Catherine of Braganza

Written by Isabel Stilwell
Review by Alan Pearson

In 1640, after 60 years of domination by a succession of Spanish monarchs, the Portuguese overthrew their unwelcome masters and elected John, the 8th Duke of Braganza, as their king. The story begins with the young family of John and his wife, Luisa, before they take the throne of Portugal, and is told through the eyes of Catherine, their fourth child.

Catherine grows up realising that her eventual marriage will be of political necessity, not for love, but from an early age she has a deep admiration for Charles II of England who also regained his crown.

Imagine her surprise and excitement when it is suggested that a marriage be arranged between the two. With the courtship, and the negotiations over the dowry, comes the realisation that Charles is going to be anything but a dutiful husband. Catherine has to accept that he has a string of mistresses who have already given him a brace of illegitimate children. Charles and Catherine are married in secret in Portsmouth by a Catholic priest, and then go to London where they are publicly married in an Anglican service.

The story describes her life in the court of a flamboyant adulterer whose favourite mistress is one of Catherine´s handmaidens, Barbara Villiers Palmer. Catherine, meanwhile, has three miscarriages, and seems incapable of producing an heir to the throne. She survives plots against her and her husband and suffers Charles´s very public infatuation with Nell Gwynne. In a country torn by religion, where she was never popular, she is a rock upon which the waves of intolerance and debauchery constantly break. The harrowing story of her royal life is artfully told in this well-written book.