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The French Wars of Religion - Semester 1 - HIS00151H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Stuart Carroll
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The violent passions aroused by religious schism and the deadly intrigues of court politics have long made the French Wars of Religion one of the more colourful and fascinating periods for historical study. But the civil wars which tore France asunder in the second-half of the sixteenth century were also a major turning point in European history. With over one million adherents Calvinism had more widespread support than anywhere else in Europe was a major challenge to authority. The monarchy attempted reconciliation through the hitherto unheard of policy of religious toleration.

The failure of moderation and the terrible religious violence which culminated in the Massacre of Saint-Bartholomew is a phenomenon which has echoes of today’s ethnic and religious conflicts. Religion also introduced a new ideological element into traditional politics, which was transformed by the formation of religious parties. The justification of resistance to the monarchy developed by Protestants and elaborated by radical Catholics had a profound impact on the development of European political thought. Montaigne, the greatest thinker of his age, was the product of this turmoil, and his Essays will show us how religious conflict and political disintegration transformed the concept of society and the self in Europe. In his Essays we will find the seeds of European liberalism.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the second part in Semester 2.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

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

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

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Introduction i: Polity & Society
  2. Introduction ii: Church, Faith and the People; Documents Session i
  3. Role Play: Game of Thrones, 1559-62
  4. Document Session ii: The Formation of Religious Parties
  5. Religious Violence
  6. Documents Session iii: Religious Violence
  7. Civil War, 1562-70
  8. Document Session iv: War, Diplomacy, Politics

Indicative assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to produce text commentaries in seminar, including a written commentary.

For the summative assessment students build a portfolio of two parts, to be submitted together:
a) Two text commentaries of 500-750 words; and
b) One 1,500-word essay which reflects on the significance of the chosen texts in light of scholarship and sources from across the module.
The commentaries comprise 50% and the essay 50% of the overall mark for this module. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.

Indicative reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative work will be live marked in seminar and supplemented by the tutor giving oral feedback to the whole group. 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 summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 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 semester 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:

  • Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: eight essays (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1987).
  • Mack P. Holt, The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629. 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
  • Stuart Carroll, Martyrs and Murderers: the Guise Family and the Making of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University constantly explores 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. In some instances it may be appropriate for the University to notify and consult with affected students about module changes in accordance with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.