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HIST2225 Besieged: Towns in War c.1250-c.1650

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

This module focuses on a moment of crisis in the lives and history of towns and townspeople, when, caught up in the turmoil of war, their conquest and submission have become a political and military objective of armed forces. Resistance rested upon material conditions, such as the strength of walls and military equipment; upon human resources, such as the size and skills of the garrison and the urban community; and arguably what was more important of all, upon the spirit or mindset of the people. To what extent were townspeople prepared to put up a resistance against the besiegers? What part did such factors as ideology, cultural and political background play in the decision of the urban communities and garrisons to keep on or stop fighting? How united was the urban community? Situations of sieges put individual convictions and determination to the test. Resistance also depended on the strength and disposition of the besiegers, and the predictability of the outcome. How wild or contained were the laws of (siege) war (fare)? Were there well established and shared conventions? We will examine a number of case studies from the medieval and early modern periods to answer these questions.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • How people responded to the experiences of being besieged in the period 1250-1650.
  • Similarities and differences in sieges across 400 years and in different types of war.
  • The experience of being besieged in different geographical contexts (England, France, the Low Countries).
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Adopt a comparative approach to examining the experiences of sieges.
  • Using political, social and cultural history alongside military history to examine sieges.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse a range of primary sources in translation.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explore which factors influenced 'resistance' in different historical and geographic contexts.
  • Consider whether 'rules' applied to sieges in the medieval and early modern periods and assess whether these were changing over time.


The study of sieges goes far beyond the strict military framework, overlapping the fields of political, cultural and social historians. It provides an original angle to study contemporary mentalities, the concepts of treason, allegiance, sovereignty and the nascent sentiment of patriotism. The chronological framework of this module gives a priceless opportunity to grasp changes and continuity over four centuries, breaking the traditional boundary between medieval and modern. It is centred upon England and two neighbours, France and the Low Countries and involves different contexts of war (e.g. dynastic, religious and civil).

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The structure of the module is mainly chronological and articulated around case studies. Lectures will set the broader political context of a siege which is then examined in more detail in seminars. These are based on the analysis of a wide variety of primary sources, such as chronicles, eye-witness accounts, memoirs, poems, official correspondence and dispatches (all in translation).

Completion of assessment task50
Preparation for scheduled sessions36
Independent Study15
Follow-up work24
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Parker, G., The army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659: the logistics of Spanish victory and defeat in the Low Countries' wars (Cambridge, 1972). 

Duke, A., Reformation and revolt in the Low Countries (London, 1990). 

Potter, D., Renaissance France at War: Armies, Culture and Society, c.1480-1560 (Woodbridge, 2008). 

Donagan, B., War in England 1642-1649 (Oxford, 2008). 

Corfis, I. A., Wolfe Michael, eds., The Medieval City under Siege (Woodbridge, 1995). 

Afflerbach, H., and Strachan, H., eds., How Fighting Ends: A History of Surrender (Oxford, 2012). 



MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1500 words) 40%
Essay  (2000 words) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise 40%
Essay 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1500 words) 40%
Essay  (2000 words) 60%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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