King Charles in robes of state and jewels. The effigy of Charles bore the regalia of his coronation. The people were joyful and shouts of triumph were heard. As they neared the Terreiro do Paço, near the water side, the coach bearing Catherine and her brothers entered the docks by a garden nearby where a door had been cut through the wall for their entrance. Everyone else left their coaches and walked through another door in the same garden to a pier that was brilliantly adorned with flags and pennons.
Everyone who had escorted Catherine ceremoniously kissed her hand with great reverence. Those who offered to do the same to King Alphonso were refused as he didn’t want to detract in any way from the glory of Catherine’s day. The fleet awaited Catherine in the bay. It included fourteen men-of-war, among them the Royal Charles and the Vice-Admiral’s ship the Gloucester. The Montague carried the new Queen’s outfit. The three deck ships flew the English standard and the Royal Charles had the royal ensign. Beside the quay lay a splendidly appointed barge with the Portuguese royal standard.
Alphonso led Catherine to the barge of state. Dom Pedro, Lord Sandwich and the English gentlemen of Catherine’s new household, the new Portuguese ambassador the Marquis de Sande and four other Portuguese grandees boarded the barge. Other nobles and duennas followed in high-prowed boats. As the barge drew away from the quay, the artillery boomed from the forts in the hills and the salute was answered by the ships in the bay. Catherine came up to the side of the Royal Charles which had a crew of six hundred and eighty brass cannon.
Catherine was assisted up the ladder into the ship. She was now legally in England and Alphonso formally handed her over to Lord Sandwich who accompanied her to the cabin which had been especially prepared for her. The wooden bulkheads were covered with crimson velvet embroidered with gold. The cushions, stools, chairs and cloths of state were also of red velvet and gold. The portholes had curtains of damask and taffeta. Persian and Indian carpets covered the floor. The air was perfumed and incense burned. There was a bed of white taffeta in a red and gold frame.
She made her final wrenching goodbyes to her brothers in this room. Other ladies kissed her hand and departed, leaving her alone with members of her new household. She was supposed to remain here but she defied the strict court etiquette and made her way back to the deck. Alphonso sternly indicated she should return below deck but Catherine disobeyed him. She followed her brothers to the top of the ladder and watched as they descended into the royal Portuguese barge. The King again motioned for her to return to her cabin and she reluctantly obeyed.
The Royal Charles was supposed to sail but the winds took to blowing strongly against the fleet and they remained moored in the Tagus River for two days. The city took this opportunity to continue the celebrations. The people rejoiced and brought gaily decorated craft into the bay. At night there were fireworks. Guitars played and the sound of love songs drifted over the water. Catherine remained in seclusion with her ladies in her cabin. No one visited her. Her mother dispatched messages, declaring her sympathy over the delay.
On the evening of April 24th, King Alphonso and Dom Pedro joined the river carnival celebrations. They arranged for several musical nobles of the Court to accompany them in barges with their musical instruments. They surrounded the Royal Charles and serenaded Catherine with various carols, sonnets, madrigals, canozoni, and epithalamiums, all of which had been composed in honor of her nuptials.
The wind calmed during the night and although the conditions were not ideal, Lord Sandwich decided to put to sea. Catherine emerged from her cabin to take one last look at her beloved Portugal and watched Lisbon fade from view. But before the flotilla had crossed the river’s bar, the winds intensified and the rain began to fall in torrents. The waves were tempestuous, seemingly as high as mountains. Water broke over the decks of the ships. Everyone was seasick and several of the ships suffered damages.
The storm lasted thirteen days. At last, the ships reached the English coast between the Lizard and Land’s End and sought shelter in Mount’s Bay. The people welcomed Catherine with salvos of artillery and fireworks but she was too sick to make an appearance. After two days, the fleet headed to Portsmouth and dropped anchor off the Isle of Wight. The news arrived at Portsmouth the fleet had appeared. Charles’ brother James, Duke of York was waiting for the summons and boarded his ship, setting out with five frigates to receive and welcome Catherine on behalf of the King.
As soon as James came in sight of Sandwich’s ships, he sent his secretary off in a boat propelled by rowers to ask permission to wait upon Catherine and kiss her hand. Catherine immediately returned the secretary with the answer that a delay would be painful to her. James boarded his private barge accompanied by several nobles and members of Catherine’s new household, all wearing full court dress. The Marquis de Sande with other Portuguese grandees stood on the deck of the Royal Charles to receive James.
Catherine was clothed in a dress of white cloth trimmed with silver lace in the English fashion for the meeting. She waited in the innermost presence-chamber of her cabin, replete with throne and canopy. James entered the room and dropped to his knees. Catherine came forward and raised him to his feet. She then returned to her throne and sat down. Using her almoner and interpreter Bishop Russell, she recited a few formal remarks in Portuguese, acknowledging James’ equally formal welcome which he spoke in English.
Formalities out of the way, Catherine motioned for James to sit in an armchair on her right. But this he modestly refused. She then pointed to a tabouret (high stool) on her left, outside of the canopy which he cordially accepted. They then began speaking in Spanish together and James assured her of his brotherly affection for her and his desire to always serve her. Catherine was gracious, dignified and self-possessed and seemed very pleased. James was impressed with her gentleness and kindness.
The interview being over, all the English nobles were introduced to Catherine and kissed her hand. Then she presented the Portuguese grandees to the English. James received them with great courtesy. It was time to end the ceremony and Catherine stood up and walked toward James. He tried to stop her, protesting that she must remember her rank. Catherine smiled and replied that she wished to do out of affection what she was not obliged to do. The Duke was delighted. Catherine had made an excellent first impression.
Charles was involved in London with the business of Parliament and therefore delayed in greeting his new bride. It was a week before he arrived in Portsmouth. James visited Catherine on board the ship every day and the two became very friendly. On May 14th, the fleet was seen from the Portsmouth forts sailing up the Solent, including the escort of the Duke of York’s ships. Catherine disembarked from the “Royal Charles” and James handed her from the barge to the steps to shore. She wore English clothing and seemed very happy. She was driven in a gilded state coach through the streets of the town so the people to could see her and taken to the residence of the Governor of Portsmouth which was called the King’s House.
Catherine received her new ladies-in-waiting here and sat down to write a letter to Charles. He was still unable to leave London and so they exchanged letters until he finally got away and arrived in Portsmouth on May 21. After a change of clothing the long-awaited meeting of the couple took place. Catherine had fallen ill with a cold and had a sore throat so she met Charles in her bed. The meeting went well. Even though she was not feeling her best, her kindness and graciousness impressed the King. Charles would say of Catherine that although she was not a beauty, her eyes were excellent good and there was not anything in her face that in the least degree could shock anyone.
The wedding took place that same day. There was a secret Catholic service to satisfy Catherine and then a public Church of England service. Although the marriage was childless and had a great many ups and downs due to Charles’ many mistresses and affairs, they were married nearly twenty-three years. Catherine would be attacked for her lack of children and her Catholicism and the subject of divorce would rear its ugly head many times. But Charles stood by her through it all and they were only parted when he died in 1685. After several years, Catherine returned to Portugal and acted as regent for her brother Pedro until she died herself in 1705 at the age of sixty-seven.
Further reading: “Catherine of Bragança: Infanta of Portugal and Queen Consort of England” by Lillias Campbell Davidson, “Catherine of Braganza” by Janet MacKay