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Kingdoms of the North: Literary Cultures from the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest - ENG00133H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Elizabeth Tyler
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

In the early 21st century, the border between England and Scotland is hardening, the result of English and Scottish nationalisms, devolution and Brexit. In the early Middle Ages, Brittonic (Welsh), English (Anglo-Saxon), Irish, and Scandinavian (Viking) rulers, secular and sacred, competed for dominion over the space between the Humber/Mersey and the Forth in a time before England and Scotland. Middle Britain was not incorporated into either an English or Scottish kingdom until the twelfth century. Oriented around (not divided by) Hadrian’s awe-inspiring wall and bounded between two seas, the often wild uplands of Middle Britain were a place of ever shifting kingdoms whose languages and literatures came into close contact. The module will normally include a field trip.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

In this module we will look at the isolations, connections, conflicts and dialogues that shaped the literary cultures of the kingdoms of the north across five languages (Latin, Brittonic, English, Irish and Norse). We will explore shared and often competing investments in origin legend, pagan myth, conversion narratives, heroic and religious poetry, history-writing, saints lives and sermons. Through reading these texts, we will consider early medieval experiences of the environment; Roman ruins; cultural, ethnic and religious conflict and accommodation; and the worlds opened up by both the Roman Church in the Mediterranean and the Norse networks that stretched from Iceland to the Silk Roads. Texts were also often part of objects that used visual culture to communicate across linguistic boundaries; we will explore this materiality of the text by looking at the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Ruthwell Cross, for examples. By stepping outside of modern nationalizing literary histories, we will open up the northern kingdoms as an in-between place – not on the edge of the world, but at a cross-roads where the intimately local and the expanding global met.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with texts arising from Brittonic, English, Irish, Scandinavian communities of early medieval Middle Britain, read in translation.

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with how literary cultures mixed across the languages, ethnicities, kingdoms and religions of the early medieval Middle Britain.

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with conquest, ethnicity, migration, and literatures in contact in the early medieval Middle Britain.

  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
3000-word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines


Task Length % of module mark
3000-word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours.

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment.

Indicative reading

Texts will be drawn from the following:

Patrick, Letter to Coroticus

Aneirin, Gododdin (reading with excepts from Beowulf)

Taliesin, poems addressed to Urien ap Cynfarch, King of Rheged and Elegy for Owain ab Urien

Adomnán, Life of St Columba and The Sacred Places

Muirchú, Life of St Patrick

The Lindisfarne Gospels

Codex Amiatinus

Stephen, Life of St Wilfrid

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Bede, Lives of St Cuthbert and the Anonymous Life of St Cuthbert

The Franks Casket

The Ruthwell Cross

The Dream of the Rood with the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses

The Miracles of Saint Ninian

Æthelwulf, Song of the Abbots

Alcuin, The Bishops, Kings and Saints of York and Letters

The Fall of Rheged

The Battle of Brunanburh and Armes Prydein Vawr (The Great Prophesy of Britain)

History of the Kings

Höfuðlausn and Eiríksmál (poems about Erik Bloodaxe)

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (Northern Recension)

Irish Chronicles

Wulfstan of York, ‘The Sermon of the Wolf to the English, when the Danes were Greatly Persecuting Them’

York Gospels

Kirkdale Sundial

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.