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The University of Southampton

HIST3130 Medieval Love, Sex and Marriage: Part 1

Module Overview

This module explores the social significance of marriage and ideas about love and sex in Western Europe before 1200.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Social, legal and religious attitudes to love, sex and marriage in ancient and medieval societies before 1200
  • The importance of the twelfth-century as a turning-point in the history of love, sex and marriage.
  • The varied printed sources available to historians of medieval love, sex and marriage
  • The recent historiography and literary scholarship on the subject.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gather information, work out how useful that information is and synthesise it into clear and well-written reports
  • Communicate effectively in group-discussions.
  • Identify and solve historical problems
  • Display effective time-management in planning and completing all sorts of intellectual tasks.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse the relevance of a wide range of primary sources, appreciate the particular contexts in which those sources were produced and comment succinctly on their significance in a ‘gobbets’ exam and in a source-related assessed essay
  • Engage critically with the many books and articles on this subject that have been written by other historians.
  • Structure a coherent written argument based on an engagement with the primary and secondary literature that relates to this subject.
  • Express your opinions, knowledge and understanding in class discussions with your tutor and your fellow-students.
  • Adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the past drawing on both literature and history.


At a time when marriage is increasingly going out of fashion, divorce is on the rise, and birth rates are falling in Western societies, this is a very relevant subject. It has also been a popular topic of research since the 1960s and there is a large bibliography on the subject in a variety of disciplines: history; literature; and history of art. This module explores the social significance of marriage and ideas about love and sex in Western Europe before 1200. In particular it will examine how the Church tried to control social behaviour in these areas of life. The module will begin by examining ancient influences on the medieval idea of marriage: Jewish and early Christian teachings in the Bible; Germanic culture; Roman law. It will then concentrate on the twelfth century when attitudes to love, sex and marriage underwent a revolution. The Western Church began to assume control over marriage and influence social practice as never before in this period. Its laws defined what made a marriage and even whom one might not marry. The twelfth century also saw the flowering of secular literature about love and romance. The sources to be studied include this literary evidence; writings of Christian theologians; rulings of medieval popes; and the letters of two famous twelfth-century lovers, Abelard and Heloise. Topics to be covered in the first semester of the course include: - The Bible and the Church Fathers - Germanic Society and Early Medieval Christianity - Abelard and Heloise - The Law and Theology of Marriage in the Twelfth Century - Pope Alexander III's Views on Marriage - Romance and Courtly Love: Chrétien de Troyes, Erec et Enide; the Lais of Marie de France

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Two weekly two-hour classes. Each week a general topic is divided up into two or three over-lapping sub-topics; sub-topics are allocated to students who prepare a brief report. - Individual consultation in person and by email about assessed work on the unit. - Tutor-led guidance on the sources, on the preparation of assessed essays and gobbets (including practice session), on the conventions used in the presentation of written work. Learning activities include - Reading set texts (translations in print of original ancient and medieval texts, notably in the source collections Love, Sex and Marriage in the Middle Ages: A Sourcebook, ed. C. R. McCarthy, and Love, Marriage, and Family in the Middle Ages: A Reader, ed. J. Murray) and recommended secondary literature. - Preparation of brief reports on particular questions as directed for classes - Discussion in class of set topics; informal discussion.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

C. N. L. Brooke (1989). The Medieval Idea of Marriage. 

D. L. d'Avray (2005). Medieval Marriage: Symbolism and Society. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 40%
Essay  (3000 words) 40%
Take-away task 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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