“I had to act as though many a queen before me had had to do.”
At twenty-four, Catherine of Braganza finally sets sail from her native Portugal to England, there to seal her marriage vows to the Restoration king, Charles II. Catherine’s mother has kept faith with the union throughout the troublesome years of a beheaded king and the Puritanical rule of Oliver Cromwell. Long desirous of the match, Catherine is not disappointed in the charming monarch, the early days of her marriage blissful.
The first rude awakening comes in the form of Lady Castlemaine, Barbara Palmer, long the king’s paramour, who flaunts her relationship in front of the new queen. Bristling, Catherine refuses to accept Lady Castlemaine as one of her ladies-in-waiting, causing the first rift in the marriage and providing an inkling of Charles’ determination to get what he wants. Although steadfast in her decision, Catherine is ultimately forced to accept the reality of her union: although he has much affection for his wife, Charles is incapable of fidelity.
Only an heir will remove Catherine’s self-doubts, but after two miscarriages, the queen fails to provide the one thing that will bring peace to England. Charles’ brother, James, has become a Catholic, thereby unacceptable to the people. Further, the king’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, cannot claim the throne because of the circumstances of his birth.
Over the years, Catherine will face one challenge after another, her husband drawn to beautiful women in spite of his vows and love for his spouse: Barbara Palmer, Frances Stuart, Moll Davis, Nell Gwynne and Louise de Kerouelle. It is to Catherine’s credit that her love for Charles is strong enough to allow her to coexist with these women, understanding finally that her husband’s nature will not allow otherwise.
Never loved by the people because of her religion, the Catholic Catherine and Protestant Charles weather considerable political fallout as the country chafes against any suggestion of a return to Catholicism, the public vociferously resisting James as their next king. Various plots are exposed that put Catherine at great risk, certain factions striving to have the king divorce the barren queen and remarry to protect his throne.
Catherine and Charles resist all such machinations, but by the time of the king’s death, when James ascends the throne, rebellion awaits any misstep. Catherine considers a return to her native country, the England she loved with Charles a thing of the past. After her return to Portugal, Catherine serves as Regent for a time, taking the lessons learned at her husband’s side, her final years made sweet by Portugal’s appreciation for the years of peace afforded by Catherine’s marriage to Charles.
Highlighting Catherine’s adaptation to her new life in England, the author portrays a remarkable and brave woman who is unfailingly devoted to her marriage in spite of the obstacles she faces. In their later years, Catherine and Charles grow close, beloved of one another, he requesting baptism on his deathbed, her prayers answered.