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Thomas More: Learning, Politics & Religion in England, 1500-35 - HIS00031H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. John Cooper
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

Thomas More was famously ‘a man for all seasons’: a humanist thinker and writer, a friend to Henry VIII (and one of his most high-profile victims), a lawyer and parliamentarian, above all a deeply committed Catholic at a time when the Reformation was beginning to tear Europe apart. More lost his life for his conscience, refusing to yield to what he saw as a tyrannical regime. For Marx and Lenin, More was a hero of communism. In other contexts he is venerated as a saint. Who was the essential Thomas More, and why has he inspired such contrasting responses in the modern world?

We study Thomas More through a mix of his own literary output, the responses of his friends and enemies, and the many different people who have been inspired by his life and writings from historians and biographers to dramatists and film-makers. Some of More’s works, such as Utopia, are widely read to this day. Others are far less well known, including his History of Richard the Third and his polemical responses to Martin Luther and William Tyndale. The Yale Complete Works of St Thomas More sets the standard for scholarly editions, but a number of other versions are available including some online. This course exploits all these resources to engage students in a much-studied period of English history which continues to produce scholarly work of a vigorously contested nature, and thus the relationship between source material and historiography is one which can be clearly drawn out. The course follows a broadly chronological framework, placing More’s intellectual history in the context of his own career and of political and religious developments in England and Europe in the early 16th century.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2022-23 to Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 of the autumn term. Students prepare for and participate in fifteen three-hour seminars. These take place in weeks 2-5 and 7-9 of the autumn term and weeks 2-5 and 7-10 of the spring term. Both the autumn and spring terms include a reading week for final year students and so there will be no teaching in week 6. There will also be a two hour revision session in the summer term. One-to-one meetings will also be held to discuss the assessed essay.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

Autumn Term

  1. Humanism in England

  2. Texts: Erasmus, In Praise of Folly; More, Letter to Dorp

  3. History and Politics: More and early Tudor historiography

  4. Text: More, History of King Richard the Third

  5. Utopia and political thought

  6. The legacy of medieval piety: the four last things

  7. Text: More, The Last Things

Spring Term

  1. The challenge of Luther

  2. Text: More, Responsio ad Lutherum, book 1

  3. English Protestants: More against Tyndale and Barnes

  4. Texts: More, The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, books 2 and 8; Robert Barnes, A Supplication

  5. Religion, Parliament and the law: More, Fish and St German. Texts: Simon Fish, A Supplication for the Beggars; More, The Supplication of Souls

  6. Trial, prison and execution

  7. Text: More, A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, book 3

  8. Fashioning a reputation: the afterlife of Thomas More. Texts: William Roper, The Life of Thomas More; Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 50
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Online Exam - 24 hours
N/A 50

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to do two practice gobbets and then are required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay relating to the themes and issues of the module in either the autumn or spring term.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4,000-word essay which utilises an analysis of primary source materials to explore a theme or topic relating to the module, due in week 5 of the summer term.

They then take a 24-hour online examination for summative assessment in the summer term assessment period comprising: one essay question relating to themes and issues, but showing an awareness of the pertinent sources that underpin these AND one ‘gobbet’ question (where students attempt two gobbets from a slate of eight).

The essay and exam are weighted equally at 50% each.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 50
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Online Exam - 24 hours
N/A 50

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. London: Vintage, 1999.

Paul, Joanne. Thomas More. Cambridge: Polity, 2017.

Wooding, Lucy. Henry VIII. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009.

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.