Catherine Of Braganza, The Forgotten Queen
There have been scandalous queens in history, but none of them had the outrageous bedroom drama of Catherine of Braganza. As King Charles II of England’s wife, Catherine now has a reputation for being a long-suffering bride who had to watch her philandering husband go through countless mistresses. What most people don’t know, however, is that Catherine was a bad girl to the bone-and these facts prove it.
1. She Went From Duchess To Princess
Born in 1638 to John, the Duke of Braganza, and his wife Luisa, Catherine’s life changed in an instant. In 1640, when she was just a toddling two years old, her father got a mega promotion and became the King of Portugal. With that, Catherine went from merely privileged to super powerful…but it’s not like her childhood was rosy.
2. Her Mother Controlled Her
Catherine’s mother Queen Luisa was a powerhouse and a battleax rolled into one, and she kept an incredibly watchful eye on her daughter. Some would say, a little too watchful. Luisa not only supervised Catherine’s education, she also kept her in a nearby convent-and basically trapped her there. Spoiler: This wasn’t the best idea.
3. She Was Disturbingly Naive
After only seeing the walls inside a Catholic convent for most of her formative years, Catherine turned out to be a very sheltered and naïve girl. As one courtier noted, she was “hugely retired” and had “hardly been ten times out of the palace in her life.” Now, maybe this Rapunzel-like existence was fine for other European princesses, but Catherine’s life was about to take a dark turn.
4. She Went Through An Early Tragedy
In 1653, as Catherine entered her teenage years, her older sister Joana passed at just 18 years old, turning Catherine into the family’s eldest child. Considering that “Convent Catherine” probably only knew about five other people in the entire world, the tragedy must have hit her hard. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t get much peace and quiet to grieve…
5. She Almost Became The Queen Of France
With Catherine now her royal family’s oldest daughter, every eligible bachelor in Europe was eyeing up the girl as a potential bride. And I do mean everyone. Her mother headed up the suitor committee, and none other than “The Sun King” Louis XIV started sniffing around her skirts. Unfortunately for the princess, the wrong man might have won the bid.
6. She Made A Bad Match
Eventually, Catherine’s mommy dearest selected the future King Charles II as her daughter’s husband-to-be. This could have been a grave mistake. While marriage negotiations began during the reign of Charles’s father King Charles I, after 1649 the ruler lost his crown and his head, and Catherine’s suitor had a hugely uncertain future ahead of him. Their route back to each other was wild.
7. She Had A Rocky Relationship
Queen Luisa was clearly desperate to turn little Catherine into a Queen of England, because she actually waited for things to calm down so that Charles could reclaim the throne in the 1660 Restoration and put a ring on her daughter’s fingers. All Luisa’s momager skills finally paid off in 1661, when the two royal kiddos got engaged.
After that little case of whiplash, Catherine of Braganza was about the become an English consort for real this time, and it all happened very fast from there.
8. Her Suitor Ignored Her
In May 1662, a 23-year-old Catherine traveled over to Portsmouth, England to meet her fiancé for the first time. It was not the fairy tale she might have imagined. Showing an ominous lack of enthusiasm for his nubile bride, Charles didn’t visit her there until almost a week later, just one single day before their wedding. Off to a great start, then.
9. She Had A Secret Wedding
On May 20, Catherine and Charles were married in Portsmouth in a royal ceremony-but there is a little known fact about their big day. They actually had two weddings, one for the public and the other in secret. See, one of the marriage stipulations was that pious Catherine got to stay Catholic even as she married a Protestant king, but Charles didn’t exactly want to publicize this little loophole.
Sadly, it would haunt Catherine all the same.
10. Her Own People Hated Her
Although Catherine was now a Queen of England, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. For one thing, she could barely speak the language, and struggled to make herself understood when she wasn’t with her Portuguese retinue. Besides that, the Protestant faction in England hated her guts, and that’s putting it lightly. And then came the time to meet Charles’s parents.
11. She Was A “Saint”
Charles and Catherine had an extravagant procession back to London, full of minstrels and musicians, plus a custom-made bridge for them to cross over. Then, when they finally arrived, Catherine got her real test: She met Charles’s mother Henrietta Maria. Not that she had anything to worry about; the Dowager Queen was delighted in her virginal, pure daughter-in-law, calling her “the best creature in the world,” and “a saint!” The thing is, Charles was most definitely not a saint…
12. Her Husband Was No Prince Charming
Although Charles was supposed to be a chivalrous King of England, he had a scandalous history. Poor Catherine’s brand new husband was notorious around Europe for his long list of mistresses, including the smug Barbara Villiers, the sassy Nell Gwynn, and the simpering Louise de Kerouaille, all of whom had no qualms about propriety like Catherine did. Oh, but there’s more.
