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Thomas More: Learning, Politics and Religion in England, 1500-35 - Semester 1 - HIS00167H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. John Cooper
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

SIr Thomas More (1478-1535) was many things: a lawyer and writer on social justice, a humanist thinker with a European reputation, a royal councillor and parliamentarian, friend of Henry VIII and one of his most famous victims. As the author of Utopia, More corresponded with fellow humanists in order to address some of sixteenth-century society’s most pressing problems. As a royal servant, he carried that ethos into the arena of government. But many other influences were competing for the attention of the King. When the Reformation began to seep into England in the 1520s, More deployed all his rhetorical force and political influence against Martin Luther and his followers. His conscientious defence of the Catholic church ultimately led to More’s execution and his canonisation as a saint. Others remember him differently, as a persecutor of Protestants and a man who had abandoned his early utopian principles.

This module tracks the career of Thomas More as a writer and politician at the court of Henry VIII. We read a wide range of his writings, from history and fiction to his fiercely-argued defences of church tradition and propaganda against Protestantism. We also sample some texts written by his friends and contemporaries, including Praise of Folly by Erasmus. Thomas More’s story has been appropriated by many causes, from Communism to Anglicanism. So we also consider his posthumous reputation, in order to explain how a sixteenth-century lawyer has come to matter so much in the modern world.

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

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. Introducing Renaissance humanism: Henry VIII and Thomas More
  2. A mirror for society: Erasmus’s Praise of Folly
  3. Thomas More and his Utopia
  4. Writing history in Henry VIII’s England
  5. Tudor royal propaganda? More’s ‘History of Richard III’
  6. More, the law and ideas of counsel
  7. Patterns of piety in Thomas More’s England
  8. Preparing for death: the Last Things of Thomas More

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:

  • Thomas More, Utopia (1516, 1518, many later editions).
  • Joanne Paul, Thomas More (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017).
  • John Guy, A Daughter’s Love: Thomas and Margaret More (London: Harper Perennial, 2009).

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.