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Murder and Marriage: William de Cantilupe

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The murder of Sir William de Cantilupe in 1375 opens a window into fourteenth-century society that enables us to explore a whole range of aspects of medieval life, from law and justice to constructions of gender.

Who killed Sir William and left his body in a Lincolnshire field? Was it a band of highwaymen, and who formed those kinds of criminal gangs in the fourteenth century?

Or was it someone closer to him, making it look like murder by person or persons unknown?

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through eight 2.5 hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to you via Learning Central.

  1. Introduction (to the module and its assessment, to the case itself, fourteenth-Century social background and context, the story of the trial)
  2. Medieval Crime and Justice (I) – an introduction to types of crime, including highway robbery, and a look at coroner’s inquests and sheriffs
  3. Medieval Society (I) – the Knightly Elite and their local society
  4. Medieval Society (II) – Marriage and Gender (a): ‘Conventional’ Marriage in the Middle Ages
  5. Medieval Society (III) – Marriage and Gender (b): Domestic Disharmony
  6. Medieval Households – The Life of Medieval Servants
  7. Medieval Crime and Justice (II) – an introduction to medieval [secular] courts like the Court of the King’s Bench, and the trial itself
  8. Staging the Trial – the class will re-stage the trial with all the evidence from the previous classes and complete their case notes with the Jury discussion.

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

Assessment will be made up of a variety of options, including case notes (kept throughout the course and demonstrating your reasoning behind their conclusions, including their final ‘jury’ discussion in the final class), an essay, source analysis, and/or creative writing.

Reading suggestions

  • Sillem, R., Selected Sessions of the Peace in Lincolnshire (provided by the tutor)
  • Gorski, R., The fourteenth-century sheriff : English local administration in the late Middle Ages, (Woodbridge, 2003) (available in ASSL)
  • Hanawalt, B. (1976). ‘Violent Death in Fourteenth- and Early Fifteenth-Century England’. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 18 (3), 297-320 (Available via CU Access to JSTOR)
  • Hunnisett, R. F., The Medieval Coroner, (Cambridge, 1961) (available in ASSL)
  • Pedersen, F., ‘Motives for Murder: The Role of Sir Ralph Paynel in the Murder of William Cantilupe (1375)’, in Continuity, Change and Pragmatism in the Law: Essays in Honour of Prof. Angelo Forte, eds. Andrew R. C. Simpson, Scott Crichton Styles, Euan West and Adelyn L. M. Wilson, (Aberdeen University Press, 2016), 69-94 (available as a .pdf online)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.