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

Abbey ruins tea

Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England

Netley Abbey, built in the 13th-century, is the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in southern England. It was home to Cistercian monks who came to England from France in 1128.  After the Dissolution (1536), it was given to a nobleman who converted it into a great Tudor mansion. Two hundred years later, it lay in ruins – grand, glorious ruins – and became a place of inspiration for the great Romantic writers and poets like Thomas Gray, author of Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard.  Jane Austen visited Netley Abbey (she lived in the area), and so did England’s notable artists Turner and Constable, who each painted its stunning landscape views. Netley Abbey, owned today by English Heritage, still draws visitors; I was one of them last week-end. Tea connection? Wait and see.



For nearly three hundred years, a very small group of monks, brothers, officials, and servants called Netley Abbey home. The monks were of the Cistercian order. Walter Daniel, writing in The Life of Aelred in 1166, described them:

“…these remarkable men, famed for their religious life, were known as White Monks after the colour of their habit, for they were clothed angel like in undyed sheeps wool, spun and woven from the natural fleece. Thus garbed, when clustered together, they look like flocks of gulls and shine as they walk with the very whiteness of snow. ”


Sub-Vault of Reredorter, Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England

Cistercians lived a very simple life: study, prayer, and manual work. They rejected wealth and the wearing of undershirts and trousers,  were vegetarians, and followed strict rules of silence. To avoid worldly temptations, Cistercian abbeys were built in remote locations.  Although a bit hard to imagine today, Netley was at that time very isolated and surrounded by dense woods and heathland, so the perfect place for the White Monks.

The monastic community at Netley were highly respected by their neighbours. They were never known for scholarship, wealth, оr particular fervour, but they did have a reputation for generosity tо travellers аnd sailors, аnd fоr the devout lives they led. Contrary to some of the things we hear about the modern church, reports indicate that the abbey hаd а peaceful аnd scandal-free domestic life.


Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England


At the suppression of the monasteries in 1536, Henry VIII granted Netley to Sir William Paulet, who turned the buildings into a great Tudor courtyard house.  After the Civil War, it belonged to the Earl of Huntingdon who turned the nave of the church into a tennis court, the choir into his private chapel, the chapter house into a kitchen, and other parts of the Abbey into stables. Grand Designs would have loved this!


East window of the church, Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England


In 1704 the owner of Abbey Mansion started selling off bits and pieces as building material. Can you believe it?! Early on, when one of the demolition workers was killed (making way for what they called “The Curse of Netley Abbey”), work quickly stopped and the structure was left alone to fall into, well ….. ruins.

The Romantic writers, painters and poets of the day, always in search of picturesque inspiration, were deeply attracted to Netley Abbey. It’s not difficult to see why. But not everyone who visited Netley Abbey in the 1700s was there for the scenery.


Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England“The ruins are vast, and retain fragments of beautiful fretted roofs pendent in the air, with all variety of Gothic patterns of windows wrapped round and round with ivy … they are not the ruins of Netley, but of Paradise.
Oh! the purple abbots, what a spot had they chosen to slumber in!”

– Horace Walpole, from The Castle of Otranto


Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England

Pregnant with poetry … one need not have a very fantastic imagination
to see spirits at noon-day’ but was it all imagination’
– Thomas Gray, poet, describing Netley Abbey



Tea in mid 1700s England was all the rage – everyone wanted tea. But its popularity, coupled with an exorbitant tax, meant that tea was prohibitively expensive, available to only a few.  The demand for affordable tea simply could not be met by legal means.  The answer? Meet the demand by illegal means – smuggle it in! Tea smuggling was so effective, that virtually all the tea consumed in England at that time was black-market, smuggled tea. The south coast of England became a smugglers paradise, and Netley Abbey was a known location for stashing contraband tea.


Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England

Was tea hidden in this nook?


A hundred or so years later, Netley’s tea tradition took on a more genteel character when the abbey became a popular place for local people to come for tea, dancing and music.  There was even a Rondo for piano-forte written by William Sheppard entitled “Netley Abbey”. Large events called Fetes Champetres (basically, a chic garden party) were being organised here on a regular basis. A description of the event in the 1840s records:


Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England

On Mondays, the Fountain Court presents a singular scene of gaiety. It has long been the custom for people from Southampton and the neighbourhood to meet at the Abbey on that day, and to hold a kind of festival. Tea and other provisions are furnished by the inhabitants of a neighbouring cottage, and this is followed by music and dancing.”


Netley Abbey, Hampshire, England

This was my first visit to Netley Abbey – but it won’t be my last.  My dream would be to arrange a beautiful summer afternoon tea here, accompanied by the reading of Netley Abbey poems by the Romantics, and the Netley Abbey Rondo playing in the background.   Surrounded by the ghosts of 12th-century monks, 18th-century poets, 19th-century Victorians, and perhaps a personable smuggler or two, I can’t think of a more tantalizing tea party.


(For more pictures and related information about Netley Abbey, visit the Tea in England Facebook Fan Page.)

Tea and the Tower

Tower of London

The Tower of London is the number one paid-for tourist attraction in London – about two and a half million people visit every year. Mr. Tea and I have often been a part of those numbers over the years. We both like history, especially Royal history, and always enjoy a trip to the Tower. Having our heads intact when we leave is an added bonus.


Archer sculpture, Tower of London

You can easily spend an entire day at the Tower of London (Top Ten Things To See and Do at the Tower of London). I especially enjoy viewing the Crown Jewels; stunning doesn’t even begin to describe their beauty. My favourite thing at the Tower of London is the prisoner graffiti in the Inner and Outer Ward Towers (many prisoners carved graffiti into the walls during the 1530s-1670s).


