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The British Problem: The Making of an Early Modern State - HIS00088M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Laura Stewart
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

Britain was once regarded as such an extraordinarily successful state that historians expended little effort investigating how it came into being. Yet the making of Britain was a violent, volatile, and intensely controversial process that took over a century to work itself out. The 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, which remains the foundation of the modern British state, was one way of dealing with the increasingly disruptive relationship between the two kingdoms, but it was neither ‘inevitable’ nor the end of the story. 

This course uses Britain to think about a ‘problem’ that was commonplace in early modern Europe: the formation of ‘multiple monarchies’. In 1603, King James VI of Scotland inherited the Crown of England, which also came with the principality of Wales and the dependant kingdom of Ireland. Over the next century, successive rulers tried to bring the kingdoms and peoples into line with one another – which usually meant making Scotland, Wales, and Ireland more like England. Although there were certainly cultural, religious, and political factors aiding peaceful integration, the notion that parts of the British Isles needed not only to conform to English models of governance, but also to be ‘civilized’ generated resistance and conflict. This project profoundly influenced the major political upheavals that characterize this century: the civil wars of the 1640s, the military conquests of the 1650s, and the revolution of 1688/9. Examining these events as part of a complicated process of British ‘state formation’ offers both new perspectives on controversial historical debates and interesting possibilities for comparative study. 

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

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 completing this module students should:

  • have attained knowledge of the conceptual frameworks used to investigate state formation
  • have acquired a deep understanding of the political, religious, and cultural interactions between the constituent parts of the British archipelago
  • be able to compare and contrast the different political cultures obtaining within the archipelago
  • be able to assess the different types of source material through which state formation can be studied

Module content

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

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. ‘The British problem’
  2. King James VI and I’s ‘perfect union’
  3. Ireland: the first British colony
  4. Religious unity
  5. The British problem: Oliver Cromwell’s solution
  6. British Revolutions: 1688-9
  7. ‘A Pen and Ink War’: debating Anglo-Scottish union
  8. Britons?


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 Words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000 word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the autumn term. They will then submit a 4,000 word assessed essay in week 2 of the spring term.

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


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 Words
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. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural 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. 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:

Braddick, Michael. State Formation in Early Modern England, c.1550-1700. Cambridge, 2000.

Levack, Brian. The Formation of the British State: England, Scotland and the Union, 1603-1707. Oxford, 1987.

Macinnes, Allan I. and Jane Ohlmeyer, eds, The Stuart Kingdoms in the Seventeenth Century: Awkward Neighbours. Dublin, 2002.

Smyth, Jim, The Making of the United Kingdom, 1660-1800: State, Religion and Identity in Britain and Ireland. London, 2001

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.