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Vagabonds, Thieves & Gossips: Dealing with Disorder in Late-Medieval England - HIS00064C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Johnson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

Late-medieval England was a society in flux. In the tumultuous decades after the Black Death, ordinary people had more leisure time, more money, and more ways to spend it. During this unstable and socially mobile time, local communities became deeply concerned with the problem of disorder. This was a wide category, encompassing everything from outright violence and open insults in the streets to gossiping in taverns and sexual immorality in private. Through local law-courts and legislation, through negotiations and informal associations like gilds, and through common rituals like feasts, ordinary people tried to settle disputes through peaceful means. Yet the spectre of the scrounging vagabond, the petty thief, and the loose-tongued gossip remained potent in the late Middle Ages, as communities persistently attempted – but often failed – to enforce good governance. Who was suspected of disorder? What were the limits of community tolerance? How were conflicts resolved? And were efforts to impose order ever successful?

We will explore these questions through an investigation of some fascinating evidence: we will look at court records which preserve medieval insults, popular literature such as the Robin Hood ballads, coroners’ reports on how people died, and even financial accounts which can tell us how people spent their money. Together, these very different sources can help to illuminate the vibrant and complex world of disorder and social control in late-medieval England.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into historical study of an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have practiced core skills identified in the Autumn Term Making Histories module, including historical analysis, note-taking, essay writing, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars: and,
  • Have delivered advanced level historical work in essays, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the module topics.

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over eight weeks. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. The Black Death and its Aftermath
  2. Local Courts and Communities
  3. Piety and Heresy
  4. Masculinity, Femininity, and Good Governance
  5. Neighbours, Gilds and Charities
  6. Violence and Disorder
  7. Resolving Disputes
  8. Mythologizing Crime


Task Length % of module mark
Essay: 2,000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

During the autumn term, students write two essays on topics closely related to the seminar programme.

They will complete a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment due in week 6 of the autumn term for which they receive feedback in a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial.

Students will then submit 2,000-word assessed essay in week 10.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay: 2,000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative assessments

  • Within two working weeks of the completion of the assessment task. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

Summative assessments

  • Within six working weeks of the completion of the assessment task. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

You might like to look at the following:

McIntosh, Marjorie K. Controlling Misbehavior in England, 1370-1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Musson, Anthony and Edward Powell. Crime, Law and Society in the Later Middle Ages. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students