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The University of Southampton

HIST3131 Medieval Love, Sex and Marriage: Part 2

Module Overview

This module explores the social significance of marriage and ideas about love and sex in Western Europe between 1200 and 1550. It will examine how the Church tried to influence and control social behaviour in these areas of life. In particular it will consider how the later medieval Church and society tried to regulate what they perceived as deviant forms of sexual behaviour, such as prostitution and same-sex relationships. It will also explore how the Church's ideas on sex and marriage were communicated through preaching and art in this period, and to what extent society internalised these ideas and followed them in practice. This will be assessed by studying marriage disputes in the medieval church courts, including Henry VIII's divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Some of the sources will be drawn from the convenor's own research in the Vatican Archives.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The impact of the Church’s teachings and rulings concerning sex and marriage on later medieval Western society.
  • Attitudes of the Church and society in the later medieval West towards sexual ‘deviancy’ (homosexuality and prostitution).
  • Popular understanding of the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage and how these teachings were communicated in the period 1200-1550
  • The textual and visual sources available to historians of medieval love, sex and marriage.
  • The recent historiography and art historical 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 source-related assessed essay and an examination in which answers are informed by knowledge of sources
  • Engage critically with the many books and articles on this subject that have been written by other historians, literary scholars and art 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.
  • Display an awareness of the broader methodological issues involved in studying the past.


At a time when marriage is going out of fashion, divorce is rising and birth rates are falling in Western societies, this is a very relevant subject. It has 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; history of art. This module studies the social significance of marriage and ideas about love and sex in the West between 1200 and 1550. It will examine how the Church influenced and controlled such social behaviour.

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 of original later medieval texts, notably in source collections) 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

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

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



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Exam  (3 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules


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