Did Charles II love Catherine of Braganza?

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

Barbara Villiers Part 3: The Cracks Begin To Show

Helen McCrory as Barbara Villiers in “Charles II: The Power & The Passion”

In the last post, I wrote about Barbara’s early years at court, her rise to being known as “Lady Castlemaine”, the rocky relationship with her husband and the children she bore the King. Today’s post will concentrate in her years at court from the arrival of Queen Catherine of Braganza to the beginning of her decline.

Catherine of Braganza arrived in England in 1662 to a swathe of celebration and bonfires were lit in celebration in every street in London, except outside of the house of Barbara Castlemaine. During May 1662, whilst the celebrations raged, the King was inside Barbara’s house in King Street dining and playing with her until it was time for him to leave for Portsmouth to meet his new Queen. Barbara was said to be very upset and the King leaving her company, and it should be worth noting that at this point she was heavily pregnant with the King’s second child by her.

When Charles first laid eyes on Catherine, he was rather taken aback. The difference between her and Barbara was astounding. Catherine had lead such a retired existence in Portugal that she wore fashions that had not been seen in England since the late Tudor era, and would have looked rather odd to the eyes of the English. She had also been advised by her parents that to surrender to the English way of dressing would prove detrimental to the dignity of Portugal. Yet despite this initial stubbornness Charles found her demeanour to be incredibly pleasing, and he told Clarendon that he thought himself “very happy” at having her for a wife. Yet after their marriage, the two did not consummate their marriage – Charles complained that he was too sleepy. He claimed this was due to the journey but it may have also had something to do with the fact that he had come to meet Catherine straight from the bed of Babara Castlemaine!

Queen Catherine of Braganza by or after Dirk Stoop

Charles II and Catherine were married in a private ceremony the day after her arrival in Portsmouth and from there the royal couple went to Hampton Court for their honeymoon. Almost immediately Barbara began causing a stir, as she proposed that at the same time as the royal couple were there, she should be at Hampton Court for the birth of her son. The idea was rejected outright by Charles! But as Barbara fought to maintain her place as the most important woman in Charles’ life, it was the Queen’s own ladies in waiting who helped to cement her place there. These women were old, proud and fiercely overprotective of Queen Catherine, they refused to learn English and kept wearing the Portuguese fashions whereas at least Catherine began to dress in more of an English manner, and they also made it startlingly clear that they would not sleep in any bed that had previously been slept in by a man! Charles of course would not put up with this behaviour for long, and began to put together a list of English women to be her new ladies in waiting. And the name at the top of that list was Barbara Castlemaine. At finding this out Catherine fainted in shock, it was obvious that she knew enough about the infamous Lady Castlemaine. How was it then that the King’s mistress managed to receive this post? Quite simply Barbara had pleaded with the King to give her the post as a demonstration of his loyalty to her and of course, Charles weakly agreed to her demands. What Charles did not know was that Catherine had heard of Barbara, even all the way in Portugal, and Catherine’s mother had told her not to allow Barbara’s name to mentioned in her presence and for a long time Catherine made no allusion to Barbara’s presence. Now though, she had the royal Mistresses presence slapped right in front of her and would be forced to deal with Charles’ sexual betrayal every single day. In utter fury she struck Barbara’s name from the list and demanded that the King allow her this privilege or she would go back to Portugal. Charles, of course, would have been taken aback and not prepared that his wife would have a will of her own. He tried to calm her down to start with, insisting that his affair with Barbara belonged to his past, he didn’t need the mistress now that Catherine was in his life. Charles, as we know from hindsight, never kept this promise. Did he even intend to keep it?

