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Late Medieval Sexualities - MST00086M

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  • Department: Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tess Wingard
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

Late medieval societies were obsessed with understanding and classifying sexuality, from didactic handbooks outlining the many branches of the sin of lust, to Aristotelian scientific treatises on the mechanics of reproduction. Medieval authors were deeply interested in both the biological/psychological nature of desire itself, and in its expression through acts, identities, and social relations. These cultural and intellectual constructions of sexuality in turn informed the lived experience of sex through their influence on mechanisms of social control and regulation such as the law and pastoral care. The aim of this module is to investigate medieval understandings of sexuality and interrogate the relationships between theory and practice in the classification and regulation of sex.

This module looks at sexualities in late medieval Europe from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. Our main focus will be on the cultures of England and France, though we will also bring in case studies from Germany, the Low Countries, and Italy. We will analyse medieval theoretical approaches and lived experiences of sexuality through a diverse range of primary sources in translation, including conduct literature, court documents, gynaecological treatises, and letters, as well as the histories of their interpretation. We will engage with fields such as queer/trans studies, feminist historical methodologies, and other theoretical approaches to thinking about the intersection of sexuality, knowledge, and power. We will explore the major controversies in the historiography of medieval sexualities such as the nature of premodern sexual categories and the question of whether medieval societies can be classified as heteronormative or pre-heteronormative. We will further interrogate the field’s relationship to broader scholarly questions of identity, power, and the radical political potential of medieval studies.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The module aims 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. ‘Compulsory heterosexuality’ and bourgeois self-fashioning
  2. Sex work and the late medieval town
  3. Rape, female agency and the law
  4. Chivalric and clerical queer masculinities
  5. Making medieval queer women visible
  6. Transgender narratives in the archive
  7. Sex, race, and the ‘sodomitic’ Muslim in the Christian imaginary
  8. Queerness, royal authority and historical memory


Task Length % of module mark
3500-4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
3500-4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students have the opportunity to submit a formative essay of up to 2,000 words and receive written or oral feedback, as appropriate, from a tutor. For the summative essay (3500-4000 words), students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback in line with the University's turnaround policy. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required.

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:

  • LaFleur, G., M. Raskolnikov and A. Klosowska, eds. Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern. Ithaca and London, 2021.
  • Linkinen, T. Same-Sex Sexuality in Later Medieval English Culture. Amsterdam, 2015.
  • Karras R.M. Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others. 2nd ed. London, 2017.

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.