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Module HSH-3146:
Sex&Power in Early Mod England

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

40 Credits or 20 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Audrey Thorstad

Overall aims and purpose

Gender and sexuality represent one of the liveliest areas of current research and debates in medieval and early modern studies. Gender and sexual identities were neither given nor fixed; they were, rather, learned and inherently fluid. Sex and gender lie at the heart of many of the fantasies and prejudices prevalent during the late medieval and early modern periods.

This module will explore the complexities of late medieval and early modern gender, sex, and sexuality and their representation in a variety of sources from history, literature, history of art and archaeology including (but certainly not limited to) court records, woodcuts, dramas, poetry, architecture, letter collections, and diaries. Students will delve into the theories and methods of women’s history, gender history, and the history of sexuality, examine the key ideas of patriarchy, masculinity, femininity, humoral bodies and medicine, sexual maturity, marriage and family, and non-binary gender roles. In doing so, students will investigate the meanings of gender, sex, and sexuality in relation to different aspects of society and how these meanings changed – or did not change – over time. The module is organised thematically with each theme investigating an aspect of society through a gendered lens.

Course content

This module will introduce students to ideas of gender and sex through the examination of a range of different people from kings and queens to witches and saints. We will be exploring the role religion played in shaping men and women's roles within society and questioning the extent that the Reformation changed all that.

Introduction to gender and sex; the Early Modern British Isles; Religion and the Reformation; Kingship; Queenship; Writings on Witchcraft; Witchcraft Trials; Demonology and Possession; The disenchantment of Europe; Marriage; Virginity and Celibacy; Homosocial and homoerotic relationships; Change over time?

Assessment Criteria

C- to C+

Students in this band (C- to C+) will demonstrate a satisfactory range of achievement or depth of knowledge of most parts of the module, and will make successful, if occasionally inconsistent, attempts to develop those skills appropriate to the study of History at undergraduate level. In the case of the written assessments, the answers will attempt to focus on the question, although might drift into narrative, and will show some evidence of solid reading and research. The argument might lose direction and might not be adequately clear at the bottom of this category. Written work will be presented reasonably well with only limited errors in grammar, punctuation, and referencing, and not to the extent that they obscure meaning.


Threshold students (D- and D) will have done only a minimum of reading, and their work will often be based partly on lecture notes and/or basic textbooks. They will demonstrate in their written assessments some knowledge of at least parts of the relevant field, and will make at least partially-successful attempts to frame an argument which engages with historical controversies, but they will fail to discuss some large and vital aspects of a topic; and/or deploy only some relevant material but partly fail to combine it into a coherent whole; and/or deploy some evidence to support individual points but often fail to do so and/or show difficulty weighing evidence (thereby relying on unsuitable or irrelevant evidence when making a point). Alternatively or additionally, the presentation of the work might also be poor, with bad grammar and/or punctuation, careless typos and spelling errors, and a lack of effective and correct referencing.


Excellent students (A- and above) will show strong achievement across all the criteria combined with particularly impressive depths of knowledge and/or subtlety of analysis. In written work, they will support their arguments with a wealth of relevant detail/examples. They will also demonstrate an acute awareness of the relevant historiography and give an account of why the conclusions reached are important within a particular historical debate. They may show a particularly subtle approach to possible objections, nuancing their argument in the light of counter-examples, or producing an interesting synthesis of various contrasting positions. Overall, the standards of content, argument, and analysis expected will be consistently superior to top upper-second work. Standards of presentation will also be high.


Good students (B- to B+) will demonstrate a solid level of achievement and depth of knowledge in all the criteria in the C- to C+ range, and will in addition exhibit constructive engagement with different types of historical writing and historiographical interpretation. Ideas will be communicated effectively and written work will include a good range of sources/reading and demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and of the existing interpretations expressed in a well-structured, relevant, and focused argument. Students at the top end of this band will engage with and critique the ideas that they come across, and synthesise the various interpretations they find to reach their own considered conclusions. Written work will be correctly presented with references and bibliography where appropriate.

Learning outcomes

    1. Analyse and comment on competing interpretations of early modern history (including current historiographical positions).
    1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of early modern European history;
    1. Demonstrate a close familiarity with a range of primary sources from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, analyse these sources, and use them in historical interpretation and argument;
    1. Present clear, evidence-based, and cogent historical arguments;
    1. Analyse individual pieces of historical evidence very closely – particularly setting them in context, judging their qualities as evidence, and explaining their significance;

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Essay 40
EXAM Take home exam 30
CASE STUDY Primary source analysis 30

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Private study will consist of reading, understanding, and forming opinions about secondary sources; reading and analysing primary sources; and preparing to answer key questions given in the module booklet.


Discussion in the seminars will be based upon: 1. The series of key questions listed at the beginning of each week’s topics in the booklet; 2. Student’s own questions about the issues under consideration; 3. The primary material set for each topic in this booklet. Not every week will be the same, but generally in the first seminar on each new topic, we will discuss the key questions on that area of study. All students should be able to participate in this discussion, and should therefore have prepared by reading some of the literature on the topic before the seminar, especially from the core reading sections of the bibliography. The final exams will demand knowledge over a considerable range of time, so students must be informed about all the areas of study.

In the second seminar, there will be an extended discussion of the primary documents set for the topic. These documents are listed under the set primary documents heading in the weekly topic sections of this booklet and can be found in the document files on Blackboard or available online via links provided. At the beginning a student will introduce the set material with a short presentation. The presentation should provide some context for the documents, in particular saying who produced them, why were they produced, what precise events stimulated their production and what contemporary debates they contributed to or exemplified. Once this presentation has been completed the documents will be discussed by the group generally to establish their significance, and in particular how they might help us answer some of the key questions on the topic, and the documents will be studied in some detail to ensure that everyone understands their nature and significance. Please note that the set documents will form the subject of the degree essay and the “sources” paper in the final exam, and that it is therefore essential that all students study the documents closely (where they are presenting a piece upon them or not). They should come to seminars fully prepared to participate in the analysis of documents; and they must take the opportunity to ask about anything in the material which they find unclear or difficult, or whose significance is not apparent to them.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • problem solving to develop solutions to understand the past
  • understanding the complexity of change over time; in specific contexts and chronologies
  • being sensitive to the differences, or the "otherness" of the past, and the difficulty to using it as a guide to present or future action
  • being sensitive to the role of perceptions of the past in contemporary cultures
  • producing logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • making critical and effective use of information retrieval skills using paper-based and electronic resources
  • appreciating and being sensitive to different cultures and dealing with unfamiliar situations
  • critical evaluation of one's own and others' opinions
  • engaging with relevant aspects of current agendas such as global perspectives, public engagement, employability, enterprise, and creativity


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Women and gender in early modern Europe - Merry E. Wiesner 2000

Premodern Sexualities 2 Dec. 2013

Women and religion in England, 1500-1720 - Patricia Crawford 1993

Gender, sex, and subordination in England 1500-1800 - Anthony Fletcher 1995

Practices of gender in late medieval and early modern Europe 2008

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: