History is more interesting when spiced with royal drama.
“Catherine of Braganza: Charles II’s Restoration Queen” by Sarah-Beth Watkins is a short biography of Queen Catherine of England, who reigned from 1662-1685. Her marriage to King Charles II, a king on shaky ground as he had previously been usurped, was an alliance match. The book focuses much on her struggles as a foreign bride – she was a princess from Portugal – and the problems of being a Catholic noble in the hostile, Anglican-leaning English courts. I found myself finishing the book in a matter of hours, as Catherine's history was so engaging that I had to know how it turned out.
Catherine’s story is pieced together through the diaries of court satellites, personal letters to and from family members, and historical documentation. From this, the reader can see what royalty was really like, with all the gloss of movies removed.
Watkins assembled a sad picture of Catherine, but not intentionally. Overall, Watkins maintained a neutral tone when it came to detailing the king’s many mistresses, his disregard for his queen’s feelings about said mistresses, and Catherine’s being ostracized for her fertility struggles and her Catholic beliefs. It did seem like Watkins had sympathy for Catherine’s plights, with conclusions drawn like the one below:
“It was a relief for the young queen to spend time with such an understanding woman as Henrietta [Dowager Queen, Charles II mother], to share their Catholic devotions together and to have a reprieve from her argument with Charles.”
There was no direct citation to prove this, just inferences from events surrounding the two women’s time together. However, the slight compassion Watkins showed to Catherine’s history didn’t impair my ability to create my own idea of Catherine’s character.
Watkins did, however, cite many historical records as she wrote Catherine’s story, which was helpful. I’ve found without these kinds of footnotes, I tend to finish reading biographies with more questions than when I started.
Something I found difficult was more on the end of my own education. I am not overly familiar with British history, or any history that is not American. At times I found myself on Google looking up maps and background details, and then needing to find historically accurate maps for the time period in question. As this book was written by a British citizen presumably for a British audience, I would only say that to boost the book’s international appeal, I wish there would be royal family trees for me to double-check and some maps of the areas Watkins discussed.
The only real complaint I can level at the book is that it is only 140 pages and that Watkins referenced things, like Catherine’s relationships with the royal bastards, but never expanded on the subjects.
Aside from that, this interesting historical look into the life of a queen is worth a read. “Catherine of Braganza: Charles II’s Restoration Queen” by Sarah-Beth Watkins will be available April 28 for $14.95.
Dixie Sun rating: 4.5 out of 5