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Rebellion & Revolution: The British Civil Wars, 1637-51 - HIS00091H

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

Module summary

Rioting, iconoclasm, mass petitioning, and the ‘invention of news’; the raising of armies and fighting of battles; the trial and execution of a king by his own people; the establishment of this country’s only republic, the conquest of Scotland and Ireland by an English army, and the rise to power of an obscure Fenlands gentleman called Oliver Cromwell. The 1640s were undoubtedly one of the most eventful decades in Britain’s history.

Many historians think these years were revolutionary: this course shows you why. The ‘British civil wars’ have gone by other names – the English civil war; the English Revolution; the wars of the three kingdoms – but, whatever we call them, they continue to fascinate because they were so hotly debated by contemporaries struggling to make sense of a ‘world turned upside down’. We begin by taking on a very familiar, but perennially contested, question: what caused the civil wars? Was the ‘tyrant’ King Charles I responsible, as the judges at his trial asserted? With the breakdown of church and government in England (different situations prevailed in Scotland and Ireland), men and women from all social backgrounds were able to express their ideas in unprecedented fashion. These wars were fought with words as well as weapons: making use of a huge volume of controversial, often confrontational, print material, the course will help you get to grips with the novel ways in which the written word was used to mobilize people and shape opinion. The people best known for this kind of organisational activity were the Levellers and we will debate why their vision of a constitution founded on popular consent proved too radical even for the regicide, Oliver Cromwell.

The civil wars were undoubtedly an exhilarating experience for many people, allowing men and women to experiment with new religious practices and experience politics in new ways. We also need to acknowledge that, for many others, the wars were a time of profound anxiety, hardship, fear, brutality, and loss. The course concludes by assessing the ambiguous and contested legacy of this period, especially for Scotland and Ireland: wars that generated new understandings of ‘liberty’ were brought to an end by a conquering army.

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. Introduction: historians at war

  2. ‘The malevolent dispositions of some ill affected persons’: England, 1625-37

  3. Riot and rebellion in Scotland

  4. Parliament, Pympuritans, and petitions

  5. Bloody news from Ireland

  6. ‘Great distractions and distempers’: 1642 ‘Designs against the state’: the trial of the earl of Strafford

  7. The war in print 1: in the archives

Spring Term

  1. The solemn league and covenant (or, the Scots again) War! Taking and changing sides

  2. Women and gender ‘World Turn’d Upside Down’: Gendering politics

  3. The war in print 2: newsbooks

  4. War, violence and the people

  5. Freeborn Englishmen (and their wives)

  6. Martyr of the people or man of blood?

  7. The conquering Commonwealth

  8. Legacies


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

Braddick, Michael. God’s Fury, England’s Fire. London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 2008.

Donagon, Barbara. War in England, 1642-1649. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.

Hughes, Ann. The Causes of the English Civil War. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.

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.