Owing to her devotion to the Roman Catholic beliefs in which she had been raised, Catherine was an unpopular consort for Charles II. She was a special object of attack by the inventors of the Popish Plot. In 1678 the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey was ascribed to her servants, and Titus Oates accused her of an intention to poison the king. These charges, the absurdity of which were soon shown by cross-examination, nevertheless placed the queen for some time in great danger. On 28 November Oates accused her of high treason, and the Commons passed an order for her removal and that of all Roman Catholics from Whitehall. A series of fresh depositions were made against her, and in June 1679 it was decided that she must stand trial; but she was protected by the king, which earned her gratitude.
Catherine had three miscarriages and produced no heirs. Her husband kept many mistresses, most notably Barbara Palmer, whom Catherine was forced to accept as one of her Ladies of the Bedchamber. Charles fathered numerous illegitimate offspring by his mistresses whom he acknowledged.
She and Charles are credited with introducing the custom of drinking tea to the British court, which was common among the Portuguese nobility.
Catherine was born at the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa, as the second surviving daughter of John, 8th Duke of Braganza and his wife, Luisa de Guzmán. Following the Portuguese Restoration War, her father was acclaimed King John IV of Portugal, on 1 December 1640. With her father's new position as one of Europe's most important monarchs, Catherine became a prime choice for a wife for European royalty, and she was proposed as a bride for John of Austria, François de Vendôme, duc de Beaufort, Louis XIV and Charles II, She was seen as a useful conduit for contracting an alliance between Portugal and England, after the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 in which Portugal was arguably abandoned by France. Despite her country's ongoing struggle with Spain, Catherine enjoyed a happy, contented childhood in her beloved Lisbon.
Commonly regarded as the power behind the throne, Queen Luisa was also a devoted mother who took an active interest in her children's upbringing and personally supervised her daughter's education. Catherine is believed to have spent most of her youth in a convent close by the royal palace where she remained under the watchful eye of her protective mother. It appears to have been a very sheltered upbringing, with one contemporary remarking that Catherine, "was bred hugely retired" and "hath hardly been ten times out of the palace in her life". Catherine's older sister, Joana, Princess of Beira, died in 1653, leaving Catherine as the eldest surviving child of her parents. Her husband was chosen by Luisa, who acted as regent of her country following her husband's death in 1656.
Negotiations for the marriage began during the reign of King Charles I, were renewed immediately after the Restoration, and on 23 June 1661, in spite of Spanish opposition, the marriage contract was signed. England secured Tangier (in North Africa) and the Seven Islands of Bombay (in India), trading privileges in Brazil and the East Indies, religious and commercial freedom in Portugal, and two million Portuguese crowns (about £300,000); while Portugal obtained military and naval support against Spain and liberty of worship for Catherine. She arrived at Portsmouth on the evening of 13–14 May 1662, but was not visited there by Charles until 20 May. The following day the couple were married at Portsmouth in two ceremonies – a Catholic one conducted in secret, followed by a public Anglican service at the chapel of Domus Dei.
On 30 September 1662 the married couple entered London as part of a large procession, which included the Portuguese delegation and many members of the court. There were also minstrels and musicians, among them ten playing shawms and twelve playing Portuguese bagpipes, those being the new Queen’s favourite instruments. The procession continued over a large bridge, especially designed and built for the occasion, which led into the palace where Henrietta Maria, the Queen Mother waited, along with the British court and nobility. This was followed by feasting and firework displays.
Catherine possessed several good qualities, but had been brought up in a convent, secluded from the world, and was scarcely a wife Charles would have chosen for himself. Her mother in law the Dowager Queen Henrietta Maria was pleased with her and Henrietta wrote that she is "The best creature in the world, from whom I have so much affection, I have the joy to see the King love her extremely. She is a Saint!". In reality, Catherine's personal charms were not potent enough to wean Charles away from the society of his mistresses, and in a few weeks after her arrival she became aware of her painful and humiliating position as the wife of a licentious king.
Little is known of Catherine's own thoughts on the match. While her mother plotted to secure an alliance with England and thus support in Portugal's fight for independence, and her future husband celebrated his restoration by dallying with his mistresses, Catherine's time had been spent in the sombre seclusion of her convent home, with little opportunity for fun or frivolity. Even outside the convent her actions were governed by the strict etiquette of the royal court of Portugal. By all accounts Catherine grew into a quiet, even-tempered young woman.
At the time of her marriage she was already twenty-three, something which was not lost on her critics, and had long since resigned herself to the necessity of making a grand match abroad. Contented and serene, Catherine's rather quaint response on being told of her impending nuptials was to request permission to make a pilgrimage to a favourite shrine of hers in Lisbon. Devoted to her beloved Portugal, as she set sail for England any distress she may have felt at leaving her family and her home was no doubt lessened by the knowledge that her marriage had been hailed as "the welcomest news that ever came to the Portuguese people".
