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Catherine of Braganza—Shall we Have a Cup of Tea?

Tea Party by Louis Moeller (1905). Source: Wikimedia

The tradition of drinking tea in today’s contemporary period is so closely associated with the British way of life. While it is not entirely true that the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, who became queen-consort of Charles II of England, introduced tea to Britain, she definitely set the trend of making tea a fashionable and, today, a favorite beverage.

The Portuguese started trading with China in 1537 and among the products they got from the Orient included tea. However, its expensive cost and its exotic appeal made tea only exclusive for the moneyed class, which made it very fashionable in the royal court and aristocratic circle. Aside from Portugal, tea also gained popularity in Holland through Dutch trade in the East. While England's future King Charles II was exiled in The Hague during this period, he got the opportunity to enjoy tea regularly. England, however, lagged behind. English diarist Samuel Pepys first mentioned drinking tea in his diary entry for September 25, 1660. He wrote that he was discussing about foreign affairs with some friends, 'And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never drank before.' Pepys was a member of the wealthy and fashionable London set but his failure to make earlier mention of tea in his diaries suggests that it was still unusual during this time.

In 1660, the monarchy was restored in England and Charles was invited to become king. In 1662, he married Catherine of Braganza and it was she who popularized the habit of drinking tea at the English court.

Legend has it that when Catherine landed on the English soil for the first time following a tough crossing from Portugal, she asked for a cup of tea to calm her nerves and stomach. However, tea was still a rarity in England so there was none available and ale was served, instead. In another version, Catherine of Braganza was said to have arrived at Portsmouth with a casket of tea with her. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: Catherine preferred tea than the usual alcoholic beverages because she believed that alcohol :habitually heated or stupefied their brains morning, noon, and night.”  Since then, drinking tea became popular at court.

Catherine of Braganza. Source: Wikimedia

However, the concept of the “afternoon tea” was not introduced until the mid-19th century, thanks to Anna, the seventh duchess of Bedford. She was always hungry at four in the afternoon. This was the time when dinner was served at eight o'clock, thus, leaving a long period of time from lunch until dinner. The duchess would ask for a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich popularized the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread), and cake in the late afternoon. The duchess became accustomed to this habit and the friends she invited to join her also fell for the idea and started preparing afternoon tea.

England’s upper crust eventually observed tea time as a fashionable social event. By the 1880's, the high society would take tea time seriously and ladies would wear long gowns, gloves and hats for an afternoon tea in the drawing room between four and five o'clock.

Here are other interesting articles about Cathering of Braganza and the British tea time

Short History of Tea and Britain


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