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HIST3161 Crime and Society in Medieval England Part 1

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- introduce students to the history of crime and public order; - explore the cultural and religious roots of ideas about order; - examine the methods by which public order was enforced in England before about 1200;

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • key structures of early medieval law enforcement;
  • attitudes towards order and disorder in the early middle ages
  • interplay of local initiative and central direction in promoting order
  • how rituals of courts and punishments spread key values and upheld existing power structures
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • elaborate and express your ideas and critical reflections in essays, using primary and secondary sources.
  • gather and digest relevant primary and secondary source materials including via electronic and web resources.
  • give oral presentations and actively take part in discussion.
  • engage in independent study and inter-disciplinary research.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • problematise historical issues by raising new questions and opening further research subjects
  • identify and evaluate different historical interpretations of past events.
  • produce relevant and succinct written commentaries on extracts from historical sources.


Proverbially, medieval law was arbitrary and brutal, characterised by superstitious ordeals and bizarre and bloody punishments. Yet it is also our modern legal system; most of the fundamental institutions of English law, from trial by jury to the roles of judges and advocates, were established by about 1250. Collectively, they form the basis of English common law. This module will allow you to explore how law was done between about 1050 and 1200, paying attention to actual cases, and to how legal practices reflected perceptions of social problems and social change, and how legal practices expose deep-seated assumptions about the nature of society. This will include examination of how interpersonal violence was dealt with, in the light of modern work on feud and vendetta, and also consideration of how punishments were fitted to crime, in the light of modern work on execution cemeteries.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

- Directed reading in selected translated sources - Extensive reading in modern historiographical literature - Two two-hour seminars each week, based around discussion of key texts and modern historiography - Archive visit to experience some of the kinds of records on which this module is based

Independent Study260
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

P. R. Hyams (2003). Rancor and Reconciliation in Medieval England. 

J. Masschaele (2008). Jury, State and Society in Medieval England. 

H.G. Richardson and G.O. Sayles, (1966). Law and Legislation from Æthelberht to Magna Carta. 

C. P. Wormald (1994). Quadripartitus’, in Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy: Essays Presented to Sir James Holt ed. George Garnett and John Hudson. 

Helen M. Cam (1930). The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls: An Outline of Local Government in Medieval England. 

D. M. Stenton (1965). English Justice between the Norman Conquest and the Great Charter. 

A. Reynolds (2009). Anglo-Saxon Deviant Burial Customs. 

R. C. van Caenegem (1990-1). English Lawsuits from William I to Richard I. 

Sir Frederick Pollock and F.W. Maitland (1898). The History of English Law before the time of Edward I. 

J. G. H. Hudson (1996). The Formation of the English Common Law. 

W. L. Warren (1987). The Governance of Norman and Angevin England, 1086-1272. 

R. Fleming (1998). Domesday Book and the Law. 

Anon., Leges Edwardi Confessoris, ed. B. R. O'Brien, (1999). God's Peace and King's Peace: The Laws of Edward the Confessor. 

C. P. Wormald (1999). The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century. 


Assessment Strategy

- 4000 word essay (50%), in which students will be asked to engage critically with a prominent theme in the historiography, and evaluate it from their knowledge of key sources. - Takeaway commentary (gobbet) exercise (50%), in which students will be asked to analyse the meaning of selected extracts from key texts, in terms of what procedures and ideas are being used, and in terms of what is revealed about contemporary social structure.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Take-away exam 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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