“But I hear that the Queen did prick her out of the list presented her by the King…” (Diary of Samuel Pepys, 26 July 1662)
Sam’s diary entry referenced above refers to a rather sad black mark in Charles’ reign — the infamous “Bedchamber” incident. Charles’ historians and biographers (Clarendon, Bryant, Hutton, Faulkus, Fraser, Coote, Ollard, Wilson, Ponsonby) and Queen Catherine’s biographers (Strickland, Davidson, Mackay, Sousa, Rau, Casimiro, etc.), all differ somewhat in dates, details, descriptions and interpretations of the events, but most agree that the damage done here set a horrible precedent within the Royal marriage, the ministry, the court, the treasury, and even international relations. This entry is only intended as a general summary of some complex and detailed events so please forgive any deletions, inaccuracies, etc. and consider this for the more “generalists” among the background readers, as opposed to those who strive for exactness. Some slight spoilers may be here but I’ve tried best to keep to the “behind the scenes” view that Sam did not see.
Charles had married Catherine viewing the marriage as a state affair. In her naivety she may not have understood this and genuinely seems to have mistaken the attention given her by her husband during her honeymoon period to be real and sincere. With a total lack of experience in these matters, a devout belief in her marital vows and religion during their time at Hampton Court she truly fell in love with her husband. What she did not see was that in the background, Lady Castlemaine, who was the king’s mistress had delivered a child and demanded Charles not only to claim it as his own but to repay her for her “services” to him by establishing her as his “maitresse en title”. Through whatever means Castlemaine customarily used; rage filled outbursts, screaming, threats, tears, etc., she wore on Charles and he agreed to place her on the Queen’s list as a Lady of the Bedchamber. This assigned role would imply that Castelmaine would have free access to attend to the Queen, follow her through her daily religious, public and personal routines and, through her presence, torment her by flaunting her public position as the King’s lover. The insult to the Queen was enormous and reflected an incredibly insensitive disregard to her feelings and position, not only as a human being, but also as a wife and hopefully, perhaps one day mother of a royal child. Nowhere is it stated or believed by any historian (or even Charles, for that matter) that “love” had anything to do with Castlemaine’s manoeuvres as money, greed, power, arrogance, vanity and position were her well known motives. She historically would and did use sex, blackmail, belittling or whatever extreme available to her to get what she wanted. Charles thought it easiest to succumb to Castlemaine’s tantrums thinking that his “docile” little wife would accept his request due to her ignorance to the situation and her accommodating sweetness. Charles knew that Catherine was in love with him, so he assumed it would be easy to just slip Castlemaine onto the list and be done with it. If he was lucky, Catherine wouldn’t even know she was being insulted. He wasn’t lucky. The one thing that Charles didn’t know was that Catherine’s mother had warned Catherine to “never let Lady Castlemaine in your presence”.
As Sam reports on this day, Catherine obliterated Lady Castlemaine’s name from the list and returned it. What he won’t see is that this humiliating, heartbreaking and personal insult to Catherine is followed by a series of confrontations and manoeuvres by Charles intended to force her to succumb to his command to accept Castlemaine. As the conflict escalated Charles’ court friends “used ever after all the ill Arts they could to make it disagreeable, and to alienate the King’s Affections from the Queen to such a degree, that it might never be in her Power to prevail with him to their Disadvantage”. (Clarendon p. 317). After a period of lulling where Charles promised Catherine he would not push his request, he deceived her by bringing forth Castlemaine to publicly present her to the Queen at a court event. Catherine, not knowing who this woman even was, unknowingly acknowledged her. An attendant told her that this was Castlemaine. Catherine, taken totally off guard, burst into tears, her nose began to bleed; she fainted away and had to be carried out of the room. Charles stayed behind thus publicly siding with Castlemaine.
