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Representing Power in Early Modern England - HIS00154M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. John Cooper
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

How was the exercise of power represented in early modern England? Since the publication of Roy Strong’s Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I in 1963, successive generations of historians have been documenting and analysing the many ways in which the rulers and elites of early modern England justified their hold on power. From portraits to pageantry, printed propaganda to royal ritual, architecture to sacred music, claims have been made about the effectiveness of magnificence and persuasion in securing the compliance of a society undergoing profound and unsettling change. The perception of power, it has been suggested, may have been as important as its reality. But arguments like these are also subject to challenge. Have historians been seduced by the sheer splendour of early modern courts and country houses, or misled into believing in the political potency of English Renaissance art and culture simply because it was beautiful? How can we find ways to assess such sources dispassionately, as they were understood at the time?

Taking an interdisciplinary approach, this module asks how power was represented under the royal and republican regimes which ruled England/Britain between the end of the fifteenth and the mid-seventeenth centuries. Following a series of case studies of Tudor rulers, we explore the significance of royal progresses, ritual and liturgy, and the palaces and elite houses which were such a feature of the English landscape during this period. We conclude with contrasting perspectives from the seventeenth century, the iconography of the republican regime established following the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the King’s posthumous construction as a martyr.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are 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

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

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

  1. Chivalry, pageantry and the early Tudor court
  2. Defending the faith: Henry VIII and royal propaganda
  3. The cult and the myth of Elizabeth I
  4. Architecture and power: royal palaces and country houses
  5. Monarchy on tour: Tudor and Stuart royal progresses
  6. Liturgy, ritual and the Chapel Royal
  7. Picturing Parliament: the iconography of the English Republic
  8. The cult of King Charles the Martyr


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

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


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

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay 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 formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, 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 reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • David Howarth, Images of Rule: Art and Politics in the English Renaissance, 1485-1649 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997)
  • Susan Doran and Thomas Freeman, The Myth of Elizabeth (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2003)
  • Kevin Sharpe, Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009)
  • Eleri Lynn, Tudor Fashion: Dress at Court (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017)
  • J.P.D. Cooper and James Jago, ‘Picturing Parliament: The Great Seal of the Commonwealth and the House of Commons’, Antiquaries Journal 101 (2021), 369-389

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.