The Best of Queens, And Best of Herbs

Tea got its most popular start when it became fashionable at the English court following the marriage of King Charles II of England to Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal, in 1662. Catherine was not a particularly popular choice of queen since she was a Roman Catholic. Her religion prevented her from being crowned, as Roman Catholics were forbidden to take part in Anglican services. Raised in a convent and in a pious, loving family, Catherine suddenly found herself in the midst of a bawdy and dissolute court, with a continuously unfaithful husband and where she was the target for anti-Catholic bigotry. She initially faced hardships due to the language barrier, and the political conflicts between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Despite his infidelities, however, the king respected Catherine’s unwavering religious convictions, and defended her whenever she was attacked. Over time, her quiet decorum, loyalty and genuine affection for Charles changed the public’s perception of her.

Catherine of Braganza
Catherine of Braganza

As time went on, the once rigidly formal Portuguese Infanta mellowed and began to enjoy some of the more innocent pleasures of the court. She loved to play cards and shocked devout Protestants by playing on Sundays. She also enjoyed dancing and had a great love for the countryside. Picnics, fishing, archery, and drinking tea were also favorite pastimes.

Catherine of Braganza
Catherine of Braganza

Catherine’s enormous dowry included: the Portuguese trading posts of Tangier and Bombay, the right to trade Portuguese possessions overseas, a fortune in gold, and a chest of tea. Catherine was a loyal tea drinker and, before long, sipping tea in small cups, “not bigger than thimbles”, caught on among the aristocracy.

In honor of Queen Catherine, Edmund Waller wrote a poem for her birthday;

Venus her myrtle, Phoebus has her bays;
Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes to praise.
The best of Queens, and best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.
The Muse’s friend, tea does our fancy aid,
Repress those vapors which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene,
Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen.

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