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a tale of Restoration intrigue by

Molly Brown

The Strand

Catherine of Braganza By the mid-1670s, Charles II's wife, Catherine of Braganza, had moved out of Whitehall Palace and taken up residence at Somerset House in the Strand, built about ten years earlier.

Pepys's Diary, 24 February 1664:

When Catherine arrived at Portsmouth on 13 May 1662, she asked for a cup of tea only to be told there was none available; tea was at that time a very rare drink. She was offered ale instead. She was said to be at least partly responsible for the later popularity of tea-drinking, though it would be still be several years (not until 1678) before tea was imported into the country in any great quantities. It was believed to have medicinal qualities and one doctor recommended drinking at least ten cups a day.

Pepys's Diary,28 June 1667:

Tea was not only an expensive brew - not everyone knew quite what to do with it and there was much contradictory advice as to how it should be prepared. According to one writer - a Jesuit priest recently returned from China - "the hot water should not stay upon the tea leaves any longer than you can say the Miserere Psalm very leisurely". Others mistook it for a vegetable, boiling the leaves then discarding the water.

On the morning of his wedding day, 21 May 1662, Charles wrote to Clarendon:

Charles was said to enjoy teaching his wife English swear words, then watching her use them in company with no idea what they meant. His marriage didn't curb his taste for other women in the slightest; Catherine was forced to accept his mistress, Barbara Palmer (later Duchess of Cleveland, then Duchess of Castlemaine), as a lady-in-waiting. (Years later, with the passage of the Test Act, the Queen was allowed only 9 Catholic Maids of Honour. They drew lots to see which of them should depart. When 8 had been chosen, the queen stopped the lottery and added the name of the 9th herself: Louise de Kéroualle.)

The queen's status was not helped either by her Catholicism or her inability to bear a child; within a few years of her marriage, Charles's advisers were pressuring him to divorce her and find a new queen to produce Protestant heirs.

When it was becoming a regular demand that James, as a Catholic, be excluded from the succession, Buckingham suggested to the king that he have Catherine kidnapped and sent to Virginia, where, after a suitable period, he could divorce her on grounds of desertion, marry a Protestant queen and give the country a Protestant heir.

Despite Charles's continual infidelity, they were never divorced and he determinedly stood by throughout the Popish Plot crisis, when she was accused of plotting his murder.

Somerset House was mentioned more than once during the enquiry into the death of the London Magistrate, Edmund Berry Godfrey. It was claimed that he was followed along the Strand, lured into Somerset House where he was strangled by a man named Hill, and that his body had remained hidden in a room there for several days before being transported to Primrose Hill where it was discovered on Thursday, 17 October 1678.

Extract from a letter written by Catherine to her brother during the Popish Plot:

whitehall pallmall thames covent garden lincolns inn academy st james bear garden alsatia bridewell start of tour home

(c) 1996 Molly Brown