The First English Poem on Tea

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century, Edmund Waller (1606-87) wrote the first English poem which included the word tea as a birthday ode to Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II and the first British queen to drink tea c.1662.

Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England, published in the 1840s, described Catherine of Braganza’s first tea encounter with the English royal family:

“… the Duchess of York came from London in her barge, to offer her homage to her royal sister-in-law. When she landed, King Charles received her at the garden gate by the waterside, and leading her by the hand, conducted her to the queen, who received her in her chamber. The duchess offered to kiss her hand, but the queen prevented her, by raising her in her arms and saluting her. The royal family then seated themselves near the queen’s bed, and conversed with her. It is probable that they then partook of Catherine’s favorite beverage, tea, which became a fashionable refreshment in England soon after her marriage with Charles II, though not exactly introduced by her.”

Edmund Waller’s poem follows:

Venus her Myrtle, Phrebus has his bays;

Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes to praise.

The best of Queens, and best of herbs, we owe

To that bold nation, which the way did show

To the fair region where the sun doth rise,

Whose rich productions we so justly prize.

The Muse’s friend, tea does our fancy aid,

Repress those vapours which the head invade,

And keep the palace of the soul serene,

Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen.

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