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Law & Society in Later Medieval England (c.1300-1500) - HIS00121I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Johnson
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2020-21

Module summary

We often think of the Middle Ages as a lawless, violent, and anarchic time: yet law was one of the most important ideals of medieval society, as a means of establishing order, justice, and peace. Law in later medieval England was not just handed down by kings, but also demanded by peasants; it did not just involve capital and corporal punishment, but also sophisticated contractual obligations. This module focuses on law as a way of opening up much bigger questions about late-medieval society: what kind of social order did people want? How were bonds of trust established and maintained? Was law a mechanism of social discipline, or a force for equality in an unequal world? In attempting to answer these questions, students will have the opportunity to work closely with legal sources such as witness statements, jury reports, coroners’ inquests, and inquisitions into heresy. Such sources not only provide us with detailed glimpses of everyday life in this period, but also ask us to consider the distortions and omissions of legal evidence more generally, and what they can tell us about the medieval past.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will: 

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • Gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project 

Module content

Teaching Programme:

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period. 

Seminars will likely cover the following areas:

  1. Crime and punishment
  2. Custom and community
  3. Reputation and revenge
  4. Property and possession
  5. The regulation of morality
  6. Witnesses and testimonies
  7. Jurors and trustworthy men
  8. Officials, writing, and bureaucracy
  9. Ideals of law: justice, order, peace

Project work will consist of detailed investigations of a particular type of legal record, such as statements of custom, witness testimonies, heresy inquisitions, coroner inquests, contracts, deeds, or criminal trials. Projects will be directed towards putting these sources in their legal and social context, and providing an assessment of their purpose, function, and significance as historical evidence.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project 3,000 words
N/A 33
Online Exam 24 hrs
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project. 


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project 3,000 words
N/A 33
Online Exam 24 hrs
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

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 seminars 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 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 unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. 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:

- Anthony Musson, Medieval Law in Context: The Growth of Legal Consciousness from Magna Carta to the Peasants' Revolt (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001).

- Paul Hyams, Rancor and Reconciliation in Medieval England (New York: Cornell University Press, 2003)

- Elizabeth Kamali, Felony and the Guilty Mind in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019)

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.