Catherine became pregnant and miscarried at least three times, and during a severe illness in 1663, she imagined, for a time, that she had given birth. Charles comforted her by telling her she had indeed given birth to two sons and a daughter. Her position was a difficult one, and though Charles continued to have children by his many mistresses, he insisted she be treated with respect, and sided with her against his mistresses when he felt she was not receiving the respect she was due. After her three miscarriages, it seemed to be more and more unlikely that the queen would bear an heir. Royal advisors urged the monarch to seek a divorce, hoping that the new wife would be Protestant and fertile – but Charles refused. This eventually led to her being made a target by courtiers. Throughout his reign, Charles firmly dismissed the idea of divorcing Catherine, and she remained faithful to Charles throughout their marriage.
Catherine was not a particularly popular choice of queen since she was a Roman Catholic. Her religion prevented her from being crowned, as Roman Catholics were forbidden to take part in Anglican services. She initially faced hardships due to the language barrier, the king's infidelities and the political conflicts between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Over time, her quiet decorum, loyalty and genuine affection for Charles changed the public's perception of her.
Although her difficulties with the English language persisted, as time went on, the once rigidly formal Portuguese Infanta mellowed and began to enjoy some of the more innocent pleasures of the court. She loved to play cards and shocked devout Protestants by playing on Sundays. She enjoyed dancing and took great delight in organising masques. She had a great love for the countryside and picnics; fishing and archery were also favourite pastimes. In a far cry from her convent-days the newly liberated Catherine displayed a fondness for the recent trend of court ladies wearing men's clothing, which we are told, "showed off her pretty, neat legs and ankles"; and she was even reported to have considered leading the way in wearing shorter dresses, which would show off her feet. In 1670, on a trip to Audley End with her ladies-in-waiting, the once chronically shy Catherine attended a country fair disguised as a village maiden, but was soon discovered and, due to the large crowds, forced to make a hasty retreat. And when in 1664 her favourite painter, Jacob Huysmans, a Flemish Catholic, painted her as St Catherine, it promptly set a trend among court ladies.
She did not involve herself in English politics, instead she kept up an active interest in her native country. Anxious to re-establish good relations with the Pope and perhaps gain recognition for Portuguese independence, she sent Richard Bellings, later her principal secretary, to Rome with letters for the pope and several cardinals. In 1669 she involved herself in the relief of Candia in Crete, which was under siege by the Turks and whose cause Rome was promoting, although she failed to persuade her husband to take any action. In 1670, as a sign of her rising favour with the pontiff she requested, and was granted, devotional objects.
On the first presentation to Charles' official mistress, Barbara Palmer, she fainted away upon realizing who had been brought before her and Charles's insistence on making her Catherine's Lady of the Bedchamber. Initially, not realizing who was presented to her, she accepted Barbara graciously, but upon comprehension changed her bearing. She withdrew from the king's society, and in spite of Clarendon's awkward attempts to appeal to her, declared she would return to Portugal rather than consent to a base compliance. To overcome her resistance the king dismissed nearly the whole of her Portuguese retinue. She was helpless, and the violence of her grief and anger soon changed to passive resistance, and then to a complete forbearance and complaisance which gained the king's regard and favour. In the midst of Charles's debauched and licentious court, she lived neglected and retired.
Though known to keep her faith a private matter, her religion and proximity to the king made her the target of anti-Catholic sentiment. Catherine occupied herself with her faith. Her piety was widely known and was a characteristic in his wife that the King greatly admired; in his letters to his sister, Catherine's devoutness is described almost with awe. Her household contained between four and six priests, and in 1665, Catherine decided to build a religious house east of St James's to be occupied by thirteen Portuguese Franciscans of the order of St Peter of Alcantara. It was completed by 1667 and would become known as The Friary.
In 1675 the stress of a possible revival of the divorce project indirectly led to another illness, which Catherine's physicians claimed and her husband cannot fail to have noted, was "due as much to mental as physical causes". In the same year, all Irish and English Catholic priests were ordered to leave the country, which left Catherine dependent upon foreign priests. As increasingly harsher measures were put in place against Catholics, Catherine appointed her close friend and adviser, the devoutly Catholic Francisco de Mello, former Portuguese Ambassador to England, as her Lord Chamberlain. It was an unusual and controversial move but "wishing to please Catherine and perhaps demonstrate the futility of moves for divorce, the King granted his permission. De Mello was dismissed the following year for ordering the printing of a Catholic book, leaving the beleaguered Catherine even more isolated at court". One consolation was that Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, who replaced Barbara Palmer as reigning mistress, always treated the Queen with proper deference; the Queen in return showed her gratitude by using her own influence to protect Louise during the Popish Plot.
The Test Act of 1673 had driven all Catholics out of public office, and anti-Catholic feelings intensified in the years to come. Although she was not active in religious politics, in 1675 Catherine was criticised for supposedly supporting the idea of appointing a bishop to England who, it was hoped, would resolve the internal disputes of Catholics. Critics also noted the fact that, despite orders to the contrary, English Catholics attended her private chapel.
