School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Uneasy is the head that wears a crown – Meet Serena Lowery

MA in History 

by Phil Gaudreau, March 2020

Amy Cleaver

Serena Lowery, Artsci’18, is used to the quizzical look she gets when bringing up Catherine of Braganza.

“Usually they have a million questions,” she says of the focus of her thesis research, who was queen consort of England from 1662 to 1685. It’s a bit of a story in terms of how Serena settled on the little-known Portuguese queen as the focus of her master of arts in history research.

Serena has always had an interest in history, which she credits to her parents and the trips they would take when she was younger. So, when it came time to pursue university studies, enrolling at Queen’s for history was a logical choice.

“Queen’s has the very traditional university feel with the ivy on the walls, and I like that,” Serena says. “Completing my first-year studies at the Bader International Study Centre in England was an especially amazing experience. I wanted to do a year abroad and being able to do it for my first-year, especially as a history student, was very enticing.”

Before the Guelph native had even enrolled in her undergraduate degree, she was already thinking about doing her masters as well. She liked the idea of focusing on just one question and adding her insights into the growing historiography.

Picking a subject was more of a challenge. Serena wanted to focus on issues of gender in England and yet women’s rights were much more limited in the time period she wanted to examine, which limited the available material she could study.

“Queens were in an interesting position where they could speak, so I chose to look at an elite woman,” Serena says. “Focusing on a Queen people didn’t know a lot about still allowed me to still look at someone whose story has been somewhat ignored.”

Catherine of Braganza is especially remembered for bringing tea culture to England–though some debate this–and was queen consort at a time when the church and state were struggling for supremacy over the other. Both sides tried to use her as a pawn and, when that didn’t work, also tried to get rid of her. Catherine faced discrimination for her faith, multiple miscarriages, and the challenges of an unfaithful husband. Despite this sordid and charged history, it turns out there haven’t been many history books produced on her life–something Serena hopes to rectify in the future.

When Serena isn’t diving into the limited literature available on Catherine of Braganza, or working away on her thesis, she is spending time with her friends and fellow Queen’s graduate students, catching up on Netflix shows such as–you guessed it–The Crown, and enjoying the natural beauty of the Kingston area.

“Kingston is a beautiful city, particularly in summer and fall,” she says. “I didn’t see myself living her, but it is interesting retracing my family steps as my grandfather and great-grandfather spent time here, so I am able to get in touch with some family history.”

Serena says the smaller size of Kingston and Queen’s has created a very welcoming environment where she has felt adequately supported by her supervisor and her department.

To learn more about graduate studies in history, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.