Catherine of Braganza (1638–1705)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Catherine of Braganza (1638–1705)

Queen of England and regent of Portugal. Name variations: Bragança. Born Catherine Henriqueta de Bragança on November 25, 1638, at Vila Viçosa, Lisbon, Portugal; died on December 1, 1705, at Bemposta Palace, Lisbon; interred at Belém Monastery, Lisbon; daughter of John IV, king of Portugal (r. 1640–1656), and Luisa de Guzmán (1613–1666); sister of Alphonso VI (1643–1683), king of Portugal (r. 1656–1667), and Peter II (1648–1706), king of Portugal (r. 1667–1706); married Charles II (1630–1685), king of England (r. 1661–1685), on May 21, 1662, in Portsmouth; children: four failed pregnancies.

A Catholic princess of the Portuguese royal family, Catherine of Braganza was betrothed to Charles II, king of England, while still a child. In May 1662, she left the convent where she had received a modest education and traveled to England to meet and marry him. Charles seemed pleased with his young bride, writing in a letter after their first meeting that she was as "good a woman as ever was born," although her "face is not so exact as to be called a beauty." As Charles did not speak Spanish and Catherine knew no English or French, they could not converse at first.

However, Catherine soon adapted to her new homeland, although her somber Catholic upbringing and modest clothing were the subject of derision at the elegant English court. Queen Catherine remained in England for the next 20 years, during which time she was often pregnant. Unfortunately, none of her pregnancies came to term, and after two decades she had still not fulfilled what was considered the primary function of a queen—to produce an heir for the throne. She reportedly felt ashamed and embarrassed at this failure, especially as Charles became well known for his many mistresses and many illegitimate children.

Eventually, Catherine found her situation unbearable and left England to return to her native land. Charles is said to have missed her presence and to have begged her forgiveness on his deathbed for his offenses toward her. Back in Portugal, Catherine began taking an active role in the reign of her brother Peter II, now king of Portugal; in 1704, she was named regent in her brother's absence.

Laura York , Riverside, California