As the tension intensified, Charles went to reprimand Catherine himself with the result being that “the passion and noise of the night reached too many ears to be a secret the next day; and the whole Court was full of that, which ought to have been known to nobody ” (Clarendon p. 334). Catherine demanded her return to Portugal if she could not be treated with the respect of a wife and be allowed to have control of her own household. Although the return home was a naïve request on her part which would cause repercussions in international diplomacy if entertained, the painfulness of Catherine’s statement was a huge blow to Charles’ ego and hurt him terribly. No woman had ever even considered walking away from him before. He retaliated by telling her to be sure that they even wanted her in Portugal as they had sent her without the contracted dowry and hadn’t delivered on the money as promised (something which most historians believe that Catherine had no previous knowledge of). She was devastated, embarrassed for her country and national pride. Charles was now adamant, Catherine was not only to accept Castlemaine to her bedchamber, but also acknowledge her socially in public.
Over the next weeks, “Charles applied crueler and cruder pressure” (Hutton, p 187) and Davidson reports that Charles sent almost all of Catherine’s Portuguese attendants back to Portugal, he threw Diego Silvas (the Portuguese Jew who accompanied her and was responsible for paying the dowry) into jail even though the payment was not yet due. He was rude to the Portuguese Ambassador De Sande (Catherine’s godfather). He publicly ignored her and paraded Lady Castlemaine around, flaunting her, flirting with her and showering her with affection while he made sure that his wife was abandoned. Clarendon reports that “His Majesty was in continual conference with her [Castlemaine] whilst the Queen sat untaken notice of; and if her Majesty rose at the indignity and retired into her chamber, it may be one or two attended her; but all the company remained in the room she had left, and too often said those things which nobody ought to have whispered. She alone was left out of all jollities, and not suffered to have any part in those pleasant applications and caresses that she saw made abroad to everybody else; a universal mirth in all company but hers, and in all place but in her chamber, her own servants showing more respect and more diligence to the person of the Lady [Castlemaine] than towards their own mistress, who, they found, could do them no good” (Clarendon,p. 341). Nobody dared publicly side with the Queen for fear of Charles’ rage. Castlemaine’s court friends urged Charles to stand firm.
Simultaneously, Charles dumped the dirty work on Clarendon and told him to make his wife succumb or else. Clarendon, who morally sided with the Queen and passionately hated Castlemaine, was stuck in the position of asking Catherine to succumb to his King’s request. “Clarendon saw the manners and morals of the educated world into which he had been born the real object of the Restoration” (Ollard,p. 135) and Castlemaine, a vulgar mannered, arrogant whore when at her best, was the enemy to all of those things that Clarendon sought to restore. Clarendon did confront Charles on his actions but as a result of his questioning of the King he received the following letter of scathing rebuke:
…And I wish I may be unhappy in this world and all the world to come if I fail in the least degree of which I an resolved, which is of making my Lady Castlemaine of my wife’s bedchamber, and whosoever I find use any endeavor to hinder this resolution of mine (except it be only to myself) I will be his enemy to the last moment of my life. You know how true a friend I have been to you. If you will oblige me eternally, make this business as easy as you can, of what opinion soever you are. For I am resolved to go through with this matter, let what you will come of it, which I solomnly swear before Almighty God. Therefore if you desire to have continuance of my friendship, meddle no more in my business, except it be to bear down all false, scandalous reports and to facilitate what I am sure my honour is so much concerned in. And whosoever I find be to be my Lady Castlemaine’s enemy in this matter, I do promise upon my word to be his enemy as long as I live.
(Wilson p. 168). Clarendon lost his spine and tried to persuade Catherine to succumb as he’d been ordered to.
In a letter from France dated 22 July 1662, Charles’ most beloved sister Henrietta wrote to him shocked at his behavior and defending the Queen. “You tell me that someone has spoken ill of a certain person, to the Queen your wife. Alas, is it possible that such things are really said? I who know your innocence can only wonder! But to speak seriously, I beg you to tell me how the Queen has taken this. Here people say that she is in deepest distress and to speak frankly I think she has only to good reason for her grief” (Wilson, p. 168). It all fell on deaf ears.
On another front, Portugal was facing difficulties. They needed the arrival of the English troops as promised in the marriage contract. Queen Luisa was facing the overthrow of her reign and a takeover by a section of the government led by Castel Melhor (under the guise of her unfit son Alfonso, who would then easily be pushed aside, due to his lack of competence). The dowry was still unpaid without hopes to raise the money. The potential crisis in her homeland, the return of her entourage to Portugal and her concerns for her family weighed heavily on Catherine. She may have come to England with a young girl’s hopeful heart, betting on her future as wife to a legend of a husband and open to her first experience with love, but the essence of her person, her worth and identity were and always would be first with Portugal and the duty she carried with her to support her nation.
