Dr Paul Webster
Exploring the Past Coordinator
Medieval History: especially kingship and royal religious expression in England and the so-called Angevin 'Empire' during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. I am particularly interested in the piety of King John, a ruler generally viewed as an irreligious tyrant, but who in fact pursued a clear strategy designed to secure the salvation of his soul. In 2015, I published a book, King John and Religion, developing this research, and in 2016 I published a co-edited volume of studies of the impact of the cult of St Thomas Becket in medieval England and Europe.
King John and Religion
After Becket: the Reaction of the Plantagenet World
2007: Ph.D., 'King John's Piety, c.1199-c.1216', Peterhouse, University of Cambridge
2002, M.Phil in Medieval History, Peterhouse, University of Cambridge
2001, B.A. in History, Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, 1st class honours
1998-2007: Peterhouse, University of Cambridge
1990-1997: Cardiff High School
Since completing his doctoral studies in 2007, Paul Webster has worked as a Teaching Associate at Cardiff University, in the Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion.
- July 2007 International Medieval Congress, Leeds:
'King John and Rouen'
- Dec 2007 Conference entitled 'Cathedrals, Communities and Conflict, 1000-1350', Canterbury Christ Church University:
'Crown, Cathedral, and Conflict: King John and Canterbury'
- July 2009 International Medieval Congress, Leeds:
'Imposing Interdict and Excommunicating a King: Aspects of Pope Innocent III's Letters to King John'
- Sept 2009 Conference entitled 'The Military Orders: Politics and Power', Cardiff Centre for the Crusades, Cardiff University:
'The Military Orders at the Court of King John (1199-1216)'
- July 2010 International Medieval Congress, Leeds:
'Making Space for King John to Pray: The Evidence of the Royal Itinerary'
- Dec 2010 Conference entitled 'New Approaches to Medieval Religious Cultures: Concepts, Perceptions and Practices of Piety and Charity', German Historical Institute, London:
'Faith, Power, and Charity: Royal Piety in the Anglo-Norman and Angevin Realm'.
- Apr 2012 Conference entitled 'Kings & Queens: Power, Patronage, Personalities & Politics in Medieval & Early Modern Europe', Bath Spa University and July 2012, International Medieval Congress, Leeds: 'From Conflict to Commemoration: King John's Family Piety'
- Dec 2012 Conference entitled 'Medieval Crusade Historian: Professor Peter Edbury Retirement Day', Cardiff University
- July 2013, Conference entitled 'Kings and Queens 2: Making Connections – Alliances, Networks, Correspondence and Comparisons', University of Winchester 'King John and the Crusades'
Forthcoming Conference Papers
- July 2012 International Medieval Congress, Leeds:
'From Conflict to Commemoration: King John's Family Piety'
- Nov 2003 Medieval Research Seminar, Cambridge:
'Like father like son? The piety of the Angevin ruling family, c.1154-c.1216'
- Nov 2005 The Crusades and the Latin East Seminar, Cambridge:
'A notable non-event? King John of England's piety and his interest in crusading'
- Feb 2006 12th and 13th Century Graduate Workshop, Cambridge:
'Hell's Angel? King John's monastic benefaction and the road-trip of a lifetime'
- March 2010 Cardiff University History / Archaeology Humanities Forum
- Nov 2010 London Society for Medieval Studies, Institute of Historical Research
'Did England's 'evil' king go to church? The historical problem of King John's piety'
Honours and awards
- 2001-2006: Sir Herbert Butterfield Research Student in History (Hon.), Peterhouse, University of Cambridge
- 2001: Makin-Foster Prize for History, Peterhouse, University of Cambridge
Member of the Pipe Roll Society
Member of the Royal Studies Network
2017 - Thomas Becket Lecture - Canterbury Christ Church University: "St Thomas Guard my Realm": Becket's Shrine, The King and the Politics of Sanctity
I offer the following Part Two modules:
- HS 1713 'The Devil's Brood': The Angevin Kings of England c.1154-c.1272
- HS 1813: Kingship: Image and Power, c.1000-1399
I contribute to the following Part One modules:
- HS 1101 Medieval Europe
- HS 1107 History in Practice
I contribute to teaching the following Part Two modules:
- HS 1702 Exploring Historical Debate
- HS 1801 Dissertation
The Piety of King John: Royal faith in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries
Medieval writers and later historians have condemned King John as a tyrant, arguing that his long-running dispute with the church (1207-1214) is evidence that this was a king who showed no regard for his faith. This project subjects this view to closer scrutiny. Evidence suggests that John shared the medieval belief in the need to provide for the soul: maintaining chapels and chaplains, praying at the shrines of the saints, maintaining a collection of holy relics, endowing masses, founding and supporting religious houses, and feeding the poor. Were it not for his reputation for failure and misgovernment, his would rank alongside other medieval kings as a ruler who recognised the importance of his faith. Religion was an important part of his kingship, a means of display and emphasis of the aura surrounding authority, and of providing for individual needs on a personal level.
The primary outcome of the project will be a monograph on the piety of King John and its place in the history of his rule. This will consider the devotional activity in which John was involved, with chapters on religious services, the cult of the saints, institutions commissioned to pray for John, family tradition, and royal charity. It will conclude with a major reassessment of the king's dispute with the church, when England was subject to a general interdict, and the king was excommunicate, the severest sanctions the medieval church could impose. Here, the book will reveal the surprising extent to which royal religious activity continued unabated during these years. The study will argue against historians' conclusion that this was an irreligious king, and make an important contribution to knowledge of factors that influenced medieval rule.
After Becket: The Reaction of the Plantagenet World
On 29 December 1170, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in his own cathedral by four knights who believed they were acting on the wishes of King Henry II. A controversial figure in life, news of the circumstances of Becket's death shocked Europe, and by 1173 he had been officially recognised as a saint. By the end of 1174 Henry II had twice performed public penance for his part in what was popularly deemed to be martyrdom. Thomas Becket is undoubtedly one of the best known and most written about figures from the Middle Ages. Yet many of the repercussions of his murder and subsequent canonisation on the political, religious and cultural life of medieval Europe in the centuries after his death remain to be explored in detail.
The aim of this project is to produce a volume of essays arising from a series of highly successful sessions organised at the Leeds International Medieval Congress between 2006 and 2010. It seeks to explore aspects of the reaction that Becket provoked, as archbishop, martyr and saint, bringing together the work of established and emerging scholars based in eight countries in Europe, North America, and South America. The essays explore the beginnings of the Becket cult, from its origins at Canterbury to its impact across Europe, the reputation of Henry II in the post-Becket world, and the wider context and long-term legacy of St Thomas Becket. The collection ranges in its coverage from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, from England across Europe, and from miracle collections and chronicles to charters and pipe rolls to stained glass windows and illuminated manuscripts. The volume will adopt a thematic and broadly chronological plan, in order to emphasise both the wide-ranging impact of the murder in its immediate aftermath and its lasting consequences and repercussions throughout the second half of the Middle Ages.