Catherine of Braganza: England’s Portuguese Tea Princess Rests in Peace in Lisbon

 

 

Tomb of Catherine of Braganza, Queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland (1662-1685). Lisbon, Portuga

The history of tea in England is a delicious blend of romance, intrigue, and adventure, overflowing with a cast of fascinating characters. Kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, sailors and soldiers, explorers, botanists and planters, businessmen,  politicians, and even the lawless all played essential roles in England’s rich tea narrative.

There is, however, one person in particular – a woman – to whom we tea lovers owe an especially deep debt of gratitude, for it was she who brought the tea-drinking custom to the English, setting a trend that continues to this day. Her name is Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança – Catherine of Braganza.

The irony of Catherine’s influence on tea drinking in England is that she wasn’t even English – she was a Princess from Lisbon, the daughter of King John IV of Portugal. But because Portuguese and Dutch traders had been bringing tea to Europe long before it would arrive on the shores of Great Britain, Catherine was already an established tea drinker by the time of her arranged marriage to England’s King Charles II.

 

São Vicente de Fora (church). Lisbon, Portugal

São Vicente de Fora (church)
Lisbon, Portugal

 

Who got the best deal in the marriage contract between Charles and Catherine? England inherited Tangier and Bombay, trade privileges with Brazil and the East Indies, a quantity of luxury goods (including a chest of tea) that could be sold to pay off Charles’s many debts – and about £300,000 cash. Portugal inherited crack military and naval support against Spain (Rule Britannia!), and liberty of worship for Catherine (who was a Catholic about to reside in a Protestant country and Royal Court). Catherine inherited twenty plus years of marriage to an unfaithful husband (who had thirteen mistresses, including the orange-seller/actress Nell Gwyn), several miscarriages (she never was able to conceive), and isolation from her family and homeland.

In spite of it all, Catherine was a loving, devoted wife who remained faithful to Charles even as he continued to have children by his many mistresses. And in spite of himself, Charles honoured Catherine’s religious convictions, and made it clear to everyone that his wife would be treated with respect. When he felt that wasn’t happening, he would always side with her over his mistresses. What a guy.

As a Royal trend-setter (can you think of another Royal trend-setting Catherine?), Catherine’s tea drinking habits strongly influenced the aristocracy and tea gradually replaced wine, ale and spirits as the court drink.  In a few short years, tea drinking was universal among the English upper class. It eventually was being sold in markets, and the English East India Company made it a part of their regular trade.

 

São Vicente de Fora (monastery). Lisbon, Portugal

São Vicente de Fora (monastery)
Lisbon, Portugal

 

The life of Catherine of Braganza, Queen Consort of England, Scotland and Ireland, isn’t altogether tragic, for there were happy times during her life here. And in fact, she remained in England for some years after her husband’s death in 1685.

While there is tea, there is hope. ~ Arthur Pinero

It is conjecture, I know, to think that Catherine may have sat and contemplated her life situation at times over soothing cups of tea, but that is exactly what tea drinkers do, isn’t it. Not long after Charles’s death, she described her role as Queen of England as being a sacrifice ‘solely for the advantage of Portugal’. I would like to think that tea was a solace for her, supplying strength and hope during those sacrifice years.

When Catherine did finally return to Portugal – home – she was very active in politics, and became regent for her brother Peter II. She was loved and adored by the Portuguese.

She died in 1705.

 

São Vicente de Fora. Monastery cloisters. Lisbon, Portugal

São Vicente de Fora
Monastery cloisters
Lisbon, Portugal

 

As soon as I realised that we were going to be in Lisbon for the day on our recent cruise, I knew that I had to visit the burial site of Catherine of Braganza.  After doing some research and map reading, I was delighted to discover that her tomb, located at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, was but a short taxi drive from Lisbon city centre.

This is not particularly a tourist destination and is a bit off the beaten path – which makes it all the more enjoyable. We were the only ones there on this day, and it was very satisfying to admire its beauty and tranquility accompanied only by the sound of birdsong.

 

Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza, entrance. Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. Lisbon, Portugal

Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza (entrance)
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Lisbon, Portugal

 

The  church and monastery are situated at the top of a steep hill overlooking Lisbon. Catherine is buried there in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza, which is the final resting place for the majority of the Braganza monarchs of Portugal and their families.

 

Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza, entrance. Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. Lisbon, Portugal

Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza (entrance)
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Lisbon, Portugal

 

The majority of the tombs line the sides of the pantheon, and are simple marble boxes with spaces for four tombs. If the tomb is of a monarch, it has a gold crown placed on top.

 

Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza. Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. Lisbon, Portugal

Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Lisbon, Portugal

 

 

Tomb of Catherine of Braganza (top left). Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza. Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of Catherine of Braganza (top left)
Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Lisbon, Portugal

 

 

Tomb of Catherine of Braganza. Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza. Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. Lisbon, Portugal

 

 

Denise at Catherine's tomb.

I stand here on your behalf, dear reader, and in honour of Catherine, who introduced us all to the enchantment that is drinking tea.

 

Catherine is represented in the Tea in England blog banner by the locket hanging from the teapot balloon. The heart-shaped locket is engraved with the words RexCII & ReginaC (Charles II and Queen Catherine), and is an illustration of the original antique.

 

 

Portrait of Catherine of Braganza

Catherine of Braganza
By or after Dirk Stoop
Oil on canvas, circa 1660-1661



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Comments

  1. Great stuff, this is fascinating! She sounds like quite a girl, (another Kitty B!) a heroine to all us tea lovers, and wonderful that you went to pay homage while you got the chance.

    • Cheers for that, Kitty. I have been fascinated with her story and am currently reading an historical fiction book on her life. I’m not one much for historical fiction, but I thought it would be a good starting point before I start reading more detailed books about her, which I intend to do.

  2. This actually brought a tear to my eyes as I read of the sad life she had with her husband. How precious it was that she had the comfort of tea in England. I am so happy you were able to visit her tomb. Thanks, Denise!

    • It does seem a sad story, doesn’t it. I’m sure it wasn’t all doom and gloom for her, but still it must have been very difficult – her religion; the language barrier; her marital situation; etc. I admire her so.

      • Thank you for this lovely retelling of how tea came to England. Like Denise, I thought her story rather sad, but her final resting place looks so lovely and peaceful. Thank you.

        • Welcome to Tea in England, Eileen, and thank you for leaving a note. Yes, it was very lovely and peaceful. I would love to return to Lisbon someday and check out the places she lived, etc.

  3. Wonderful blog, Denise! I LOVE reading (and watching movies) about the lives of the royals throughout history but seldom DO pick up books to read about them. I need to do that more often. Catherine sounds like a wonderful woman who certainly must have sacrificed much for her country. I wonder if she willingly agreed to this marriage arrangement or was she a willful young woman who protested? So happy she brought TEA to England! Cannot imagine England without it!

    I need to re-read your blog about types of tea that are good. I have just recently given up (heaven forbid!) coffee and while I have always loved tea, it has only been a sporadic enjoyment until recently. Now it is my every morning and all day LOVE! It’s been fun to read your blog! Another, every day enjoyment! :)

  4. I think often of her sunny southern tower that we saw at Windsor! How cool that you could visit here.

    • Hi Steph and it’s lovely to see you here!

      I am familiar with the painting of Catherine in the King’s Dining Room at Windsor Castle, so what is this about the tower??

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