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Late Medieval Life-Writing - HIS00121M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Craig Taylor
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

Throughout the Middle Ages, writers from St Augustine to Christine de Pizan recounted the lives of others and themselves in diverse ways. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there were longstanding traditions of lifewriting about religious people and saints, philosophers and princes, not just in the form of chronological narratives, but also in other genres and forms such as debates, dialogues, visions and letters. This module will explore the ways in which late medieval French and English writers built upon these traditions to tell the stories of contemporary figures, from religious men and women to kings and aristocrats.

These case-studies will open up windows into the diverse experiences of people across late medieval society, and also reveal important developments in writing and thinking about the past: many late medieval writers espoused standards of evidence that seem distinctly modern, drawing on reliable written sources, interviewing eyewitnesses, and cross-checking their facts wherever possible; others freely embellished and invented not only events and dialogue but the sources to support them. The module will also consider the ways in which writers and narrators inserted their own voices into their stories, together with wider developments in autobiographical writing, memoirs and eyewitness accounts by laymen that offer less mediated access to the ideas, values and emotions of different groups within society.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22

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:

  • Be familiar with medieval traditions of life-writing, and in particular the genres of autobiography, memoirs, biographies and letters.
  • Be familiar with late medieval historiographical developments and changing views of the past.
  • Be familiar with a range of case-studies of late medieval men and women, including not just the events of their their lives but also the wider insight that this sheds upon the ideas and mentalities of the period.

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. Medieval Traditions of Life-Writing
2. Royal Panegyrics (i): Saint Louis, king of France (d. 1270)
3. Royal Panegyrics (ii): Henry V (d. 1422) and Henry VI (d. 1471)
4. Religious Lives: Margery Kempe (d. c. 1438)
5. Chivalric Biography: the Black Prince (d. 1376) and Marshal Boucicaut (d. 1421)
6. Narrators & Writers: Jean Froissart (d. c. 1405) and Christine de Pizan (d. 1429)
7. Military memoirs: Jean de Bueil’s Le Jouvencel (c. 1465)
8. Trial Records: Joan of Arc (d. 1431)


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 or 7 of the spring term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 1 of the summer term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.


Task Length % of module mark
Long 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 course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Winstead, Karen A. The Oxford History of Life-Writing Volume I: The Middle Ages. Oxford, 2018.

Delogu, Daisy. Theorizing the ideal sovereign: the rise of the French vernacular royal biography. Toronto, 2008. Understanding medieval primary sources. Using historical sources to discover medieval Europe. Ed. Joel T.
Rosenthal. Abingdon, 2012.

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.