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Thomas More: Learning, Politics and Religion in England, 1500-35 - Semester 2 - HIS00169H

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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 first part in Semester 1.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 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 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 2. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all. A one-to-one meeting between tutor and students will also be held to discuss assessments.

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

  1. The challenge of Luther
  2. Defending the faith: More, Henry VIII and the Responsio ad Lutherum
  3. The battle for the English Bible: More and William Tyndale
  4. Parliament and politics during Henry VIII’s Reformation
  5. The fall and rise of Thomas More: resignation, trial and execution
  6. Prison writing: the Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation
  7. Remembering Thomas More: William Roper’s Life
  8. More in the modern world, from Robert Bolt to Hilary Mantel


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students submit an essay draft of 2000-words.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4000-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This comprises 100% of the overall module mark. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive a one-to-one meeting with the tutor to discuss the essay and their plans for the assessed essay.

Work will be returned to students with written comments in their tutorial and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to make use of 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. 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 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.