13. Her King Had A Vulgar Nickname
It wasn’t only that Charles caroused around with his fun-loving girls, he also had a bad habit of getting them pregnant. In fact, Charles’s intense, er, virility earned him the nickname “Old Rowley,” after his favorite racehorse who was also an astounding stud stallion. In other words: Catherine of Braganza was in way over her head.
14. Her Husband Betrayed Her
These problems aside, Charles’s mother Henrietta Maria certainly thought the marriage could be a happy, devoted one. She was so, so wrong. Whatever “saintly” qualities Catherine had, they certainly weren’t enough to make Charles forget about the buxom women at his beck and call. In fact, he went right back to them within mere weeks of his wedding. The toll this took on Catherine was devastating.
15. She Suffered A Huge Humiliation
Catherine was sheltered, but she sure as heck wasn’t stupid. For one thing, Charles’s mistresses were famous for their lack of discretion-one of them, Moll Davis, was called “the most impertinent” woman in the world-so it wasn’t difficult to connect the dots. When Catherine realized her husband was visiting other women’s beds, she was reportedly humiliated and crestfallen. And there was one mistress in particular she despised…
16. She Made A Bitter Rival
At the time of Catherine’s marriage to Charles, by far his favorite mistress was Barbara Villiers, whose influence at court was so great that people named her “The Uncrowned Queen.” Still, this wasn’t enough for Barbara, and she sought out more and more power from Charles, in the bedroom and beyond. So when Catherine came on the scene, Barbara dealt her an immensely cruel blow.
17. A Mean Girl Snubbed Her
When Catherine first landed in Portsmouth for her wedding, Barbara Villiers gave her a very obvious and extremely withering snub. Although the best families were expected to light a bonfire in front of their houses to welcome Catherine to England, Barbara left her lawn conspicuously dark for the queen’s arrival. But, why stop there?
18. Her Honeymoon Was Embarrassing
When Catherine landed, Barbara was already heavily pregnant with one of King Charles II’s many illegitimate heirs. She knew exactly how to use this to Catherine’s disadvantage. While the royal couple was away on their honeymoon, Barbara planned to give birth to Charles’s child-at his personal palace in Hampton Court. Yep, this woman knew how to mark her territory.
19. She Was Faint Of Heart
Unsurprisingly, Catherine and Barbara did not get along, and their rivalry was already obvious at their very first meeting. Reportedly, when King Charles officially presented Barbara Villiers to his prim and proper queen, Catherine was so shocked and offended that she fainted on the spot. But that was just the beginning of the nightmare.
20. Her Husband Disrespected Her
Unluckily for Catherine, Barbara gave birth to a son that year. Illegitimate or not, a boy was a blessing in 17th-century England, and Charles rewarded his mistress with a controversial gift: He made her Lady of the Bedchamber to his own wife. You read that right; Catherine now had to see her own husband’s baby mama every single day. So it’s no wonder that she eventually snapped.
21. She Started A Feud
King Charles’s pants had gotten the better of him on this one, and it thrust his marriage toward utter disaster. After dealing with humiliation after humiliation, Catherine wasn’t about to play the nice, obedient wife anymore. She started a full-blown feud with Barbara and refused to spend any more time with the king until he reconsidered his indecent proposal. Thus, a legendary crisis was born.
22. She Went Through A Crisis
In what became the “Bedchamber Crisis,” Catherine and her precious few allies at court loudly opposed the King’s little push present for Barbara, all while Catherine sniped at the mistress in the privacy of her own palace. In the end, however, Charles got what he wanted…but he had to use some pretty horrific means to get it.
23. Her Husband Threatened Her
When the upset Catherine understandably threatened to return to Portugal rather than take in her husband’s mistress with open arms, Charles’s response was so disturbing, it’s impossible to forget. He cruelly took away Catherine’s regular Portuguese retinue and all but forced Barbara down his miserable wife’s throat. Catherine was devastated-but the most painful part was yet to come.
24. She Was An “Old Maid”
When Catherine came over to England at the age of 23, people saw her as something of an “old maid,” which tells you just how rough Restoration times were for a woman. Even so, Catherine was a quiet fighter, and she determined to do her royal duty and provide King Charles II with an legitimate heir-all the better if it was a boy, just to rub it in Barbara’s face. Welp, unfortunately, she was in for a grave disappointment.
25. She Suffered A Series Of Tragedies
Poor Catherine of Braganza sure did try. Over the coming years, she got pregnant at least three times, but they all ended in mounting tragedy. Each time, she miscarried the baby, and each miscarriage made it look increasingly like Catherine would never provide Charles or England with a future King. And that wasn’t her only heartache.
