By 1662, Catherine of Braganza has waited for years to honor the marriage contract with Charles II of England. Understanding the critical importance of the match, Catherine's mother believes it will bring an end to Spain's threat to Portugal, as only the power of England can force the Spanish to back down from their aggressive stance. However, with the beheading of Charles' father, Oliver Cromwell seizes the throne, Charles left with no options. After Cromwell's death, the country appears ready to accept a new king, Charles returning to England, soon after to wed his Portuguese bride. Although she regrets leaving her homeland, Catherine will finally fulfill the destiny she has anticipated in Restoration England. The citizens still harbor animosity toward Catholicism, but Catherine is not threatened by that fact, although as the years pass her Catholicism will be the cause of much turmoil and potential danger. Having loved Charles, or the idea of the man, at twenty-four Catherine is more than ready to become his queen.
Indeed, she is not disappointed, the king a charismatic, merry man with a fine sense of humor who welcomes her with great affection. Long-sheltered in Portugal, Catherine spends the early days of her marriage blissfully ignorant, only gradually realizing that Charles is incapable of fidelity. Catherine's first shock is in the person of Lady Castlemaine, Barbara Palmer, a voluptuous and clever woman who has already given the king a number of children. When Catherine refuses to accept Castlemaine as one of her ladies-in-waiting, a visible crack appears in the marriage, as well as a hint of her husband's capacity for anger when Catherine refuses to change her position. Although Castlemaine never becomes part of the queen's entourage, she is forced to accept not only Charles' current mistress, but the truth of his infidelities. A blight on her happiness, only pregnancy can afford the unhappy queen relief, but after two miscarriages, it is apparent that Catherine may remain barren, a condition that puts her marriage at grave risk from factions that would see her replaced a la Anne Boleyn.
Regardless the conditions, Catherine loves her faithless husband, willing finally to accept any terms to remain by his side. And Barbara Palmer is only the first of many: Frances Stuart, Moll Davis, Nell Gwynne and Louise de Keroualle. Ironically, Charles does love his wife; over the years she understands both his flaws as a man and strengths as a king. Although the author's main focus is on the painful reality of Charles' affairs, the couple also faces serious challenges to the security of the realm, James Stuart's public embrace of Catholicism, a Popish plot to reinstate a Catholic monarch and various problems that come to light because of the people's fear of a return to Rome in a decidedly Protestant country. Throughout, Charles is a charming roué who holds great affection for his childless wife, confiding his predisposition toward her religion on his deathbed. Returning to Portugal, Catherine serves as regent for a time, the years as Queen of England serving her well in safeguarding Portugal from Spain. Catherine's position in Restoration England is unique, her relationship with Charles an intimate view of the complexities of politics and faith. Luan Gaines.
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