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A little known royal plaque that marks the arrival of an embattled but defiant queen

A plaque can be found in the garrison walls at Portsmouth at the location of the old ‘Sally Port’. Its patriotic inscription proclaims that “from this place naval heroes innumerable were embarked to fight their country’s battles” but that also, “near this spot, Catharine of Braganza landed in state, May 14 1662 previous to her marriage with Charles II at the Domus Dei a week later“.

Catharine, the Portuguese-born consort of Charles II, was the daughter of Joao IV of Portugal and his wife, Luísa Maria Francisca de Gusmão. She came accompanied by Lord Sandwich, in the ship The Royal Charles. She apparently asked upon her arrival in Portsmouth for a ‘cup of tea’, something for which she continues to receive credit in English cultural history terms and as queen, she enjoyed promoting.

Keen to quickly gain the approval of Charles II, Catharine landed at Portsmouth in “English clothes” (Antonia Fraser, King Charles II, Pg 269). The day after her arrival, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary: ‘At night, all the bells of the town rung, and bonfires made for the joy of the Queen’s arrival, who came and landed at Portsmouth last night.’

The plaque could remind us perhaps of other English queen consorts that landed by sea both before and after her. Henry VIII’s German-born fourth wife, Anne of Cleves for example (who made the shortest sea voyage that was possible, from Calais) landed at Deal in 1539; the German-born queen of King George III, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, landed at Harwich in 1761. The plaque is perhaps also reminiscent of the legendary landing of Mary Queen of Scots returning to her native Scotland from France by ship, which history agrees took place at Leith, in two galleys; similarly, her first footsteps in France became celebrated in folklore). In keeping with the significance of the event, the departure of Catharine of Braganza’s cortege from the Palace Square in Lisbon was recorded in paint, hanging today in the Museu de Lisboa Palácio Pimenta. These landings of royal brides were, of course, of unparalleled historical importance – the arrival of a new queen consort, the dynasty’s next royal mother, the figurehead of her own Household.

Catharine’s marriage was conducted in two ceremonies. Catharine is said to have declared on finding out the marital choice made for her in Portugal that she wished to visit a shrine that she loved in her native Lisbon. Charles wrote before the wedding to Catharine in Lisbon that he was “the very faithful husband of Your Majesty, whose hand he kisses” (cit., Fraser, King Charles II, Pg 265.)

Catharine’s attractiveness on the European political marriage market was enhanced and finally affirmed by the acclamation of her father, Joao IV as King of Portugal as a result of the Portuguese Restoration War, which was concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668, when the House of Braganza was formally recognised by Spain as the country’s ruling dynasty. Moreover, Catharine had her dowry, two million crowns and she came with the promise of Tangier and Bombay.

Following her arrival at Portsmouth, Charles II joined her there on 20 May; after which two wedding ceremonies were conducted, one a private Catholic service, the second, Anglican on 21 May, at ‘Old’ Portsmouth’s Domus Dei. What remains of the Domus Dei, also known as the Hospital of Saint Nicholas and Saint John the Baptist, survives today in the restored form of the Royal Garrison Church. Amongst the three hundred or so memorials that exist within what remains of the present church, nothing would appear to commemorate the royal wedding. This is because the ceremony was conducted in the Governor’s Great (Presence) Chamber of the main building, as the chapel was too small, being given a cloth embroidered with a scene of Lisbon for its altar instead (Fraser, Pg 267).

Catharine and Charles II sat on two ‘thrones’ for the ceremony, Catharine wearing a lace veil and a dress of “rose” colour, with lovers’ knots of blue ribbons”. The Domus Dei was chosen because the parish church of Portsmouth was not possible to host the ceremony because it was still damaged from the English Civil War. Portsmouth Cathedral still owns the Marriage Certificate of Charles II and Catharine of Braganza and loaned it to the Royal Museums Greenwich in 2016.

Catharine of Braganza arrived at Hampton Court Palace, where she would spend her honeymoon with King Charles II. It is thought she came by way of the great ‘Long Water’, which had been constructed for Charles II between 1661-62 and flanked by lime trees, several of which still survive today from the time of Charles II. The ‘Long Water’ has a length of about one kilometre which stretches east from the Fountain Garden.

