Accessibility statement

Inquisitors & Heretics in the High Middle Ages - HIS00053H

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Lucy Sackville
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

High medieval Europe saw a resurgence in the popularity of ‘heretical’ ideas. Two groups in particular were singled out for suppression: Waldensianism, a religious movement founded around 1170 within the Church, which spread and survived until the Reformation, and ‘Catharism’, a dualist religion whose character and origin are disputed, and which is most famous for its hold on Languedoc, where it was wiped out around 1320. At the same time, there were efforts to contain, control, and, increasingly, repress support for these movements and dissenting thought more generally. Those measures found their most effective expression with the establishment of inquisition in the thirteenth century, which in turn laid the foundations for a technology of power that would last well beyond the medieval period.

The module will examine this history through chronicles, letters, and polemical treatises and, after the foundation of inquisition in the 1230s, through inquisition documents. These latter include not only records of interrogations and the sentences handed down, but also inquisitors’ ‘how to’ manuals. Together, these records allow us to investigate why heretical ideas were popular, why heretics were supported in communities, and how religious dissent and religious intolerance acted upon each other. The pursuit of these topics in the original records goes hand in hand with the hard-fought debate over how to properly understand the relationship between heresy and inquisition, a debate that has been ongoing since the medieval period, between historians of various denominations, ideologies, and schools of scholarship.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
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. Heresy in medieval Europe

  2. The re-emergence of heresy in the west

  3. Origin stories and interpretations

  4. Contested accounts and forgeries

  5. Valdes and early Waldensianism

  6. Narratives of repression

  7. Crusade and propaganda

Spring Term

  1. Strict machine: enter the inquisitors

  2. ‘Catharism’ in early inquisition records

  3. Secret books and ‘Cathar’ ritual

  4. Gender and stereotype

  5. Inquisition problems

  6. Late Waldensianism

  7. Montaillou

  8. Inquisition and the historian


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 50
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Inquisitors and Heretics
8 hours 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
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Inquisitors and Heretics
8 hours 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:

Arnold, J.H., and Biller, P., eds. Heresy and Inquisition in France, 1200-1300. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016.

Evans, A.P. and W. Wakefield, eds. Heresies of the High Middle Ages. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Deane, Jennifer Kolpacoff. A history of medieval heresy and inquisition. Lanham; Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.

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.