26. She Fell Gravely Ill
In 1663, Catherine fell ill with an extremely serious illness, and many feared she wouldn’t pull through. This was very bad news for our queen in more ways than one. You see, at this point, King Charles had gone and become infatuated with yet another woman, the court beauty Frances Stewart, and let’s just say he wasn’t spending his days glued to Catherine’s sickbed…
27. She Had A New Rival
The diarist Samuel Pepys once called Frances Stewart “the greatest beauty” he ever saw, and she certainly had a strange power over Charles. In one of the most horrendous things a husband has ever done to his wife, people even whispered that the King was so in love with Frances, he was lining her up to become queen once the sick Catherine kicked the bucket. Oof-but it gets more painful.
28. She Hallucinated A Strange Sight
While her husband was off trying to line up wife number two, Catherine of Braganza was fighting for her life. During the bout, she was so delirious that she would frequently imagine that instead of having her miscarriages, she had carried her lost babies to term and actually given birth. This display of vulnerability broke even Charles’s caddish heart, and he comforted her the only way he knew how.
29. Her Husband Told Her A Big Lie
When faced with his wife’s feverish ramblings, King Charles II was cruel to be kind. He skewed the truth and told Catherine that she had given birth to two strapping sons and one healthy daughter. Whether these words helped or not, Catherine managed to pull through…but there were still enemies breathing down her neck, this time with a vengeance.
30. Her King Rubbed Her Face In It
During this time, Charles’s notoriously potent fertility went into high gear. In the three years after their marriage, while Catherine tried and failed to have a child, Charles had three more illegitimate children with just his mistress Barbara Villiers alone. Guess that whole “Lady of the Bedchamber” gig was working out for Barbara…it just wasn’t Catherine’s bedchamber.
As it turned out, these betrayals had dangerous consequences.
31. The Court Turned On Her
With the ever-pregnant Barbara Villiers running the show in the barren Catherine’s own court, it wasn’t long before people started to whisper that Catherine wasn’t fit to rule beside King Charles II. The king’s advisors actually pushed him to divorce Catherine and find a fertile-and maybe even Protestant-wife. Charles’ response was surprising.
32. She’s More Than A Spurned Wife
Although history has painted Catherine of Braganza only as a spurned wife, there is a side to her story that many people don’t know. Despite King Charles’s carnal infidelity, he remained fiercely loyal to his queen in other ways. For one, he staunchly refused to listen to his ministers on divorcing Catherine, whether or not she gave him an heir. Well, except this one time…
33. Her Husband Nearly Betrayed Her
For a man with such fickle affections, King Charles II sure was obsessed with Frances Stewart. A full four years after Catherine fell seriously ill and nearly passed, some say that Charles did toy with the idea of an official split from his wife in order to marry Frances, who had thus far refused to be merely his mistress. But hey, Charles did try to make it up to Catherine.
34. She Commanded Respect
Although he was a rake until the bitter end, King Charles II made sure that courtiers and even his own mistresses respected Catherine of Braganza. The “Bedchamber Crisis” with Barbara Villiers aside, he often took Catherine’s point of view in any spats between the queen and his lovers. Which, as it happened, led to Barbara’s very satisfying downfall.
35. She Beat Her Biggest Enemy
While Catherine of Braganza must have hoped Barbara Villiers would lose her shine quickly, the mean girl ruled the royal roost for quite some time. But the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Thanks in part to Frances Stewart’s unattainable new girl energy, as well as Barbara’s own volatile personality, the mistress soon fell out of favor with Charles. And with Barbara’s fall, Catherine turned into a whole new woman.
36. She Got Her Groove Back
Today, we often see Catherine as a meek, pious girl who couldn’t flex her power even if she tried. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Particularly after her ordeal with Barbara, Catherine loosened up big time. One of her most scandalous past times? She loved playing cards on Sundays, to the Protestants’ absolute horror. And strap in-we’re just getting started.
37. She Flaunted Her Body
Once Catherine of Braganza kicked out Babs, she took all the hot girl vibes for herself. Completely throwing off her prim convent roots, Catherine relished in the latest court trend for women to wear men’s clothing, including tight, form-fitting leggings. After all, as one observer noted, these “showed off her pretty, neat legs and ankles.” In fact, Catherine got so bold, she even got into some trouble…
38. She Started A Riot
One day while traveling in the countryside with her ladies in waiting, Catherine of Braganza was feeling frisky and decided to visit the county fair dressed up as a humble village maid. This went wrong in an instant. Because she was, you know, the Queen of England, people recognized her almost immediately and started mobbing her, forcing her to flee.
