Demanding Justice: Cultures of Government in Medieval Europe, c.1300-1500

Tutors: Tom Johnson and Sarah Rees Jones

Module type: Histories and Contexts

Module Code: HIS00101I

This module considers how ordinary people were impacted by, and helped to influence the formation of government in later medieval Europe. The period 1300-1500 saw the consolidation of institutions - monarchies, parliaments, corporations, law-courts - that were to dominate the landscape of European polities for centuries to come. Yet these forms of government emerged against a backdrop of endemic violence, warfare, and corruption. Some historians, focussing on this widespread disorder, have understood the period in terms of fragmentation and stagnation; but others still have seen, in these complex and sometimes contradictory processes, the very genesis of the modern state.

In this module, we will consider these broad themes of law, authority, and disorder in the context of wider society in the later Middle Ages. As well as looking at the formal mechanisms of control - such as violent punishments and penance, inquisition and international law - we will explore how ordinary people responded to these developments, from active participation in social control through to outright rebellion and revolt. We will look at a wide variety of primary sources from this period, from the vivid accounts of contemporary chroniclers to the illuminating stories of everyday life to be found in court records. With a broad European perspective, this module will also encourage students to draw comparisons, identify common themes, and gain an appreciation of local difference across medieval cultures of governance.

The lecture programme will likely include the following: 

  • Narratives of State Formation in Medieval Europe
  • Medieval Law: Approaches and Debates
  • Government and States across Europe
  • Sanctuaries, Liberties, and States of Exception
  • Violence and crime
  • Punishment
  • Gender and social control
  • Sex and the illicit
  • Ownership, property, and the circulation of goods
  • Theft, robbery, pillage
  • Trade rules, standards, and regulation
  • Counterfeiting, piracy, and disputes
  • Spiritual regulation
  • Heresy in the Later Middle Ages
  • Urban Institutions
  • Rebellions and uprisings
  • Late-medieval government in comparative perspective

Discussion groups will likely deal with the following:

  • Vengeance and the Law
  • Jurisdictional Conflict
  • Robin Hood and the Literature of Violence
  • Church Courts and the Regulation of Sex
  • Gifts, Wills, and Plunder
  • Inquisition and its Records
  • The Law Merchant
  • Chronicles of Revolt

For more information, please visit the module catalogue.