by Susan Flantzer
Catherine of Braganza (Catarina Henriqueta) was born on November 25, 1638 at the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa in Vila Viçosa, Portugal. Her parents were João, 8th Duke of Braganza and Luisa de Guzmán. When Catherine was two years old, her father became King João IV of Portugal when the Portuguese Restoration War ended the sixty-year rule of Portugal by the Spanish Habsburgs. Two of Catherine’s brothers became Kings of Portugal: Afonso VI and Pedro II.
The accession of Catherine’s father as King of Portugal brought a great change in the family’s status and Catherine became a potential royal bride for John of Austria (illegitimate son of King Philip IV of Spain), François de Vendôme, duc de Beaufort (illegitimate grandson of King Henry IV of France and cousin to King Louis XIV of France), King Louis XIV of France, and King Charles II of England. She had first been suggested as a bride for King Charles II of England in 1645 during the reign of Charles’ father King Charles I of England and again in 1660 when the monarchy was restored in England. Already there were rumors of Catherine’s inability to have children, but the newly restored King Charles II was eager to have the £300,000 dowry. The marriage contract was signed on June 23, 1661. Catherine set sail for England in April of 1662 and landed at Portsmouth, England on May 13, 1662. On May 21, 1662, King Charles II and Catherine were married in Portsmouth in two ceremonies, a private Catholic one, and a public Anglican one. Catherine’s Roman Catholicism made her an unpopular queen.
Despite fathering at least 16 illegitimate children with his mistresses, Charles had no children with Catherine. It is thought that Catherine did have at least three miscarriages. Despite having many mistresses, Charles insisted that Catherine be treated with respect, and sided with her over his mistresses when he felt she was not receiving the respect she was due. After an initial shock at being presented to Charles’ mistress right after her marriage, Catherine maintained a dignified attitude towards her husband’s mistresses and showed many acts of kindness to his illegitimate children. When it became apparent that Catherine would not produce an heir to the throne, it was suggested that Charles divorce his wife and marry a Protestant princess. Charles refused the suggestion.
On February 2, 1685, King Charles II suffered an apparent stroke and died four days later. While Charles was dying, Catherine was ill and sent a message begging his forgiveness for being unable to come to him. Charles replied to her, “Alas, poor woman, it is I who should be begging forgiveness.”
After the death of King Charles II and the accession of Charles’ brother King James II, Catherine continued to live at Somerset House in London. Catherine was present at the 1688 birth of King James II’s son James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales and was his godmother. When rumors began to spread that he was an impostor baby, and had been smuggled into the royal birth chamber in a warming pan, Catherine was one of the witnesses giving evidence of his legitimacy. Catherine remained in England after King James II was overthrown in 1688 by the Glorious Revolution and his daughter and her husband and first cousin took the throne as King William III and Queen Mary II. However, Catherine found that her position with the new monarchs deteriorated and she decided to return to Portugal in 1693.
After living in the homes of noblemen in Lisbon, Portugal for a period of time, Catherine decided to build her own palace, the Palace of Bemposta. Catherine was an important female figure to her nephew, the future King João V of Portugal, after his mother died. When brother, King Pedro II, grew tired of government, Catherine served as his regent.
Catherine died at her Palace of Bemposta in Lisbon, Portugal on December 31, 1705 at the age of 67. She was originally buried at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal. On September 29, 1855, Catherine’s remains along with the remains of other family members were re-interred at the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora.