Portuguese Princess Dangles Dowery: A Story of Madeira and Marital Monopolies

madeira, catherine, braganza

Three common reasons to gift wine:

  1. You’ve been invited over to someone’s house for dinner.
  2. You want to gift a birth year wine that can be cellared for a new baby.
  3. Someone’s celebrating something, and wine’s easy to gift wrap.

An uncommon reason to gift wine: 

You need to sweeten a prenup deal with your prospective husband and so decide to throw in the entire archipelago of Madeira. 

What’s Madeira?

Archipelago of Madeira Map
The archipelago of Madeira belongs to Portugal, but sits off the coast of Morocco. The islands were an important stop for shipping routes.

Madeira is both a place and a wine.

Madeira the place, an island archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa, takes its name from the traditional sweet, fortified wines made on the islands, called Madeira.

First popularized during the age of discovery when cargo ships sailed from Europe around Africa to Asia, this rich wine would maderize while sitting in ship holds as it crossed and re-crossed the equator.

Jargon Alert: Maderize is used to describe wine that’s turned brown as a result of improper storage, usually heat exposure. Done deliberately, this can result in sweet, smokey, and nutty notes in the wine. Here’s a full post on Madeira wine.

How Madeira Almost Became British

Catherine of Braganza or Portugal was born in an age when Portugal claimed a vast colonial empire. She was the only surviving daughter of her parents.

Her father, King John IV of Portugal, claimed the throne after the Portuguese Restoration War, making Catherine politically strategic wife material for European royalty. 

As you can imagine, any marriage would have less to do with love than the intricate politics of European governments.

While France and Austria were under consideration, it was England that would enter into an alliance with Portugal through the union of King Charles II, King of England, and young Catherine.

Protracted dowry negotiations between England and Portugal unfolded, and went far beyond your average prenuptial concerns. 

England acquired Tangier and the Seven Islands of Bombay, along with the trading rights to Brazil and the East Indies.

Catherine offered up over 800,000 pounds in gold and silver – more than double any other royal princess in history.

This made quite the impression for an impoverished England. Portugal was angling to gain British military and naval support, critical in her ongoing struggles with Spain. 

According to legend, during the negotiations, the scribe involved pleaded with Catherine not to include the Island of Madeira, the valuable producer of Portugal’s prized Madeira wines.

Catherine conceded and left Madeira off the negotiation table, but would add it if Charles was having difficulty getting to ‘yes’. 

Fortunately for Portugal, Charles accepted the dowry and the two did indeed get married. 

For Better or Worse

Catherine of Braganza Later Life - madeira

Alas, dear Catherine was a bit of a prude, having been raised in a convent, and couldn’t quite charm her husband away from his mistresses.

She endured illness and at least three miscarriages. The court mocked her and the king’s advisors urged him to divorce his wife (she was Catholic, after all).

To his great credit, Charles stood by Catherine whenever he witnessed the courtiers’ mistreatment.

Though she remained childless, Catherine’s loyalty to her husband and steadfast character would eventually wine over the public’s opinion. 

Back to wine…

Charles went on to allow Madeira to sell wines directly to England and her outlying colonies.

To further promote Madeira’s trade (and line the royal coffers), he went one step further and prohibited the import of all other wines from France, Spain, Italy, or mainland Portugal to any other British colony.

The result was soaring demand thanks to a Madeira wine monopoly. Quite the power couple.

Thirsty for More?

Here’s a post that goes over the difference between Madeira and Sherry.

And if you’re just getting started with fortified wines, here’s a list of the many different types of fortified wines.

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