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Kingship: Image and Power, c.1000-1399 - 30 credits (HS1813)

Module Tutor: Dr Paul Webster

Course Description

Medieval kings displayed their power through many different media, including marriage, royal palaces, the battlefield, and in church. This module examines the ways in which the image of kingship and royal authority was projected and understood, from the period before the Norman Conquest of 1066 to the deposition of King Richard II in 1399. It explores the way in which rulers were portrayed by others, and examines the ways in which they portrayed themselves in a variety of different contexts. What image did kings try to convey and how was it seen by the people? Focusing principally on the territories ruled, claimed, or influenced by the kings of England, the module draws on parallels both within the British Isles and in Europe. A wide variety of sources and disciplinary angles will be explored, which include narrative accounts, royal letters, coinage and seals, and the archaeology, art history and architectural history of monarchy.

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, seminar discussion of major issues and workshops for the study of primary source material. 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.

Seminar and Source Workshops:
The primary aim of the sessions will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants, focused in particular on primary source material. Seminars and source workshops for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students:
(a) to discuss topics or issues introduced by the lectures,

or (b) to discuss related themes, perhaps not directly addressed by the lectures, but drawing on ideas culled from those lectures.

and (c) to analyse different types of primary sources available from the medieval period for study of the aura and image of kingship, identifying and discussing the principal ways in which they can be used by historians.

Seminars and source workshops will provide the student with guidance on how to critically approach the various types of primary source material. Preparation for seminars and workshops will focus on specific items from the sources and related background reading, with students preparing answers to questions provided for each session. Both seminars and source workshops will provide an opportunity to discuss and debate the issues with fellow students. Classes will be divided into smaller groups for discussion purposes, with the results presented as part of an overall class debate at the end of the session.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one essay relating to primary sources [20%], an assessed essay [30%] and an examination paper [50%].

Course assignments:

The Assessed Essay relating to primary sources will contribute 20% of the final mark for the module and must be no longer than 1,000 words.

The Assessed Essay will contribute 30% 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.

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


  • ‘Good’ Kings and ‘Bad’ Kings in English History.
  • Writing about kings and queens in medieval Europe.

Coronation, ritual, and the royal court:

  • Coronation.
  • Portraying the princely court in England and Europe.
  • Royal space: itinerary, the ‘palace’ and its iconography.
  • The royal wedding.
  • The queen and her court.

The warrior king:

  • Conquerors, military failures, and captive kings.
  • The Crusader King (and Queen).
  • The warrior aura of kingship and orders of knighthood.
  • The king as builder: castles and war-memorials.

The king as lawgiver:

  • Establishing a reputation as a lawgiver and judge.
  • The image of the lawgiver: coinage and seals.

The holy king and queen:

  • Harnessing the holy: royal and ‘anti-royal’ saints.
  • Dynastic churches: Westminster Abbey, St Denis, & the Sainte-Chapelle.
  • Praying for the king and queen: monks, friars, nuns, paupers, and lepers.
  • Bad Kingship and the Holy King.

The king is dead, God save the king:

  • How to depose an anointed king?
  • Deathbeds, burial, and the royal necropolis
  • Conclusion

Learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate a critical and systematic knowledge of the history of kingship in England c.1000-1399 and of relevant European parallels, and an understanding of historiographical ideas concerning the portrayal of royal power.
  • Critically identify the main trends by which medieval writers and later historians have interpreted kingship in the medieval period.
  • Demonstrate an in-depth and critical understanding of a range of concepts and debates within the appropriate secondary literature.
  • Analyse how medieval and modern models of royal behaviour have helped to shape historical discussion of the way in which royal power was perceived.
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of key primary sources on kingship c.1000-1399 and their significance.

Skills that will be practised and developed

  • An ability to communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form.
  • An ability to work effectively with others in teams or groups.
  • An ability to think critically and challenge assumptions.
  • An ability to formulate and justify arguments and conclusions and present appropriate supporting evidence.
  • An ability to modify as well as to defend their own position.
  • 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

Suggested preparatory reading

Building Accounts of King Henry III, ed. H.M. Colvin (Oxford, 1971).
Chronicle of the Third Crusade. A translation of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, H.J. Nicholson (Aldershot, 1997).
The History of Saint Edward the King, by Matthew Paris, trans. T.S. Fenster and J. Wogan-Browne (Tempe, Arizona, 2008).
Jean, sire de Joinville, Life of St Louis, trans. M.R.B. Shaw, Joinville & Villehardouin. Chronicles of the Crusades (Harmondsworth, 1963).
John of Salisbury, Policraticus. Of the frivolities of courtiers and the footprints of philosophers, ed. and trans. C.J. Nederman (Cambridge 1990).
'The Laws of Edward the Confessor', in B. O’Brien, God’s Peace and the King’s Peace: the Laws of Edward the Confessor (Philadelphia, 1999).
The Life of St Edmund by Matthew Paris, ed. and trans. C.H. Lawrence (Stroud, 1996).