As one of the highest-ranking Catholics in the country, Catherine was an obvious target for Protestant extremists, and it was hardly surprising that the Popish Plot of 1678 would directly threaten her position. However, Catherine was completely secure in her husband's favour ("she could never do anything wicked, and it would be a horrible thing to abandon her" he told Gilbert Burnet), and the House of Lords, most of whom knew her and liked her, refused by an overwhelming majority to impeach her. Relations between the royal couple became notably warmer: Catherine wrote of Charles' "wonderful kindness" to her. and it was noted that his visits to her apartments became longer and more frequent.
At Charles' final illness in 1685, she showed anxiety for his reconciliation with the Roman Catholic faith, and she exhibited great grief at his death. When he lay dying in 1685, he asked for Catherine, but she sent a message asking that her presence be excused and "to beg his pardon if she had offended him all his life." He answered, "Alas poor woman! she asks for my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart; take her back that answer." Later in the same year, she unsuccessfully interceded with James II for the life of James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, Charles's illegitimate son and leader of the Monmouth Rebellion – even though Monmouth in rebellion had called upon the support represented by the staunch Protestants opposed to the Catholic Church.
Catherine remained in England, living at Somerset House, through the reign of James and his deposition in the Glorious Revolution by William III and Mary II. She remained in England partly because of a protracted lawsuit against her former Lord Chamberlain, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, over money that she claimed as part of her allowance and that he claimed was part of the perquisite of his office. Catherine's fondness for money is one of the more unexpected features of her character: her brother-in-law James, who was himself notably avaricious, remarked that she always drove a hard bargain.
Initially on good terms with William and Mary, her position deteriorated as the practice of her religion led to misunderstandings and increasing isolation. A bill was introduced to Parliament to limit the number of Catherine's Catholic servants, and she was warned not to agitate against the government.
She finally returned to Portugal in March 1699, where she took care of and mentored her nephew, Prince John. His mother, Maria Sofia of Neuburg, had recently died, and the prince had fallen into a depression. Catherine was instrumental in lifting the young prince's spirits, and soon became a key part in his life, as his tutor and main female figure in his life. Her death would, in fact, cause Prince John to experience another depression.
In 1703, she supported the Treaty of Methuen between Portugal and England. She acted as regent for her brother, Peter II, in 1701 and 1704–05. She died at the Bemposta Palace in Lisbon on 31 December 1705 and was buried at the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora Lisbon.
Catherine is credited with the introduction of tea drinking to Britain, although Samuel Pepys makes reference to drinking tea for the first time in his diary entry for 25 September 1660 (i.e. prior to Catherine's emigration to England and marriage to Charles). It is more likely that she popularised the drink, which was unusual in Britain at the time. Beyond tea, her arrival brought and promulgated goods such as cane, lacquer, cottons, and porcelain.
Queens, a borough of New York City, was supposedly named after Catherine of Braganza, since she was queen when Queens County was established in 1683. Queens' naming is consistent with those of Kings County (the borough of Brooklyn, originally named after her husband, King Charles II) and Richmond County (the borough of Staten Island, named after his illegitimate son, the 1st Duke of Richmond). However, there is no historical evidence that Queens County was named in her honor, neither is there a document from the time proclaiming it so. Some written histories of Queens skip over the monarch entirely and make no mention of her or her supposed namesake county. Historians furthermore argue that Catherine "probably didn't even know Queens existed" and point out that "Catherine herself ... played no role in the settlement of Queens."
After the tri-centennial of the establishment of Queens County in 1983, a group of Portuguese-Americans began raising money to erect a 35-foot statue of Queen Catherine on the East River waterfront in Long Island City. The sculptor of the proposed statue was Audrey Flack. The project was well advanced when opposition arose. Historians objected on the grounds that there was no evidence that Queens was actually named after her, and further that a British monarch was an inappropriate subject for a public monument. African-Americans objected to the statue on the grounds that the British and Portuguese royal houses benefited from the African slave trade. Irish-Americans objected to any statue of a British monarch. The controversy forced Borough President Claire Shulman to withdraw her support, and the statue was never erected. A quarter-scale model survives at the site of Expo '98 in Lisbon, Portugal, facing west across the Atlantic.
Novelists, notably Margaret Campbell Barnes in With All My Heart, Jean Plaidy in her Charles II trilogy and Susanna Gregory in her Thomas Chaloner mystery novels, usually portray the Queen in a sympathetic light.
Catherine's marriage had an important result for the later history of India and of the British Empire, though the Queen personally had little to do with it: soon after acquiring the Seven Islands of Bombay as part of her dowry, Charles II rented them to the East India Company which moved its Presidency there - resulting in Bombay/Mumbai eventually growing to become one of the main cities of India.
The royal arms of the British monarch are impaled with the royal arms of her father. For supporters, she used the crowned lion of England on the dexter side, and on the sinister, the wyvern Vert of Portugal.