“Over the next few weeks the king’s attitude hardened towards the queen and those who took her part with severity and even uncharacteristic cruelty. He had boxed himself into a corner and had done so publicly. He could not yield without losing face and authority. The more he was accused by people he loved and respected (and probably his own conscious) of being unkind and unreasonable, the more steadfastly he stuck to his guns” (Wilson, p. 165). Charles took the position that to waiver from his request would imply that he was ruled by his wife, which would be an insult to his honor. “Here we have Charles in his most contradictory aspect. He prated of his honor, the while he insisted on forcing upon the woman who by all moral and spiritual laws had the highest claim to his consideration, the companionship of one whom he should have been ashamed to mention in Catherine’s presence” (Ponsoby, p 114). “Beneath her canopy of cloth of supported on pillars wreathed with flowers, the frightened, isolated Catherine was reaching her breaking point”. (Hutton, p188).”
As the weeks dragged on, and Queen Henrietta’s visit loomed ahead, Charles’ despicable treatment of Catherine bore down harder and “succeeded”. Catherine, humiliated, separated from her Portuguese entourage, fearful of the welfare of her family and homeland, lacking the language skills to communicate with others in her now home was all alone. She had quietly moved through the painful process of accepting that the love she had brought with her was not reciprocated and began to understand that the frivolities of a debauched, vain and licentious court were of more importance to her husband then was she.
Without any delusions left, all hopes gone, she succumbed. The results were disastrous. Whatever “secret respect” the historians’ claim that Charles had for her was gone. Once Catherine accepted her rival into her entourage, she “merely added contempt to her husband’s hostile feeling towards her” (Hutton, p. 188). He angrily escalated his public affair with Castlemaine. Most English historians imply that there was no “real reason” for the change in Catherine’s position and several reflect it as a criticism of her as a weak person. All agree it was the defining point in their marriage that ended any possibility of a loving relation between the couple, on the part of Charles. The Portuguese historians (Rau, Casimiro) are clear that Portugal had an immediate need for military support at this time. Their perspective explains that given her love of her homeland and Portugal’s desperate need for England’s assistance in their war against Spain, she opted to set aside her personal hopes for a faithful marriage in order to ensure that she didn’t risk the critical supply of military support in the event Charles’ anger escalated further. Her innate kindness, make up of her character, her religion, gentle manner and lack of language skills, had not equipped her to work on a level of undignified intrigue, sexual exploitation, manipulation or low handedness which may have allowed another woman success in both negotiations. It’s not known why she changed her position; just that she changed her position. Catherine’s thoughts during this time do not seem to be recorded, therefore passing a judgment on her character as “weak” may speak more to the biases of the historians than it does to the facts. Without her “voice” we will never really know.
Clarendon was crushed by the victory of his hated rival Castelmaine. In regards to the Queen, Clarendon expressed sympathy “But the truth is, though she was of years enough to have had more experience in the world, and of as much wit as could be wished, and of a humour very agreeable at some seasons, yet she had been bred, according to the mode of discipline of her country, in a monastery, where she had only seen the women who attended her, and conversed with the religious who resided with her, and without doubt of her inclinations was enough disposed to have been one of that number. And from this restraint she was called out to be a great Queen, and to a free conversation in a court that was to be upon the matter new formed, and reduced from the manners of licentious age to old rules and limits which had been observed in better times; and to which regular and decent conformity the present disposition of men or women was not enough inclined to submit, nor the King enough disposed to exact” (Clarendon, p. 319).
