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The University of Southampton
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Professor Peter D Clarke BA, PGCE, PhD, FRHistS

Professor of Medieval History

Professor Peter D Clarke's photo

Peter D. Clarke is a historian of the Medieval Church, specialising in the period from c. 1150 to c. 1500.

Peter’s doctoral training was in the religious history of Later Medieval Europe, especially canon law and the papacy, and he has published extensively on these subjects since 1999. Since 2016 he has been the British member of the Board of Directors of the Stephan Kuttner Institute of Medieval Canon Law, which is responsible for the publication of proceedings of the quadrennial International Congress of Medieval Canon Law and of editions of medieval canon law collections and commentaries in the Vatican Library’s Monumenta Iuris Canonici series.

After completing his doctorate at Manchester under the late Prof. Jeffrey Denton in 1995, he spent three years in sunny Rome as a post-doctoral researcher studying medieval manuscripts and papal records in the Vatican Library and Archives. He then worked for two successive projects as a Research Associate in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. The second project gave Peter more excuses to visit Rome in order to do further research in the Vatican Archives. After Cambridge, he was a Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Wales Bangor from 2005 before moving to Southampton in 2007, where he is affiliated to History and the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture.


Appointments held

Research interests

My principal research interest is the canon law of the medieval Western Church, an international legal system that touched the lives of Christians and non-Christians in the Medieval West. My doctoral work (later developed into a monograph) focussed on the interdict, a sanction of the Western Church that might be imposed on communities, even kingdoms, and had the effect of closing churches and suspending religious rites. Interdicts were usually provoked by a secular ruler’s disobedience to church authorities and often exploited by popes as a political weapon in clashes with such rulers.

The focus of my research has now shifted onto the records of the papal penitentiary, the highest office in the Catholic Church concerned with matters of conscience. It dealt with sins reserved to papal absolution and conceded this and other papal favours such as dispensations. These favours concerned a wide range of issues, including marriage, runaway religious, and violence. With Patrick Zutshi I edited the petitions from England and Wales in the papal penitentiary registers from 1410-1503 for the Canterbury and York Society (in three volumes; 2013-2015).

The penitentiary records concerning violence inspired my current monograph project: Clergy and Criminal Violence in Later Medieval England and Wales. This is a study in legal and social history (forthcoming with CUP) examining what clerics’ involvement in violence reveals about their relationship with the rest of society and their position within it. Notionally they were separate from it, holding a privileged status which supposedly protected them from others’ violence and from secular justice for their own alleged violent crimes. But how far did they enjoy such protection in reality? How might their position make them vulnerable to violence? How far were they perpetrators of criminal violence themselves and did their violent acts and motives make them ultimately little different from laity?

PhD supervision

Jacqueline Duff (co-supervised with Brian Golding), ‘Hermits in England and France in the Twelfth Century’ (2012).

Rebecca Holdorph (co-supervised with Anne Curry), ‘The Lancastrian Dynasty in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries’ (2016).

Suzanne Coley (co-supervised with Nicholas Karn), ‘Observation, Diagnosis, Triage and Treatment: punishing English Heresy as a Medicinal Process in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’ (2017).

Rebecca Toepfer (co-supervised with Nicholas Karn), ‘St Alban’s Abbey in the Later Middle Ages’ (2018).

Member of the Board of Directors of the Stephan Kuttner Institute of Medieval Canon Law (2016-; formerly Member of the Advisory Board, 2008-2016).

Member of the Advisory Board of Studia Gratiana (2012- ).

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (2003- ).

Former Co-editor of Studies in Church History (volumes 45-49, published 2009-2013).

Former Trustee and Committee Member of the Ecclesiastical History Society (2005-2012).

Module Convenor of:

  • HIST1087 (Papal Power in Medieval Europe)
  • HIST2049 (Sin and Society, c. 1100-1520)
  • HIST3130-3131 (Medieval Love, Sex and Marriage)
  • CMRC6014 (Medieval Political Thought, c. 1296-1348)
Professor Peter D Clarke
Building 65, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Southampton SO17 1BF, United Kingdom

Room Number : 65/2079

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