The Bloody Tower, Tower of London

With such a gruesome, violent history, you wouldn’t think that the Tower of London could have any type of connection with something as gentle and gracious as tea. But it does.

In the late 19th century, the area surrounding the Tower of London (Tower Hill), was bleak and boring. Although the Tower was a tourist attraction, facilities for those tourists were rare. Influenced by its nearness to the docks, the neighbourhood was dominated by oppressive Victorian offices and warehouses.  One of those was the unsightly Mazawattee Tea warehouse.


From the Tea on Tower Hill Information Panel, Tower of London

Mazawattee Tea was, at that time, one of the most important and most advertised tea firms in England. Its owners were making a small fortune in the tea industry. Their thriving offices and warehouses and vaults were located in a large building at the top of Tower Hill. The building was so tall that it blocked all the good views of the Tower – including views from All Hallows church, its next door neighbour. The vicar was not amused. A Tower Hill “improvement plan” was hatched. (Can you see where this is going?)

To make a long story short, the idea was to purchase and demolish the worst eyesores and generally give the area a good tidy up. A charitable trust was formed and monies raised. Improvements were gradual, and then the war intervened. During the blitz, many of the target properties purchased by the trust, yet still standing, were damaged – including the Mazawattee Tea warehouse.


Tower Vaults, Tower of London

By 1951, the entire Mazawattee Tea warehouse had finally been destroyed – but its vaults remained. Today, they are known as the Tower Vaults shops.  If you have ever visited the Tower of London and done a bit of shopping at Tower Vaults, you have consequently been “inside” the historic Mazawattee Tea warehouse.


From the Tea on Tower Hill Information Panel, Tower of London


Tea and the Tower – an astonishing blend.



Fit for a Queen: Lavender Tea

Lavender Fields, Mayfield Lavender Farm, Surrey, England

Lavender, to me, is so very, very English. As an Anglophile teenager, I wore Yardley’s Lavender Eau de Toilette. Once married, I searched high and low for lavender scented beeswax furniture polish so that my home would smell like a stately English manor. And in later years, I longed for lavender in my garden so that, like the washerwomen of days past, I could lay my tea linens over the plants to dry and absorb the lovely scent. (Did you know that those washerwomen were called ‘lavenders’?)


Lavender, Mayfield Lavender Farm, Surrey, England

If it’s so English, what is its history here? Well, you can’t talk about English history without talking about the Romans and the Romans couldn’t get enough of lavender. They loved the stuff, using it in medicine, in their religious ceremonies, and in their hair, clothes, beds and baths. By the time they finally left England (good riddance), lavender was growing in monasteries here, and when Henry VIII dissolved those in the 1500s, lavender growing moved to domestic gardens. So ….. ‘apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads’ (any Monty Python fans out there?), we can indeed thank the Romans for bringing lavender to England.

During Victorian times, Queen Victoria’s fondness for lavender made the herb very fashionable amongst ladies. The North Surrey Downs at that time was the centre of lavender oil production, and last week-end I visited that area’s Mayfield Lavender farm. What a delight being surrounded by all that pretty purple perfume!


Lavender Fairy Cake and Lavender Tea, Mayfield Lavender Farm, Surrey, England

A versatile plant, lavender has many uses throughout the home, including that of culinary herb. It can be used to make, among many things: jam, scented sugar – and lavender tea*.

Elizabeth I drank lavender tea to treat her migraines. I was able to buy fresh lavender tea at Mayfield Lavender, but Elizabeth I no doubt had to make her own.

If you have never tried lavender tea before, I would encourage you to give it a go. I am normally not a fan of flowery, scented tea, so was very surprised at how much I liked it. To help you along, here is a lavender tea recipe fit for a Queen:


Lavender Tea

  • 3 tbsp fresh lavender flowers (or 1 and 1/2 tbsp dried lavender flowers)
  • 2 cups boiling water

Put the flowers in a teapot. Cover with boiling water and steep for at least 5 minutes. Pour into cups, straining to remove flowers. Serve with honey and sliced lemon, if desired.


Denise's Lavender Tisane


*Calling it lavender ‘tea’ is a bit of a misnomer. ‘Tea’, per se, contains tea leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinensis. So whilst a mix of lavender flowers and loose tea leaves (such as English Breakfast or Earl Grey) can rightfully be called lavender tea, a mix of lavender flowers and hot water cannot and is best called a lavender infusion or a lavender tisane. You know, just in case it ever comes up on Mastermind.



Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for tea.

George II Coronation Bell

Between the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics, we have certainly seen our fair share of pomp and circumstance this summer, and I for one couldn’t be happier. I love pomp and circumstance. And of course, tea.

Which is why I found the story about this George II bell so interesting.

When George II was crowned in 1727, there was plenty of pomp and circumstance surrounding the occasion. And not only surrounding, but hovering above it as well. During the coronation procession, the king was seated beneath a canopy – a canopy decorated with little silver bells.  A certain Sir George Oxenden, MP for Sandwich, eventually ended up owning one of the little historic bells. You can see it in the picture above.

We all know that little bells really aren’t much use without a handle, so at some point around 1740, Sir George had one attached.   Coincidentally (or not), tea was becoming extremely popular in England at this time , especially drinking tea at breakfast. We can only surmise that our MP was a tea drinker (can you be from a place called Sandwich and not drink tea?) and used his newly handled bell to ring his servants every time he fancied a cuppa.

At which point they would have muttered the words of this post title.


Image used with permission by Dr. Lucy Worsley.