When I wrote about English/British queens on screen, I thought for sure Catherine of Braganza and Mary of Modena would each need their own post. If for no other reason than because their husbands — Charles II and James II — figure so importantly in British history. The Restoration! The Jacobites! The Glorious Revolution! Jacobite rebellions! Welp, no dice. So this post will cover them both!
Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705)
Catherine of Braganza (reigned 1662-85) was from Portugal. Why the hell she’s “of Braganza” and not “of Portugal,” I don’t understand. Her father was King John IV of Portugal, and the first of the House of Braganza, so maybe that house was new enough that it seemed important? Because Brits are so educated about Portugese politics?
Convent-educated Catherine led a relatively sheltered life until she came to England to marry Charles. She was quiet and reserved, and so not a great match (personality-wise) for Charles. She suffered three miscarriages and had no surviving children, which was a huge deal at the time. Her Catholic faith made her a target for critics, and she was even charged with high treason in Parliament, although the king interceded.
After Charles’s death, Catherine remained in England for many years, but the ascent of Protestant William and Mary II made things uncomfortable. She’s one of the few (only?) English queens to return to her native country — she lived in Portugal from 1692, serving as regent for her brother for several years.
Catherine of Braganza on Screen
Lillian Molieri in Forever Amber (1947)
Charles II flirts with the fictional Amber, “Queen Catherine” is a background character.
Shirley Henderson in The Last King aka Charles II: The Power & the Passion (2003)
She’s one of my favorite characters in this great miniseries. I love how she shows Catherine’s many sides, including her spunky side!
Sonya Cassidy in The Great Fire (2014)
All I know is it’s not a great movie.
Mary of Modena (1658-1718)
Mary (reigned 1685-88) came from the Italian Duchy of Modena, so her name makes a bit more sense. She was the Catholic second wife to King James II, who converted to Catholicism himself and was deposed as a result for William and Mary (his first wife died before he came to the throne).
She’s particularly known for the “warming pan baby” story, in which the birth of her son and therefore England’s heir led to rumors that her own child was stillborn and her son (the future “James the Young Pretender,” father of Bonnie Prince Charlie) had been smuggled into the bedchamber in a warming pan and was an impostor.
Her husband’s reign didn’t last very long, and the two escaped to France. Mary became integrated into the court at Versailles. After her husband’s death, she served as nominal regent for her son.
Mary of Modena on Screen
Sheila Gish in The First Churchills (1969)
Do any of these portrayals excite you? Let us know!
I’ve only seen Shirley Henderson as Catherine, but it was awesome. She goes after Charles when he genuinely deserves it, and she’s fearless. I’ve always felt a little bad for Catherine, but I’d argue she ended up being one of the few women Charles actually respected, and that isn’t nothing. Mary of Modena was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her awful sons didn’t help. (Someone may’ve recently been rabbit holing 17th century Europe on Wikipedia. Don’t judge.)
Shirley Henderson definitely got my respect in that role and I agree, even as woefully as Charles II treated her, I think he had a deep respect and even affection for her (My proof of this is the fact that he refused to annul their marriage numerous times despite his advisors urging him to and that it would have made much sense at the time since she couldn’t seem to bear a living child. Th only explanation I can think of for him staying in the marriage is that he liked Catherine).
Charles was not faithful but he was intensely loyal to his wife. He couldn’t keep in in his breeches but he could and did comfort her during her miscarriages, and stand up for her against parliament and anti catholic activists. He does seem to have admired and respected her and they eventually worked out a modus vivendi that got her as much attention as his other women.
I would guess that the average English person would have been more knowledgeable about Portuguese politics in the 1660s than they are now. Portugal was in decline, but still a Great Power at the time.
I think that Catherine was identified as being from the House of Braganza because the civil war which put them in power was still recent history. Portugal and England were long-time allies by that point, mainly because Spain was a common enemy, but Portugal was taken over by Spain in 1581 when Philip II of Spain became king of Portugal. Philip’s enemies became Portugal’s enemies, so Portugal fought on the side of the Spanish in 1588. The Braganzas kicked out the Hapsburgs in 1640, so Catherine’s connection with them would have made her very popular in England.
She is usually credited with popularizing tea in England, so every stereotype of Englishmen which involves their world revolving around a cup of tea stems ultimately from her.
It’s also possible that the name ‘Catherine of Braganza’ was an expedient intended to avoid a hissy fit from the Spanish ambassador (“She can’t be ‘of Portugal’, my master is the RIGHTFUL King of Portugal!”): Old Rowley always was one for the easy life, if only he could find some way to enjoy it.
Well, I’m just happy to see 17th Cent. clothes whenever I can.
-Btw, that’s probably not quite ALL of Chuckie’s mistresses.
No, those are all the MISTRESSES – they just left out the various one-night stands, afternoon delights, morning glories and other fleeting passions so that there would actually be some room on His Majesty’s bed and so they could keep the camera close enough to distinguish details of the various faces.
Catherine of Braganza also appears in The First Churchills, but she has no lines and I cannot find out who played her. Sheila Gish is very sympathetic in this series. She was the very much younger second wife of James (not too much older than her stepdaughters) and is also shown as acting as a matchmaker between Sarah Jennings and John Churchill. The “bedpan” scene is properly ambiguous. It’s a great series- I’d love it if you can review it. Lots of history which rarely appears on screen,(how often do you see the 1690s?) and the best Charles II!
But the bad videography that I know awaits me!
You watched Six Wives of Henry VIII – it’s much the same quality. Just think of the full bottomed wigs on some of those Whigs! (To say nothing of the Tories!). And ladies in fontages! And mantuas! :). Some of Sarah’s dresses she wears in the 1670s style get reworked in 1680s style – which I would think actually happened in real life. And there’s James Villiers as an very shrewd and funny Charles II and Margaret Tyzack as poor unfortunate Queen Anne.
I too love Shirley Henderson as Catherine, she wonderful in everything from Catherine Minola in Shrew to opposite David Suchet in The Way We Live Now. I too am a First Churchills fan and I beg for a review.
Also royals were often denominated by their “house” rather than the country. So Anne of Austria was actually from Spain, but a Hapsburg – hence the House of Austria.
Right, good point!
“She’s one of the few (only?) English queens to return to her native country” I believe Margaret of Anjou, the fierce wife of the ill-fated King Henry VI, also returned to her native France after her husband and son were killed during the War of the Roses.
Though not willingly, not as I understand it (Quite contrasting with Queen Catherine).
It’s nice to know that Catherine was appreciated back in Portugal and was politically active and influential not vegetating in seclusion. Going home seems to have been a good move for her.
The “warming pan baby,” the child of James II and Mary of Modena was the Old Pretender. It was his son Charles who was The Young Pretender, the one who led (and lost) the ’45 rebellion. The name “Bonnie Prince Charlie” was a Victorian romanticism, not a name any of his contemporaries would have recognised.
Fun fact! Catherine of Braganza is the eponymous Queen of the New York City Borough.
(yes, that’s weird)