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Exiled Lives: English Nuns in Catholic Europe, 1600-1800 - Semester 1 - HIS00180H

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

Module summary

‘Do not suppose me a well mortified Nun dead to the world for alas tis not so, I am alive’ – Winefrid Thimelby, at the English Convent of St Monica’s in Louvain, writing to her nephew in Lincolnshire, c.1660.

After the dissolution of the monasteries, English women like Winefrid Thimelby who wanted to become nuns first had to become criminals, and exile themselves from their homeland where the practice of their faith, Roman Catholicism, was illegal. Between 1600 and 1800 over 4000 women made the treacherous journey across the English Channel to join one of the new foundations established throughout continental Europe. Until recently, very little was known about these women, and their stories remained the preserve of the surviving communities themselves, the majority returning to England in the midst of the French Revolution. The last twenty years have witnessed a profound historiographical shift, and scholars have started to realise the historical significance of these women. Despite their status as female professors of a minority faith, and expatriates in strictly enclosed cloisters, these women actively participated in the religious, cultural, and political events that shaped the historical landscape throughout the early modern period.

This course is based on primary sources newly accessible online and in print, and which offer overwhelming evidence of the women’s literary, political and historical significance. The course will help restore these women to their central role in the history of post-Reformation Catholicism, Anglo-European relations, histories of reading, writing and scholarship, and histories of exile, migration, and globalisation more broadly.

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. Who were the Nuns?
  2. Authority and Rules
  3. Ceremony and Liturgy
  4. Confessors, priests and seminarians
  5. Emotions and the senses
  6. Spirituality and autobiography
  7. Chronicles and history making
  8. Enclosure and Polemic


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.


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:

  • Bowden, Caroline, “The English Convents in Exile and their Neighbours: Extended Networks, Patrons, and Benefactors,” in Helen Hackett (ed.), Early Modern Exchanges: Dialogues between Nations and Cultures (London: Routledge, 2016).
  • James E.Kelly, English Convents in Catholic Europe, c.1600-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).
  • Claire Walker, Gender and Politics in Early Modern Europe: English Convents in France and the Low Countries (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

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.