39. She Approved The King’s Next Mistress
Around 1670, Charles had a new lady love: The French coquette Louise de Kerouaille. But this time, Catherine had learned a thing or two about being Queen of England, and she got along famously with Louise…because Louise knew not to cross her. Where Barbara was irreverent and rude, Louise was nothing but deferential toward Catherine.
This was a very good thing. Because soon enough, Catherine would need a friend.
40. She Was In The Middle Of An Infamous Plot
In the 1670s, Catherine’s life went from carefree right back to a total nightmare. During the decade, anti-Catholic sentiment ramped up in England, especially when the so-called “Popish Plot” falsely accused Catholics of trying to assassinate King Charles II. Since Catherine was the highest-ranking Catholic in the land, she was right in the line of fire…
41. Parliament Tried To Dethrone Her
The heat was on so high that parliament pushed yet again for King Charles to divorce Catherine, just in case she did have something to do with the plot. Well, this blew up right in their faces. Charles might have been a bad boy in bed, but he still stood by his wife when it really mattered. He dismissed their efforts, saying, “She could never do anything wicked, and it would be a horrible thing to abandon her.” Henry VIII, take notes.
42. She Reignited Her Passion
After Catherine of Braganza got to keep her crown, she thanked Charles in a salacious way. Sure, she wrote pleasantly of his “wonderful kindness” to her, but eyewitness accounts tell us the real, down, and dirty story. Directly following Charles’s defense of his wife, palace staff noticed that the royal couple were very friendly with each other in public, and that Charles visited her rooms more often, and for longer bouts than ever before. Catherine, you minx.
43. She Loved One Part Of Her Body
One of Catherine’s fashion trends was so scandalous, it never even saw the light of day. In addition to her “neat” legs and ankles, Catherine apparently had quite the set of dainty feet. As Queen of England, she once considered hiking the court skirts up even shorter so she could show off her arches. What’s next Catherine, corset burning?
44. She Was Greedy
By now, we know Catherine of Braganza had a sultry and a fun-loving side, but did you know she had a greedy one too? Even people who knew her were surprised at how much she loved money-spending it, sure, but mostly just amassing it. Her own covetous brother-in-law, the future King James II of England, admitted she “drove a hard bargain.” It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it?
45. She Made England What It Is Today
Catherine of Braganza has one more strange claim to fame more people need to be talking about: She helped make tea the iconic British drink. Although it existed in England before she came over to marry Charles, Catherine had a huge part in popularizing the beverage, which people tended to see as more of an exotic curio at the time. Pinkies up to you, Catherine.
46. She Feared For Her Husband’s Soul
In the later years of their marriage, King Charles and Queen Catherine of Braganza finally settled into something that looked like love, but this only made their ending all the more tragic. In 1685, Charles fell ill with what would be his final sickness, and Catherine spent many days by his side worrying over his soul. Yet when her husband’s last moment came, something changed.
47. She Refused To Say Goodbye To The King
In his final hours, King Charles’s thoughts went directly to his wife, and he sent her a missive asking her to attend his bed. Her response was heartbreaking. Perhaps unable to bear the thought of witnessing her husband perish, she asked to remain away from him, but added that she wanted “to beg his pardon if she had offended him all his life.” Somehow, though Charles’s reply was even more of a tearjerker.
48. Her Husband Begged Forgiveness
When King Charles read Catherine’s note, he wasn’t angry in the slightest. Instead, he was utterly repentant, and cried out, “Alas poor woman! She asks for my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart; take her back that answer.” You know what? This is the correct response to have. I mean, I want to hate this guy, but I just don’t. Plus, Catherine might have scored another victory…
49. She May Have Forced Her Husband To Convert
While Charles laid in bed, Catherine spent time hoping, praying, and trying to convince him to reconcile his faith as a Roman Catholic, which had been as shaky as Catherine’s was strong. Well, the night before Charles passed, a priest came into his room and committed him to the Catholic Church…even though the king might not have been entirely conscious at the time.
We still don’t know who was behind the ceremony-but, well, I have a hunch, and it rhymes with “Matharine of Bonanza.”
50. She Had A Second Coming
Although Catherine of Braganza had spent much of her life by Charles’s side, she didn’t fade away without him. In 1692, returned back to her native Portugal and became Regent for her brother in the early 1700s. Then, with the new century upon her, Catherine went out on her own terms, passing in December 1705, at the age of 67, in her beloved hometown of Lisbon.
Originally published at https://www.beyondsciencetv.com on November 10, 2022.