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Medieval Lives - HIS00163M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Craig Taylor
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

Throughout the Middle Ages, writers from St Augustine to Christine de Pizan recounted the lives of others and of themselves in diverse ways. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there were longstanding traditions of life-writing 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 those 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 Semester 1 2023-24

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. Medieval Traditions of Life-Writing
  2. The Chandos Herald and the Black Prince
  3. Biographies of King Henry V
  4. John Blacman and King Henry VI
  5. The Chivalric Biography of Marshal Boucicaut
  6. Joan of Arc
  7. The Boke of Margery Kempe
  8. The fictional life of ‘Le Jouvencel’


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.



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:

  • 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.)
  • Ed. Joel T. Rosenthal, Understanding Medieval Primary Sources. Using Historical Sources to Discover Medieval Europe. (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.