According to Hampton Court Palace’s Chapel Royal, Charles II had the chapel restored to receive Catharine as his bride. A ceremony took place in the Great Hall at Hampton Court to welcome her. (A replica of Catharine of Braganza’s carriage was made by Pinewood Creative along with several others, to mark Hampton Court Palace’s five hundredth anniversary in 2015). Leaving Hampton Court for Whitehall, the procession of Queen Catharine up the River Thames was described by the artist Dirk Stoop in his drawing of the event as “The Triumphall Entertainment of ye King and Queenes Matie by ye… Maior of London at their coming from Hampton Court to Whitehall (on ye River Thames) Aug: ye 23 1662 “. Catherine received a rapturous welcome in London, and the diarist John Evelyn thought the procession from Hampton Court to Whitehall the most splendid that had ever been seen.

 Catharine miscarried for the first time in 1668 – a fact confirmed by the King in his private correspondence – by which point Catharine had been married to Charles II for six, sadly childless years. The question of what appeared to be the Queen’s infertility was thrown into sharp, sad relief when compared with the easy ability with which the King’s mistresses conceived his natural children; notably those of Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, referred to by the admiring diarist Samuel Pepys as “My lady Castlemaine“, five of whose children the King acknowledged as his own. Pepys records a further pregnancy of Catharine on 11 May 1669 (the month that his ‘Great’ Diary ends) “Some trouble at Court for fear of the Queen’s miscarrying; she being, as they all conclude, far gone with child…”

Catharine did miscarry and never conceived again. Whilst Catharine endured years of the King’s repeated infidelities, Charles II refused to consider any other woman as his wife during Catharine’s lifetime, writing in his own handwriting – reproduced in the London Gazette – that he “never gave nor made any contract of marriage, nor was married to any woman whatsoever, but to my present wife Queene Caterine [sic] now living, Whitehall, the 3rd day of March 1678/9“. Charles II’s proclamation to the London Gazette’s readership, was intended to refute the fact that he had ever married Lucy Walter, the mother of his natural child, James, Duke of Monmouth.

Charles II’s ultimate maitress-en-titre, who replaced Barbara Villiers, was the French-born Louise de Keroualle, described as the “most absolute of the King’s mistresses” and affectionately called “Fubbs” by the King on account of the roundness of her cheeks. Louisegave birth to her only child by the King – Charles II’s natural son Charles, Duke of Richmond and Lennox in 1672. By a strange irony, the royal naval yacht HMY Fubbs, built for Charles II in 1682 and named after Louise, was part of a flotilla together with three other yachts that attended the HMY Caroline (renamed HMY Charlotte) which transported the German-born Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz from Cuxhaven to Harwich to marry King George III. Louise de Keroualle was created Duchess of Portsmouth – the place where Catharine had landed in 1662 to marry Charles II, perhaps another sad irony for Catharine.

Catharine returned to her beloved Portugal in 1692. Following her death in 1705 at her residence, the Palácio da Bemposta – also known as the Palace of the Queen – she was buried at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in the Royal Pantheon for the House of Braganza. Her tomb – surmounted by a gilded crown – contains the proud proclamation in Portuguese: “Queen of England“.

Catharine is not forgotten in England. She is commemorated in other ways, too. Her cultural legacy to Britain, which credits her with popularising tea is an eternal one, though I wonder how many drinking tea in England today first think of a Portuguese-born Stuart queen consort.

The surviving baroque state rooms at Windsor Castle allow us some glimpses of her. These were designed between 1675-78 for Charles II and Queen Catharine. The ceiling of the Queen’s Audience Chamber – a glorious example of the work of Antonio Verrio – depicts Catharine of Braganza in a chariot. Catharine was painted in her youth by Sir Peter Lely and again in what is probably the most-viewed portrait of her, as a shepherdess by the artist Jacob Huysmans, which hangs today in Windsor Castle’s King’s Dining Room. This picture was painted some time shortly after Catharine’s marriage to Charles II, references to which can be seen in the portrait, such as the sprigs of orange blossom in her hair, a happy allusion to fruitfulness and fertility which time, however, would prove she could not demonstrate.

But it is to Portsmouth that we owe England’s first encounter with one of its Stuart queen consorts and this little-known plaque records her arrival.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019.

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, specializing in Queen Victoria's family, Russian royalty and the Habsburgs. An independent scholar of royal studies, she has studied historic British and European royalty for nearly twenty years, speaking on the subject for both TV and BBC radio.