Catherine of Braganza was married to King Charles II of England for twenty-three years. As a bride of twenty-three, she left her sheltered existence in Portugal and sailed to England in 1662. Catherine was sincerely in love with her husband but it wasn’t an easy marriage for her as Charles was unfaithful and she was unable to fulfill her primary duty of providing an heir to the throne. She was attacked for her Catholic faith in a primarily Protestant nation. To his credit, Charles was loyal to her and protected her politically during the worst of the crisis known as the Popish Plot.
After the death of Charles II in 1685, Catherine was on good terms with his Catholic brother King James II and his queen, Mary of Modena. But when James was driven from the throne by his daughter Mary and son-in-law, William of Orange in 1688, life became very difficult. Catherine’s Catholicism gained her much criticism and Queen Mary did not like her personally. She began a campaign to return to Portugal as the Articles of Marriage between his Majesty and the Lady Infanta of Portugal, 1661 permitted her to do. After many delays, she finally left England in 1692, sailing across the Channel and travelling through France and Spain to a joyful return back to her beloved Portugal.
Catherine drew up her will on February 14, 1699 while she was staying in the Palace of the Conde de Soure at the Moinho de Vento. In the will, she stipulated she should be buried next to her brother Teodósio who had died in 1653 and was buried in the Church of Saint Mary of the Jerónimos Monastery at Belém in Lisbon. She further stated my “Brother (now with God), and in case his Bones shall be carried to the Convent of St. Vincent without this city (as the King Dom João the Fourth, my Lord and Father, ordered by his Will) it is my will that myne shall likewise be carried and buryed in the Great Chappell of the same Convent”.
In 1705, Catherine’s brother, King Pedro II was ill and unable to perform his duties as monarch. He named Catherine as his regent and she was ruling with authority and purpose until she became violently ill with severe colic on December 31. Pedro came to her side at her private Palace of Bemposta to summon a State Council to transfer the regency out of her hands and back to himself. Her condition, as well as his own illness, prevented Pedro from staying with her. He returned to Alcântara and issued orders that representatives of the State Council stay at Bemposta to follow through on any orders in the event of her death.
Catherine died at ten o’clock at night. Her will was read before the Council and the English ambassador and then plans for her burial were made. Catherine was to be given a funeral with the same pomp and grandeur as if she was the reigning sovereign of Portugal. On January 3, 1706, the vigil service, Do corpo presente, was performed at Bemposta in the presence of Catherine’s remains. It was officiated by Anthony of Saldanha, the Bishop of Portalegre. He was assisted by the Bishops of Algarve, Maranhão, Bonn and Hiponia, all of whom sang the liturgies.
In the afternoon, the funeral took place. King Pedro did not attend upon the advice of his councilors. Catherine’s nephews, the Infante John and his brothers, the Princes D. Francis and D. Anthony were at the Palace of Bemposta where they sprinkled holy water on Catherine’s body. The body was lifted onto an open bier, according to the Portuguese custom. Manuel de Vasconselos de Sousa, who took the duties of chief groom of the chamber in the absence of his brother, the Conde de Castlemelhor, Catherine’s devoted servant and friend, lifted the pall that covered her, leaving her face visible.
The Marquis of Marialva, the count of Sarzedas, the Count of Atalaia, the Count of S. Vincente, the Count of Vila Verde, the Count of Alvor, the Count of Falveias and Francis de Sousa, all members of the Council of State, lifted the coffin and placed it on a litter. The litter was taken in state to the church at Belém. The monastery was located on the same spot where Vasco da Gama had sailed on his greatest voyage of discovery, the passage to the Indies. The grandees were accompanied by the whole court and all of Catherine’s faithful retinue. The streets were hung in black. As the procession made its way to the church, it passed the streets of S. Antony of Capuchos, S. Joseph, Anunciada, Rossio and Esperança, going slowly between rows of priests and monks with their eyes downcast, from all the orders of the kingdom. Many weeping people joined the procession to get one last glimpse of their beloved Infanta.
At the church of Saint Mary, the members of the Council removed the coffin from the litter and delivered it to the Brotherhood of Misericordia, according the customary practice of the Portuguese Kings. She was buried in the church next to Teodósio as she requested. Tribunals were suspended for eight days while the whole country grieved for their princess and the Court went into mourning for a year.
In 1855, D. Ferdinand, regent of his son Pedro V, ordered the construction of a Pantheon of the House of Braganza in the Convent of St. Vicente de Fora and the bones of other Braganza monarchs and their families were moved to the convent, including Catherine’s. From 1932-34, cleaning and restoration work was completed on the graves. Order was brought to the huddle of coffins, graves and crowns that were clustered there. Catherine’s remains now lie in a modest white marble drawer with the inscription “Rainha de Inglaterra D. Catharina 1638-1703”.
Further reading: “Catherine of Braganza: Infanta of Portugal and Queen Consort of England” by Lillias Campbell Davidson, “Catherine of Braganza” by Janet MacKay, “Catherine of Braganza: Princess of Portugal, Wife to Charles II” by Manuel Andrade E Sousa, “D. Catarina de Bragança, Rainha de Inglaterra” by Virginia Rau, “Notes on Catherine of Braganza, Queen Consort of King Charles II of England” by E. Rosenthal in The Historical Association: Lisbon branch. Annual Report and Review, 1937