Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, a line engraving by an Unknown Artist
Before I get stuck into this post I just want to say a massive thank you to @gemgemgembird who runs the awesome fuckyeahcharlesii on tumblr and @IsSoFab for helping me out with this post, you guys are ace!!!
I’ve come across a few comments across various social media websites saying that Charles II did not love his wife Catherine of Braganza. But it’s not just online where I have come across this, oh no, it’s even crept into a few real life conversations as well. And the normal response when I ask these people why they think this is “oh well, he had loads of mistresses so he can’t have loved her”. Cue me almost frothing at the mouth for around three minutes, before trying not to launch myself into a massive lecture about how he did actually love her. And so today I decided that enough is enough, and thought I would sit down and write a blog about it, with lots and lots of examples that show that yes, Charles did love his wife and no, he wasn’t a giant idiot to her…
So here goes!
The biggest thing that always, always gets to me and really points out how much he loved her is when she was unwell, and Charles got up to get her a bowl but she was sick in the sheets before he got back. Charles ended up cleaning her up himself and changing the sheets. Now, I am going to say something here – Charles could have just called for Catherine’s servants but no, he did it himself. And you don’t clean up someones sick unless you really love them surely? There is a fantastic quote about this incident in “The Mistresses of Charles II” by Brian Masters:
“On one occasion, she (Catherine) felt ill during the night when he was in bed with her. He got up to fetch her a basin, but she was sick in the sheets before he returned. Not until he had himself cleaned and dried her, and changed the sheets, did he call her women to help, and repaired to his own room, even then returning three times to see how she was before he finally went to sleep.”(Masters 1979, 75-76)
Another incident took part in 1663, when Catherine became seriously ill. So ill in fact that everyone thought she was dying. Charles sat by her bed for hours, in floods of tears, begging her not to die. Even when she sank into delirium he stayed by her side, and she imagined they had three children together. She also told him, when she had come around a bit, that he should take a more agreeable wife once she was dead. Yet Catherine recovered (HUZZAH!), and Charles’ minister started to demand he divorce her because she was barren. Yet he refused and had a go at his ministers for even suggesting the idea, saying that he had treated her so poorly (i.e. with rubbing mistresses in her face) that he could now never abandon her. So the rumours that were flying about the court that Charles should marry Frances Stuart, who he was rather enamoured with at the time and spent his time chasing after her, were chucked out.
Charles also mentions Catherine A LOT in his letters, especially to his sister Minette and he also rather enjoys pointing out how much time he spent with his wife. And it was a lot of time…
“I have been all this afternoon playing the good husband, having been abroad with my wife, and ‘tis now past twelve o’clock, and I am very sleepy.” (Norrington 1994, 78)
Charles II by Sir Peter Lely
There is also a rather moving letter written from Charles to his sister after his wife’s illness. And although he does mention other women, and the fact that he’s off to see another play, the majority of the letter is spent talking about Catherine:
My wife is now so well, as in a few days, she will thank you herself for the concern you had for her in her sickness. Yesterday we had a little ball in the privy chamber, where she looked on, and, though we had many of our good faces absent, yet I assure you, the assembly would not have been disliked for beauty, even at Paris itself, for we have a great many young women come up, since you were here, who are very handsome. Pray send me some images, to put in prayer books. They are for my wife, who can get none here. I assure you it will be a great present to her, and she will look upon them often, for she is not only content to say the great office every day, but likewise that of our Lady too, and this is besides going to chapel, where she makes use of none of these. I am just now going to see a new play, so I shall say no more, but that I am entirely yours, C.R.(Norrington 1994, 72)
Catherine of Braganza by Sir Peter Lely
“Later that spring, Charles told Minette that he had been playing the good husband, going out with Catherine all afternoon: soon he would banish Edward Montagu from court for spending too long with the queen and even daring to squeeze her hand” (Uglow 2009, 267). This quote never fails to bring a smile to my face. I can imagine a rather red faced Charles facing off against Montagu, demanding that he leave court for daring to touch his wife.
Another big incident in which Charles showed his loyalty, dedication and love for Catherine was during the Popish Plot of 1678. The Plot, completely fictitious, had been engineered by Titus Oates. It was said that it was a plot in which the Catholics would kill King Charles, and on 24th November 1678 Charles listened to Oates as he revealed that the Queen would poison her own husband! Charles of course knew that his wife would never ever try to poison him and throughout his entire meeting with Oates maintained a cool head. When Oates said he overheard the conspirators in the queens bedchambers (which he could even describe when asked to by the king!), Charles has him thrown into prison. Unfortunately Parliament had him released soon after. Antonia Fraser, in her biography of Charles II states that Oates made a big mistake in trying to implicate Catherine; “Yet Oates, in concentrating on the Queen, had touched on one of the King’s few sensitive spots: he might have let Clarendon go without too much regret, and sacrifice Danby perforce, but as he had already shown over the prospect of divorce, Catherine was another matter” (Fraser, 1979, 363)
Titus Oates by an unknown artist
Catherine wrote a letter to her brother, the King of Portugal, which is really rather moving and said of the recent incident: “the care in which he (Charles) takes to defend my innocence and truth. Every day he shows more clearly his purpose and goodwill towards me, and thus baffles the hate of my enemies…I cannot cease telling you what I owe to his benevolence, of which each day he gives better proofs, either from generosity or compassion” (Fraser 1979, 363).
During the Popish Plot we see Charles come to the aid of his wife as her knight in shining armour. His actions drew them together and not only that, showed that he really did care despite his liaisons with his mistresses. And it seems that Catherine had fallen head over heels in love with Charles, as he had with her it seems, so much so that Lady Sutherland stated that the queen was “now a mistress, the passion her spouse has for her is now so great”.
There are, I am sure, many other examples that show just how much Charles loved his wife and it’s going to require a lot more research and reading to get to the bottom of this one. But before I conclude about how much I adore this pair and how I’m sure they were perfect for each other (just go with me here OK…?) there is just one last thing I want to quote regarding Charles’ last meeting with Catherine before his death:
“There were a series of farewells. Catherine came. Charles greeted her lovingly. But her distress, both at the King’s tenderness and at his suffering was too great. Tears overcame her. She was carried back to her own apartments, half fainting. She sent back a message to her husband to beg his pardon if she had ever offended him.
“Alas! poor woman”, said the King. “She beg my pardon! I beg hers with all my heart” (Fraser 1979, 456)
As can be seen, I hope, from these few examples; Charles II really did love his wife. He may not have shown it in their early years of marriage and he may have rubbed his relationships with his mistresses in her face (I should mention the Bedchamber Incident here but that is a whole other post for a whole different day) yet they still grew incredibly close. Charles grew to love her, respect her and trust her intimately. He stayed by her side during her terrible illness, he begged her not to die, he wrote of her often to his sister Minette, he protected her and stood up for her during the Popish Plot, he spent vast amounts of time with her which was commented on a lot by other courtiers and he even conducted business in her chambers. Not to mention of course his final meeting with her which makes me cry every single time. So you see, is it any wonder when people turn around and say that Charles didn’t love his wife because he had mistresses that I and so many others end up giving epic lectures on the subject? You only have to read of how he stood by her when Oates accused her of plotting the King’s death to understand how he felt about her, you only have to read of how he refused to divorce her despite parliament trying to badger him into doing so to understand how he felt about her.
Plus he cleaned up her vomit, and you don’t do that for someone unless you really love them.
Sources and Further Reading