England was stuck with a whore in the background emptying the monies of England, titles which were once passed out only for valor and honor now also served as “payment” to the women servicing Charles therefore diluting the worth of those deserving merit. Licentiousness became the norm of the court, corruption a way of life with Castlemaine dominating Charles and encouraging more splits in the political factions. Clarendon, broken at what he hoped had been a last chance to instill some sense of decency and decorum to the monarchy of Charles II confided in his friend Ormond “I cannot tell you that I find, whatever other people discourse, my credit at all diminished with the king. He takes pains sometimes to persuade me the contrary. That which breaks my heart is that the same affections continue still, the same laziness and unconcernedness in business, and proportionable abatement of reputation” (Wilson, p. 167). On an outward level and through the shiftiness of Charles all was well with Clarendon, or so he said, but clearly there was the beginning of a wedge between Charles and Clarendon. Although this wedge had been gently put in place Castlemaine went after it with a hammer of vengeance to drive it deeper between them at every chance.
To the sadness of the Queen, who had only complied with her husband’s command, she privately must have come to know that whatever thoughts of innocent happiness she had envisioned were over. She was followed around constantly by her new Lady of the Bedchamber who cruelly tormented her at every chance. Catherine masked her emotions and publicly put on a face of stoicism, which she wore throughout the parade of highly public mistresses which became the norm in her humiliating years as Charles’s wife. History would reveal that perhaps the largest loss was for the people of England. Had her husband and country embraced her as her homeland wholeheartedly did, perhaps they too could have benefited from her strong and moral character. On her return to Portugal, Catherine emerged as a highly competent Regent of Portugal, who, at age 66, took on the French forces as they tried to dominate Spain and won some striking successes for the Portuguese people. Charles’ choices — the degrading treatment of his wife, his low friends, his vain and arrogant string of mistresses, his aversion to work, and his licentious lifestyle moved England to an all time low. Charles lived for Charles and Catherine lived for Portugal and her religion. However, in spite of all of his selfish insensitivities to her she never stopped loving, supporting and caring for him.
Hutton summarizes that “the two individual victims of this series of events were the wretched Queen Catherine, and Clarendon…[but] the main casualty, however, was the King’s reputation. By late 1662 an ambassador could quote the Londoners as saying that their sovereign only ‘hunts and lusts’, and other observers confirmed this opinion less concisely. Charles and Barbara had committed one of the great public adulteries of history, before a nation which a scant twelve years before had made the death penalty for this sin” (Hutton, p.188-189).
Sam’s view of this intrigue as it develops is of interest as he sees only parts of it and struggles with the excitement of the physical and sexual beauty of Lady Castlemaine vs. what he believes to be morally right and what he believes to be good for the country. Sam works hard to learn new things, to grow, to achieve and to enrich his life; what a sharp contrast against a King who has everything and chooses to live his life at the lowest level. As we see in some of Sam’s recent comments (ie. 30 June 1662 “Observations”, 16 July 1662, for instance) he is growing to question if the hopes and promises of the Restoration will be achieved by this King, or if they will be cast aside in the pursuit of court gaieties and pleasures. It will be interesting to watch the entries to come and see how Sam actually experiences the hopes and dreams of this monarchy and how the choices made by Charles in this and follow on situations impact Sam’s views of Charles, Castlemaine, Clarendon, Catherine and more importantly the state of the nation under this monarchy.
Special thanks: A very special thank you to this site’s “Pedro” for his untold hours spent translating the Portuguese works by Rau and Casimiro for me, and for offering an understanding of the Portuguese history and culture. Without the perspective of Catherine’ homeland the picture would not be complete. Additional thanks to this site’s “Dirk” who has translated several of the letters of Catherine’s mother Queen Luisa, which have shed insights into the mother-daughter relationship and the shared concern for their homeland.
- Clarendon, Earl of (Edward Hyde): The Life of Edward Earl of Claredon, Lord High Chancellor of England and Chancellor of the University of Oxford Containing An Account of His Life from his birth to the Restoration in 1660, 1761.
- Davidson, Lillias Campbell: Catherine of Braganca, 1908.
- Hutton, Ronald: Charles II, 1989.
- Ollard, Richard: Clarendon and His Friends, 1988.
- Ponsoby, Dorothy: The King’s Ladies, 1936.
- Wilson, Derek: All The King’s Ladies, 2003.
Most of the books referenced in this article are reviewed in the Further reading: biographies of related people section of the site.
© Jeannine Kerwin, 2005