CATHERINE OF BRAGANZA (1638–1705), queen consort of Charles II. of England, daughter of John IV. of Portugal, and of Louisa de Gusman, daughter of the duke of Medina Sidonia, was born on the 15/25 of November 1638 at Villia Viçosa. She was early regarded as a useful medium for contracting an alliance with England, more necessary than ever to Portugal after the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 whereby Portugal was ostensibly abandoned by France. Negotiations for the marriage began during the reign of Charles I., were renewed immediately after the Restoration, and on the 23rd of June, in spite of Spanish opposition, the marriage contract was signed, England securing Tangier and Bombay, with trading privileges in Brazil and the East Indies, religious and commercial freedom in Portugal and two million Portuguese crowns (about £300,000); while Portugal obtained military and naval support against Spain and liberty of worship for Catherine. She reached England on the 13th of May 1662, but was not visited by Charles at Portsmouth till the 20th. The next day the marriage was solemnized twice, according to the Roman Catholic and Anglican usages. Catherine possessed several good qualities, but had been brought up in a conventual seclusion and was scarcely a wife Charles would have chosen for himself. Her personal charms were not potent enough to wean Charles away from the society of his mistresses, and in a few weeks after her arrival she became aware of her painful and humiliating position as the wife of the selfish and licentious king. On the first presentation to her of Lady Castlemaine, Charles’s mistress en titre, whom he insisted on making lady of her bedchamber, she fainted away. She withdrew from the king’s society, and in spite of Clarendon’s attempts to moderate her resentment, declared she would return to Portugal rather than consent to a base compliance. To overcome her resistance nearly the whole of her Portuguese retinue was dismissed. She was helpless, and the violence of her grief and anger soon changed to passive resistance, and then to a complete forbearance and complaisance which gained the king’s regard and favour. In the midst of Charles’s debauched and licentious court, she lived neglected and retired, often deprived of her due allowance, having no ambitions and taking no part in English politics, but keeping up rather her interest in her native country.
As the prospect diminished of her bearing children to Charles, several schemes were set on foot for procuring a divorce on various pretexts. As a Roman Catholic and near to the king’s person Catherine was the special object of attack by the inventors of the Popish Plot. In 1678 the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey was ascribed to her servants, and Titus Oates accused her of a design to poison the king. These charges, of which the absurdity was soon shown by cross-examination, nevertheless placed the queen for some time in great danger. On the 28th of November Oates accused her of high treason, and the Commons passed an address for her removal and that of all the Roman Catholics from Whitehall. A series of fresh depositions were sent in against her, and in June 1679 it was decided that she must stand her trial; but she was protected by the king, who in this instance showed unusual chivalry and earned her gratitude. On the 17th of November Shaftesbury moved in the House of Lords for a divorce to enable the king to marry a Protestant and have legitimate issue; but he received little support, and the bill was opposed by Charles, who continued to show his wife “extraordinary affection.” During the winter the calumnies against the queen were revived by Fitzharris, who, however, before his execution in 1681 confessed to their falsity; and after the revival of the king’s influence subsequent to the Oxford parliament, the queen’s position was no more assailed.
During Charles’s last illness in 1685 she showed great anxiety for his reconciliation with the Romish Church, and it was probably effected largely through her influence. She exhibited great grief at his death. She afterwards resided at Somerset House and at Hammersmith, where she had privately founded a convent. She interceded with great generosity, but ineffectually, for Monmouth the same year. On the 10th of June 1688 she was present at the birth of the prince of Wales and gave evidence before the council in favour of the genuineness of the child. She was still in England at the Revolution, having delayed her return to Portugal to prosecute a lawsuit against the second earl of Clarendon, formerly her chamberlain. She maintained at first good terms with William and Mary; but the practice of her religion aroused jealousies, while her establishment at Somerset House was said to be the home of cabals against the government; and in 1691 she settled for a short time at Euston. She left England finally with a train of one hundred persons in March 1692, travelling through France and arriving at Lisbon on the 20th of January 1693. She took up her residence at the palace of Bemposta, built by herself, near Lisbon. In 1703 she supported the Methuen Treaty, which cemented still further the alliance between Portugal and England, and in 1704 she was appointed regent of Portugal during the illness of her brother King Pedro II., her administration being distinguished by several successes gained over the Spaniards. She died on the 31st of December 1705, bequeathing her great wealth, the result of long hoarding, after the payment of divers charitable legacies, to King Pedro; and was buried with great ceremony and splendour at Belem.
See L. C. Davidson, Catherine of Braganza (1908).