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Module HTH-3143:
The Reign of King Stephen

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Susan Johns

Overall aims and purpose

This course will offer students the opportunity to analyse a wide range of evidence for the history of the reign of king Stephen (1135-54). It will include detailed study of primary evidence through close analysis of relevant sources. The module will introduce students to the historiography of the period and will challenge students to critically engage with theories and debates about the interpretation of evidence to facilitate a critical comparative approach. The course will demonstrate that a variety of sources including documentary forms such as charters and seals, literary and narrative sources and legal texts can be studied. It will introduce students to the major topics of political, social, and economic history of the period, allowing them to consider broad questions of chronology and development.

Course content

This course offers students the opportunity to study the reign of king Stephen in the period 1135-54. It was, and has remained, controversial. Topics include: the roots of civil war: the reign of Henry I, the origins of civil war, the course of the war and the stalemate in the period1150-54, the role and characters of king Stephen and the Empress Matilda, the role of the barons, the social, economic, political impact of civil war, masculinity, kingship, queenship, women and power, attitudes to war and the role and views of the church.

Assessment Criteria


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). The work may lose focus and may have irrelevant or atypical evidence. 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.


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.


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, analysis and standards of presentation will be high.

C- to C+

Students in this band (C- to C+) will demonstrate a solid and 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.

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the reign of king Stephen 1135-54.

  2. Judge between competing interpretations of the historiography (including current positions in historical and other academic writings)

  3. Present clear, evidence-based, and cogent historical argument under examination conditions

  4. Demonstrate a close familiarity with a range of primary sources, analyse these sources and use them in historical argument

  5. Analyse individual pieces of historical evidence very closely ¿ particularly setting them in context, judging their qualities as evidence, and explaining their significance

  6. Demonstrate clarity, fluency, and coherence in oral expression

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Degree Essay

Essays are a test of your skills to research a topic; to analyse material and understand different interpretations of the past; to produce clear, evidence-based and properly referenced historical argument; to present your findings in good English/Welsh; and your ability to organize your time so that the work is submitted by the deadline. Degree essays are supposed to be the result of considerable reading and research and of time spent considering your historical argument. Little credit will be given for work which simply repeats lectures or basic textbooks. The essays and their bibliographies will be expected to show evidence of wide reading (including journal articles and monographs). The argument of the work is expected to show independent judgement and engagement with any relevant historiographical debates. REMEMBER that you MUST provide references and a bibliography in the correct format. All essays should be submitted electronically via Blackboard/Turnitin. All essays should be word-processed and well-presented. They must include a full bibliography and proper references. All assessed degree essays will be penalized according to University rules if they are handed in after the deadline and you have not arranged an extension

EXAM Examination

Essay Questions in the examination will test knowledge and understanding of specific aspects of the period. Answers will be graded by considering content (the range of knowledge displayed); the directness and clarity of the argument; analysis (the ability to judge between interpretations and back arguments with evidence). Answers will be expected to draw examples and evidence from across the period, but to analyse the evidence they use with care; and to engage with current historiographic controversies and to demonstrate an understanding or primary sources.


The oral presentation will test knowledge and understanding of a particular topic which will be set into the context an understanding of the overall development of the period. Answers will be graded by considering scope of reading; content (the depth of knowledge displayed); the focus and clarity of argument; analysis (the ability to judge between interpretations and back arguments with evidence); presentation; and the ability to time the presentation properly, the quality of any additional resources used such as power point slides or handouts, for example considering whether they are accurately presented, the quality of the references, the bibliography is presented appropriately. Presentations will be expected to show a detail of knowledge about the topic discussed and to engage with current historiographic controversies where relevant


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study 180

10 one hour lecture


10 one hour seminars


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
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • 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
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • 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
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

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
  • planning, designing, executing and documenting a programme of research, working independently
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • demonstrating a positive and can-do approach to practical problems
  • demonstrating an innovative approach, creativity, collaboration and risk taking
  • presenting effective oral presentations for different kinds of audiences, including academic and/or audiences with little knowledge of history
  • preparing effective written communications for different readerships
  • making effective and appropriate forms of visual presentation
  • making critical and effective use of information retrieval skills using paper-based and electronic resources
  • collaborating effectively in a team via experience of working in a group
  • 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


Talis Reading list

Reading list

General Bibliography: Full bibliographies will be provided in the module handbook

Barlow, F., The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 (5th edn, London, 1999). Bartlett, R., England under the Norman and Angevin kings, 1075-1225 (Oxford, 2000). Brooke, Z.N., The English Church and the Papacy from the Conquest to the Reign of John, rev. edn. (C.U.P., 1989) Clancy, M.T., England and its Rulers 1066-1272: Foreign Lordship and National Identity (2nd edn., London, 1994). .-------------, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (2nd. ed.,1993). Chibnall, M., The Empress Matilda (Oxford, Blackwell, 1991) Daniell, C., From Norman Conquest to Magna Carta: England, 1066-1215 (London, 2003). Davies, R.R., Conquest, Coexistence and Change: Wales 1063-1415 (Oxford, 1987). Davis, R.H.C., King Stephen 1135-54, 3rd edn. (Longman, 1990) Davis, H.W.C., The Anarchy of Stephen's Reign', EHR, xviii (1903), 630-41. Frame, R., The Political Development of the British Isles, 1100-1400 (Oxford, 1990). Garnett, George, Conquered England: Kingship, Succession, and Tenure 1066-1166 (O.U.P., 2007). Gransden, A., Historical Writing in England, c. 550-1307 (London, 1974). Green, J.A., The Aristocracy of Norman England (Cambridge, 1997) Hugh, M.T. The English and the Normans: Ethnic Hostility, Assimilation, and Identity, 1066 - c. 1220 (Oxford, 2003). Johns, Susan M. Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm (Manchester, 2003). King, E.J. King Stephen (New Haven and London, 2010). King, E.J. Medieval England 1066-1485 (Oxford, 1988, 2nd ed. 2001). King, E.J. (ed.), The Anarchy of King Stephen's Reign (O.U.P., 1994). King, Edmund,The Anarchy of King Stephen’s Reign', TRHS, 5:34 (1984), 133-53. MacColl, A., ‘The meaning of “Britain” in medieval and early modern England’, Journal of British Studies, 45:2 (2006), 248-69. Matthew, Donald, King Stephen (Hambledon and London, 2002). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), available in print and online, has recent biographies of many of the leading figures of the reign. Le Patourel, John, `What did not happen in Stephen's reign', History, 58 (1973), 1-17. Poole, A.L., From Domesday Book to Magna Carta (O.U.P., 1951). Reynolds, S,.Fiefs and Vassals (Oxford, 1994). Stenton, Sir Frank, The First Century of English Feudalism 1066-1166, 2nd edn. (O.U.P., 1961). Stringer, K.J., The Reign of Stephen (Lancaster pamphlet; Routledge, 1993) Walker, D., The Normans in Britain (Oxford, 1995).

Courses including this module