Charles II and foundations for the British tea trade

From UK Tea Council

As well as being important to the growth of tea’s popularity in Britain, the reign of Charles II was also crucial in laying the foundations for the growth of the British tea trade (and of British trade in the east generally).

East_India_House The East India Company, the commercial company that enjoyed a monopoly on trade with the ‘Indies’ (that is, lands east of Africa and west of South America) was highly favoured by Charles II. This was not wholly surprising, since the Company had showered him with gifts upon his restoration to the throne. Charles confirmed its monopoly, and also extended it to give the Company unprecedented powers to occupy by military force places with which they wished to trade (so long as the people there were not Christians). Further, another gift to Charles II in Catherine’s dowry was Bombay in India (now called Mumbai). This valuable port was made over to the East India Company, for an annual rent of £10 in gold. In time it became the Company’s Far East trading headquarters and was to prove important to the tea trade. It is certainly fitting that when in 1664 the Company opened its first trading point in Macau, the merchants sent a silver case of tea and cinnamon oil as a gift to Charles II and Queen Catherine.

The marriage of Queen Catherine and Charles II in fact was not an altogether happy union. They had no children together, a source of great heartache for them both, and made worse for Catherine by the fact that Charles had several illegitimate children from a series of mistresses. Further, Catherine was a Roman Catholic, which occasionally made her a victim of popular anti-Catholic feeling. Although she remained in England for some years after her husband’s death in 1685, she eventually retired to Portugal, where she died in 1705. But while though Catherine’s experience as queen of England may not have been an entirely successful or happy one in many ways, it is this young foreign princess whom we have to thank for the development of the British taste for tea.


  • Caetano Beirao, As Negociacoes para o casamento da Infanta D. Catarina com Carlos II da Inglaterra (Lisbon, 1942).
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys, transcribed and edited by R. Latham and W. Matthews (London: G.Bell and Sons Ltd., 11 volumes 1970-1983).
  • Denys Forrest, Tea for the British (London, 1973).
  • Lady Antonia Fraser, King Charles II (London, 1979).
  • John Miller, Charles II (London, 1991).
  • Roy Moxham, Tea, Addiction, Exploitation and Empire (London, 2003).
  • Edmund Waller, The Poetical Works of Edmund Waller (London, 1792).

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