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War, Peace and Diplomacy c.900-c.1250 - 30 credits (HS1707)

Module Tutor: Dr Jenny Benham

Course Description

The tenth to the early thirteenth century was a rapidly changing period in European history, seeing economic growth, ecclesiastical reforms, crusades, growth in castle-building, a revival of classical learning, and the beginnings of state formation. Diplomacy between rulers and the means by which wars and threats of war were brought to resolution were an essential part of these changes. This module examines some of these interactions and how they contribute to wider debates about the nature of kingship and rule, law and enforcement, and the nature of oral and written culture in a period of transformative change. The course will focus on the experience of the English kings, from their relations with the Vikings through their involvement in European diplomacy following the Norman Conquest and ending with the loss of Normandy in the thirteenth century. Comparisons will also be made with other European rulers and events such as the conquest of Pomerania in 1185 and the captivity and ransom of the crusader kings Richard I (the Lionheart) and Valdemar II.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures and seminar discussion of major issues. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one 1000 word assessed essay [15%], one 2000 word assessed essay [35%] and one two-hour unseen written examination paper in which the student will answer two questions [50%].

Course assignments:

Assessed Essay 1 will contribute 15% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 1,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

Assessed Essay 2 will contribute 35% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

  • Ideology of war and peace
  • Meeting places I: borders and marches
  • Diplomacy between equals
  • Meeting places II: courts, assemblies and shrines
  • Diplomacy between victor and vanquished
  • Gifts and gift exchanges
  • Food, feasting and banquets
  • Gestures of submission
  • Conversion and fostering: relations between Christians and non-Christians
  • Envoys and negotiators
  • Oaths
  • Hostages
  • Sureties
  • Arbitration and friendship
  • The papal court
  • Treaties and diplomatic documents
  • The beginnings of international law
  • Success in war, success in peace?
  • War, peace and diplomacy: the Middle Ages and beyond

Learning outcomes

  • demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the development and change in medieval diplomacy 900-1250 and an understanding of the historical context and historiography of the subject
  • analyse key themes and issues, such as good/bad kingship, the ideology of war and peace, and the role and function of ritual in the light of these contexts
  • demonstrate an understanding of a selection of primary sources and an appreciation of how historians have approached them.
  • compare the relative merits and demerits of alternative views and interpretations and evaluate their significance.

Skills that will be practised and developed

  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form, in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner.
  • formulate and justify arguments and conclusions about a range of issues, and present appropriate supporting evidence
  • an ability to modify as well as to defend their own position.
  • an  ability to think critically and challenge assumptions
  • an ability to use a range of information technology resources to assist with information retrieval and assignment presentation.
  • time management skills and an ability to independently organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.

Suggested preparatory reading

Benham, J. E. M., Peacemaking in the Middle Ages: Principles and Practice (2011)
Chaplais, P.,    English Diplomatic Practice in the Middle Ages (2003)
De Souza, P., and France, J., War and Peace in Ancient and Medieval History (2008)
Ganshof, F-L., The Middle Ages: A History of International Relations (1971)
Queller, D. E., The Office of Ambassador in the Middle Ages (1967)
Bartlett, Robert, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (1993)
Cuttino, G. P., English Medieval Diplomacy (1985)
Ullmann, W., Principles of Government and Politics in the Middle Ages (1974)