A few days later, Charles managed to introduce his mistress to his wife. Catherine had of course never come face to face with Barbara and so, although had heard about her, would never recognise her if they came face to face. Queen Catherine received her gratefully, allowing her to kiss the royal hand but when one of Catherine’s Portuguese ladies whispered in her ear who it was, Catherine became agitated and her eyes filled with tears but she tried to control herself, until blood began pouring from her nose and she had to be carried from the room. All Charles could see at this point was that his wife had denied him, it was if at this stage he hadn’t quite realised just how deep his wife’s feelings went for him. Clarendon was summoned, who of course took Catherine’s side but Charles argued that if he allowed the Queen to get her way he would be seen as weak. Moreover, Charles used the argument that now Lord Castlemaine had left his wife, it was his own duty to secure her a position of honour in the Queen’s household, and that if Catherine stopped making a fuss he would never push another appointment on her again. He also threatened that if she continued in this way, he would get himself even more mistresses. Clarendon was sent to her as the bearer of bad news and he, although siding with her, said that if she would only allow Barbara as first lady of the bedchamber then all would be well. Catherine of course flew into a rage, saying that the King must hate her and that she would pack her bags up and leave for Portugal. Clarendon tried to calm her down, advising her to accede to the Kings wishes and he also advised the King to let the matter lie for a few days for things to calm down. But a consequent meeting between husband and wife ended up in a full scale shouting match, he accused her of stubbornness and she called him a tyrant. He then told her he would send all her Portuguese ladies right back where they came from. The argument was so loud that the next day everyone at Court knew what had happened, and also noticed that they barely looked at each other! But now the King found himself in a quandary, he was growing ever more fond of his wife but couldn’t let Barbara down. However Catherine spent the next few days crying alone in her rooms, and in public feigning indifference although still ignoring him. After this, Barbara formally took up her position as lady of the bedchamber at Whitehall Palace and there, poor Catherine had to see her husbands mistress  as more popular than she was. For months she took everything in silence, noticing as her own servants showed more respect to Barbara knowing full well she had more influence with the King than Catherine did. But this silence gained her many admirers, and one day bored with loneliness she began to chat happily with Barbara, showing outwardly all signs of friendliness, and Barbara was even seen to be waiting on the Queen at Mass. Catherine, although only outwardly showing her acceptance did so as she did not want to displease her husband due to the simple fact that she was so in love with him that she would put up with his lover.

During this time, Barbara used her influence at court and there seemed no end to it. After Lady Gerard, another lady of the Queen’s bedchamber made remarks that Barbara took offence to, she had her dismissed. She began persuading Charles to dismiss elderly statesmen, and having them replaced with younger men who were more in touch with the modern world, and there was no point in Charles protesting this despite the alarm felt by others at court. And it was during 1662-63 that Barbara began to use her influence to bring about the downfall of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. He had much to fear from her, knowing how much she hated him, and it was Barbara who influenced the decline in his influence.

This was when Barbara was at her height, the King would dine with her four or five times a week, often not returning to Catherine’s bed until the next morning, and he made n effort to hide it from her. He would openly walk from Barbara’s apartments to the palace and for a period of about three months did not dine with the Queen once, preferring to spend his time with Barbara. By April 1663, Barbara had apartments in Whitehall near the King and no matter how fond of Catherine Charles was, she could not compete with Barbara’s dazzling wit and her sexual prowess.

Barbara was certainly not loyal to Charles, and she had a string of other lovers including Sir Charles Berkeley, James Hamilton a groom of the King’s bedchamber, Lord Sandwich and Henry Jermyn.

Yet Barbara’s power would soon start to crack when rival’s for the King’s affection began to make their mark. The earliest example is when Frances Stuart, a young girl of fifteen from Paris, joined the court as a maid of honour. This girl was apparently incredibly beautiful and immediately captivated the King, and she was the polar opposite of Barbara Castlemaine and was incredibly virtuous. So virtuous in fact that she just kept on refusing the King.

Frances Stuart, La Belle Stuart by Sir Peter Lely

Of course Barbara quickly took the young, naive Frances under her wing, inviting the young thing to all nights out and making sure that she was always present at occasions where the King was, and indulged Frances’ love of childish games. One famous story (which can be seen in Charles II The Power & The Passion with Rufus Sewell) involved a play where Barbara and Frances would pretend to be man and wife, going through a pretend marriage and going to bed in the traditional manner. When the King arrived, Barbara ceded the place of the husband to him but still Frances would now allow anything to go beyond a game which must have been very frustrating for Charles! However during Charles’ seeming obsession with young Frances, Barbara began to go about the Court with a sour look on face and it was clear that she was beginning to lose favour. She was seen less and less in the Kings company, and in public people began to pay less attention to her.

One of the main events that saw Barbara’s fall from favour in 1663 was the fact that Catherine became seriously ill in the October. It was sudden and mysterious and it was feared that she would not recover. The raging fever made her believe that she had given birth to a son, and she apologised to Charles that he was so ugly. The King, who had spent many hours by her bedside, told her that their son was a pretty boy. By this time, it had been established that the Queen must be barren, and thoughts that she may be dying gave way to talk of a new Queen for Charles, and the name of Frances Stuart was thrown around. The Queen however recovered only to be faced with the reality of her childlessness and the King’s continued dalliance with his mistresses.

Further reading

Fraser, A, 1979, King Charles II, Butler & Tanner: London
Fraser, A, 1984, The Weaker Vessel: Women’s Lot in Seventeenth Century England, Phoenix: London
Masters, B, 1979, The Mistresses of Charles II, Constable: London
Uglow, J, 2009, A Gambling Man, Faber & Faber: London