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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.