Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Rites of Deliverance and Disenchantment: The Marriage Celebrations for Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, 1661-62

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Rites of Deliverance and Disenchantment: The Marriage Celebrations for Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, 1661-62

Article excerpt

The lavish water pageantry on the Thames staged by the City of London on 23 August 1662 to welcome Charles II and his new Portuguese Queen, Catherine of Braganza, to Whitehall appears to be a triumph of the politics of display. Yet the splendour of the occasion could not mask the growing distance between the King and his subjects. Charles's indifference to staging public celebrations for his marriage in order to elicit popular support, no less than his inability to direct the outcome of pressing political and religious struggles, reveals the limitations of his kingship even at this early stage of his reign. Only two years had passed since his restoration and just a year since his coronation. For both occasions he spared no effort or expense to display himself to his subjects through an elaborate royal entry and, at the coronation, a scripted entertainment in which he played a principal role through the power of his presence. The royal marriage, intended politically to advance what Kevin Sharpe calls 'the process of resettling the kingdom'1 failed to settle much of anything even in the short term. Charles's reluctance to perform the public rituals of monarchy for his marriage deprived him of a signal opportunity to increase bonds of mutual loyalty and affection between him and his people. The haphazard royal celebrations were a diminution of majesty and set the stage for the lack of royal focus in the civic water pageantry. Both the King's minimal interaction with the public and the City companies' emphasis on their own magnificence at the expense of the royal couple are subtle yet tangible signs of growing dissatisfaction with Charles's rule.

Charles did not abandon his commitment to royal ceremonial. Far from it - he was, as Anna Keay argues, firmly committed to the Earl of Newcastle's counsel that ritual 'was the substance of power'.2 But after 1662 he withdrew from public rituals of monarchy and focused on those at the court and in other political and cultural space where he could control the representation of royal power. This strategy enabled him to avoid impromptu and unscripted displays to large numbers of his subjects that might have yielded spontaneous expressions of dissatisfaction with his rule. Most scholarship on Charles II has glossed over the royal and civic ceremonial for his marriage or failed to examine it in a larger political and cultural context.

The King's miscalculations in his diplomatic dealings with Portugal and his indifference to performing large-scale public ceremonial to celebrate his marriage are in stark contrast to the skillful manoeuvering of the Portuguese who arranged diplomacy and spectacle on the most advantageous terms. Since 1660 they were fighting to maintain their precarious independence from Spain at the same time as they were faced with Dutch efforts to whittle away at their colonial empire. As a result of the alliance with Charles in the summer of 1661, the Portuguese managed to get the aid they needed to ensure their independence without paying him a substantial part of the promised dowry. Through their own predilection for grand occasions and sumptuous display, they succeeded in presenting their diplomatic and military triumph to other European powers in repeated celebrations and entertainments that lasted for a week in the autumn of 1661 and a month in the spring of 1662.

This article will examine the political significance of the negotiations and festivities in both countries. They are a study in contrasts evident in three ways: in the motivations of the two monarchies to enter into the alliance; in the content of the royal and civic pageantry held in each country to celebrate the match; and in the responses of each kingdom's subjects to the marriage. Assessing the reasons for the marked differences in the celebratory display will illuminate an important yet hitherto neglected example of the public rituals of monarchy in early modern Europe.

1. Portuguese Celebrations

The importance that Portugal placed on its alliance with England is evident from the festivities it devised in Lisbon to celebrate the successful conclusion of its diplomatic efforts. …

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