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Persecution & Toleration in Early Modern England - HIS00080M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Emilie Murphy
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

The early modern period is widely regarded as an era of intensified persecution, and yet simultaneously as the crucible in which a tolerant society was born. The period witnessed concerted drives to eliminate religious dissent, catalysed violence and wars of religion, and left a legacy of hatred and prejudice that led many to conceal their religious beliefs, go into exile or face execution. At the same time, this was a period where old assumptions about the evils of toleration were debated, where (some) religious minorities were permitted and sanctioned, and an era which saw ordinary people of differing confessions find creative ways to coexist.

This course will focus on England, but it is set firmly within the context of wider contemporary British and European developments, and studies the relationship between these competing impulses from c.1500-1700. The course emphasises the value of forging links between the political and ecclesiastical, intellectual, social and cultural histories of the period and of combining a variety of approaches to the study of tolerance and intolerance in past societies. Beginning with religious dissenters in the late Middle Ages and (officially) ending with the Toleration Act of 1689, we will investigate evolving attitudes toward religious minorities (with a particular focus on minority Catholicism) alongside the differing ways these groups responded to the intolerance they were subjected to, and how this in turn shaped their mentality and outlook. Students will explore these developments by engaging with a range of primary sources including popular song, material objects, literature, and polemic.

Students will also examine secondary sources, and the scholarly controversies that have crystallised around the themes of persecution and toleration by interrogating the models of progress that underpinned much earlier historical discussion of these topics, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of newly emerging perspectives.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After successfully completing this course students should:

  • Be able to recognise and evaluate the evolving issues concerning religious difference, persecution, and toleration in early modern England
  • Have a firm grasp of methodologies and approaches to the study of religion and religious change
  • Be able to relate developments in early modern England to the wider contemporary cultural and intellectual currents in Britain, Europe and the world
  • Be familiar with the variety of primary sources available to historians of the Reformations

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

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

  1. Heterodoxy and Religious Dissent: Lollards in Late Medieval England

  2. Religion and the State: Uniformity, Loyalty and Resistance

  3. Responses to Persecution: Equivocation, Conformity and Co-existence

  4. Responses to Persecution: Martyrdom

  5. Responses to Persecution: Exile

  6. Confessional Identities and Popular Stereotypes: Puritans and Papists

  7. Radical Religion in the 1640s and 1650s

  8. The Origins of Toleration? 1689 and all that.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word formative essay, due in week 6 of the term. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 1 of the following term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. They will also receive verbal feedback at an individual tutorial. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s 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. Supervisors are available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

Indicative reading

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

Marshall, Peter. Reformation England, 1480-1642. London: Bloomsbury, 2022.

Coffey, John. Persecution and toleration in Protestant England, 1558-1689. New York: Longman, 2000.

Walsham, Alexandra. Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006.

Kaplan, Benjamin K. Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

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.