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Demanding Justice: Cultures of Government in Medieval Europe, c.1300-1500 - HIS00101I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Johnson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2017-18

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2017-18

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to important specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological or geographical focus;
  • To enable them to work on those topics by combining access to the specialised expertise of staff through lectures with their own close study and discussion of issues and reading;
  • To deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of a range of historical subjects and issues; and
  • To support students’ progression from the broad chronological and conceptual work undertaken at Stage 1 of their programme to more detailed and rigorous study of particular topics.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have a broad overview of specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological and geographical focus;
  • Be able to evaluate different interpretations of the subject matter and approaches to it;
  • Gain a critical awareness of the primary material and secondary works used in these interpretations and approaches; and
  • Be able to synthesise information from lectures, discussion groups and reading to make evidence-based arguments both orally and in writing

Module content

This module is jointly taught by Dr Tom Johnson and Prof Sarah Rees Jones

This module considers how ordinary people were impacted by, and helped to influence the formation of government in later medieval Europe. The period 1300-1500 saw the consolidation of institutions - monarchies, parliaments, corporations, law-courts - that were to dominate the landscape of European polities for centuries to come. Yet these forms of government emerged against a backdrop of endemic violence, warfare, and corruption. Some historians, focussing on this widespread disorder, have understood the period in terms of fragmentation and stagnation; but others still have seen, in these complex and sometimes contradictory processes, the very genesis of the modern state.

In this module, we will consider these broad themes of law, authority, and disorder in the context of wider society in the later Middle Ages. As well as looking at the formal mechanisms of control - such as violent punishments and penance, inquisition and international law - we will explore how ordinary people responded to these developments, from active participation in social control through to outright rebellion and revolt. We will look at a wide variety of primary sources from this period, from the vivid accounts of contemporary chroniclers to the illuminating stories of everyday life to be found in court records. With a broad European perspective, this module will also encourage students to draw comparisons, identify common themes, and gain an appreciation of local difference across medieval cultures of governance.

Teaching Programme:
This 20-credit module consists of sixteen twice weekly lectures delivered in weeks 2-9 plus one round-up session in week 10, and eight 90 minute discussion groups.

The lecture programme will likely include the following :-

  1. Narratives of State Formation in Medieval Europe
  2. Medieval Law: Approaches and Debates
  3. Government and States across Europe
  4. Sanctuaries, Liberties, and States of Exception
  5. Violence and crime
  6. Punishment
  7. Gender and social control
  8. Sex and the illicit
  9. Ownership, property, and the circulation of goods
  10. Theft, robbery, pillage
  11. Trade rules, standards, and regulation
  12. Counterfeiting, piracy, and disputes
  13. Spiritual regulation
  14. Heresy in the Later Middle Ages
  15. Urban Institutions
  16. Rebellions and uprisings
  17. Late-medieval government in comparative perspective

Discussion groups will likely deal with the following :-

  1. Vengeance and the Law
  2. Jurisdictional Conflict
  3. Robin Hood and the Literature of Violence
  4. Church Courts and the Regulation of Sex
  5. Gifts, Wills, and Plunder
  6. Inquisition and its Records
  7. The Law Merchant
  8. Chronicles of Revolt


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will be required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in either week 5 or week 7 of the autumn term. They will then complete a 2,000-word essay for summative assessment, due in week 1 of the spring term.


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
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

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:

Watts, John. The Making of Polities: Europe, 1300-1500. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Epstein, Stephen. An Economic and Social History of Later Medieval Europe, 1000-1500. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Smail, Daniel. The Consumption of Justice: emotions, publicity and legal culture in Marseille, 1264-1423. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003.

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