Theatre || In 1662, aged 23, the Portuguese Princess Catarina of Bragança set sail from Lisbon to England. Accompanied by an entourage of courtiers and priests, she was embarking on one of the most talked about royal marriages ever to take place in Europe.
Her husband to be, Charles II, already had five children with four different mothers but in 17th century royal circles siring children out of wedlock was not unusual.
Over the course of 10 years, details of the marriage and the King’s infatuations with numerous new mistresses were recorded by Samuel Pepys. The diarist, a married man, was equally partial to philandering and a nude painting of Nell Gwynne – one of the King’s most notorious mistresses – hung in his office at the Admiralty.
‘The Rhyming Diary of Mrs Pepys’ is a restoration comedy that takes place during this politically turbulent period. Written by Carolyn Kain and directed by Thomas Hartmann, it is an entertainment which captures the style of the time and the bawdy humour enjoyed by audiences in Stuart England.
The play includes the complex negotiations surrounding the terms of the dowry. These eventually resulted in a windfall for Charles of two million cruzados – about £350,000 -, special trading concessions with Brazil, as well as the Portuguese colonies of Tangier and Bombay.
The pious Catholic Queen was out of her depth in her husband’s hedonistic Protestant court but for Charles – after changing his religion to ascend to the throne – her devotions had a growing appeal. In the rhyming lines of Mrs Pepys:
“Deep down in his heart a secret he kept
A love for the true faith the one he had left”
Although Catarina failed to provide Charles with an heir, his love and respect protected her from anti-Catholic plots intended to destroy her reputation. Meanwhile, he continued to pay for the upkeep of a string of mistresses who rivaled each other for his affections. ‘The Rhyming Diary of Mrs Pepys’ makes much of this aspect with aristocratic ladies of the court and riff-raff actresses intent on disgracing each other. Underhand tactics – and on one actual occasion laxatives – were used.
“In the background each mistress often caused trouble
Moll’s rival was Nell which meant it was double.”
All of the incidents recounted in the play are based upon fact, from the great fire of London to the founding of the pensioner’s hospital in Chelsea and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the naming of the Earl of Burford.
Catarina’s eviction after her husband’s death is also a matter of record. A degree of paranoia developed in England when Charles II died and his Catholic brother James II ascended to the throne.
Catarina’s fate was sealed when James fled to France and the Protestant pair, William of Orange and Mary, became new joint monarchs. Through her marriage to Charles II, Catarina was closely related to both but, despite her desire to remain in England, Parliament introduced a bill to limit her Catholic court and servants.
After 30 years away from Portugal, she crossed the channel to Dieppe and returned overland to Lisbon.
At this point, ‘The Rhyming Diary of Mrs Pepys’ could reach its conclusion. Intriguingly it continues, linking the bloodlines of Charles and James to members of present day nobility and European royalty. Facts revealed in the final scene will leave audiences exceedingly surprised.
The cast includes Mrs Pepys who is deluded by the notion she is a poetic genius and infuriates her husband:
“You dipped into my diary and then made it rhyme!”
“Forgive me my husband but that’s not a crime.”
There are many other larger than life caricatures of real people, featuring the wayward Charles II, his distraught mother, several of his mistresses, the obsequious Portuguese Ambassador and the goodly Queen Catarina who popularised tea as a beverage in England.
“The drink it’s made with water and leaves
And greatly enjoyed by the Portuguese”
The play is performed by a cast of Algarve residents, with Brazilian, British, Dutch and South African backgrounds.
Photo: The cast of ‘The Rhyming Diary of Mrs Pepys’ – Samuel Pepys (Damian King), Old Ma Gwynne (Sue Ward), Nell Gwynne (Natalie Galland), King’s Mother (Els Dietz),
King Charles II (Thomas Hartmann), Queen Catherine (Denise Raines), Duchess of Portsmouth (Georgina Hall), Samuel Pepys plays the Portuguese Ambassador (Damian King),
Duchess of Richmond (Carolyn Kain), Mrs Pepys (Barbara Mountford)
Photo by: PETER KAIN