When I wrote about English/British queens on screen, I thought for sure Catherine of Braganza and Mary of Modena would each need their own post. If for no other reason than because their husbands — Charles II and James II — figure so importantly in British history. The Restoration! The Jacobites! The Glorious Revolution! Jacobite rebellions! Welp, no dice. So this post will cover them both!
Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705)
Catherine of Braganza (reigned 1662-85) was from Portugal. Why the hell she’s “of Braganza” and not “of Portugal,” I don’t understand. Her father was King John IV of Portugal, and the first of the House of Braganza, so maybe that house was new enough that it seemed important? Because Brits are so educated about Portugese politics?
Convent-educated Catherine led a relatively sheltered life until she came to England to marry Charles. She was quiet and reserved, and so not a great match (personality-wise) for Charles. She suffered three miscarriages and had no surviving children, which was a huge deal at the time. Her Catholic faith made her a target for critics, and she was even charged with high treason in Parliament, although the king interceded.
After Charles’s death, Catherine remained in England for many years, but the ascent of Protestant William and Mary II made things uncomfortable. She’s one of the few (only?) English queens to return to her native country — she lived in Portugal from 1692, serving as regent for her brother for several years.
Catherine of Braganza on Screen
Lillian Molieri in Forever Amber (1947)
Charles II flirts with the fictional Amber, “Queen Catherine” is a background character.
Shirley Henderson in The Last King aka Charles II: The Power & the Passion (2003)
She’s one of my favorite characters in this great miniseries. I love how she shows Catherine’s many sides, including her spunky side!
Sonya Cassidy in The Great Fire (2014)
All I know is it’s not a great movie.
Mary of Modena (1658-1718)
Mary (reigned 1685-88) came from the Italian Duchy of Modena, so her name makes a bit more sense. She was the Catholic second wife to King James II, who converted to Catholicism himself and was deposed as a result for William and Mary (his first wife died before he came to the throne).
She’s particularly known for the “warming pan baby” story, in which the birth of her son and therefore England’s heir led to rumors that her own child was stillborn and her son (the future “James the Young Pretender,” father of Bonnie Prince Charlie) had been smuggled into the bedchamber in a warming pan and was an impostor.
Her husband’s reign didn’t last very long, and the two escaped to France. Mary became integrated into the court at Versailles. After her husband’s death, she served as nominal regent for her son.
Mary of Modena on Screen
Sheila Gish in The First Churchills (1969)
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