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CATHERINE OF BRAGANZA by Hilda Lewis
When virginal, convent-bred Catherine of Braganza, Princess of Portugal, sailed for England in 1662 to become the bride of Charles II, she had no personal knowledge of her betrothed nor of the political circumstances that had made an alliance between her Catholic homeland and Protestant England desirable. Filled with romantic fantasies, she knew only that she wished to please the handsome man who was about to become her husband.
If her marriage brought disillusionment, it was also to bring her wisdom and satisfactions that she never dreamed of upon leaving home. Forced to accept Charles’ succession of mistresses—Lady Castlemaine, who flaunted her position for all the Court to see; young Francis Stewart; Louise de Kerouaille, the secret agent of the King of France; and finally Nell Gwynne, that darling of the English theater—Catherine endured and ultimately triumphed.
For while history has made much of Charles as a profligate and heedless ruler bent only on his own pleasures, Hilda Lewis presents a side of him that is too often overlooked. In tracing his relationship with Catherine she shows him to be a man of sensibility and insight, whose passionate nature too often overcame his good intentions. She does not attempt to minimize the pain he caused the little Portuguese princess by his infidelities, but she makes clear how, with the passage of time, Catherine came to realize she had won something more than passing physical love—her husband’s unswerving loyalty to, and dependence upon, her. Gratefully Catherine accepted his deep affection and trust, happy in the knowledge that, if he sought pleasure with other women, it was to her that he came for understanding and comfort.
The very adversities of his reign helped to bring them closer together: the Great Plague, which swept the nation, and the Great Fire, which destroyed London; the intrigue for succession to the throne; the religious conspiracies of Protestant and Catholic alike, culminating in the infamous Titus Oates plot; and the ever present threat of war Spain, the Netherlands and friends. It is these events which not only provide the background for the little-known story of the strange and moving relationship but also enable the re-creation of one of the most violent and tragic eras in English history.