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Medieval Archaeology 1066-1539 - 20 Credits (HS2382)

Course Description

This Part Two double module will introduce you to the archaeology of Britain and Ireland in the period from the Norman Conquest of England to the Dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, looking particularly at the material evidence of landscapes, monuments, sites and finds, and exploring the ways in which this can be integrated with the copious surviving documentary, literary and pictorial records from this period.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Alternate years: 2012-13, 2014-15, 2016-17. Autumn and Spring semesters.

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Tutor: Professors John Hines and Denys Pringle

Teaching methods

  • Twenty weekly lectures of 50 minutes
  • and six seminars .


The course will be assessed by:

  • One essay (50% of total marks), to be submitted by the stipulated deadline in the spring semester.
  • A written examination at the end of the spring semester requiring two questions to be answered in 120 minutes and counting for 50% of final marks in this subject.

Summary of course content

Lectures 1–3. The Countryside. Nature of rural settlement in British Isles: zones and the pattern of settlement surviving from earlier times; the evidence and problems of Domesday Book. Development of the manor and parish: systems of landholding and the social relationships within them. Structures associated with manorial economic control: mills, bakehouses, malting, brewing.
The medieval village and peasant life.Field systems and crop rotation: regional differences. Barns and other farm buildings, peasant housing.
The landscape: the concept of pays. Landscape engineering: fishponds, dovecotes, and parks; meadows and forests.

Lectures 4–8. Castles and Palaces, Military and Aristocratic Culture.Norman conquest of England, and Anglo-Norman and Flemish colonization of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Castles of the Conquest. Continental origins of castles. Castles of the Norman and Angevin Kings (1066-1216).Mottes. Enclosure castles and ringworks. Stone keeps 11-12c.Developing systems of attack and defence in the late 12c. The Later Plantagenets (1216-1327). Evolution during the 14th and 15th centuries. Tower-houses in Scotland and Ireland, late 14-17c. Gunpowder, the Henrician coastal defence forts and the fortification of Berwick.
Royal and Episcopal palaces: The Great Household. Domestic arrangements: hall, chapel, kitchens, associated buildings, parks. Royal palaces: Westminster, Clarendon, Linlithgow, Stirling, Hampton Court.Bishops’ palaces: Bishop’s Waltham, Winchester, St Davids, Spynie.

Lectures 9–10. Archaeology and literature Language and identity after the Norman Conquest: the status and use of French; the history of writing in English and Norse-influenced dialects; Latin in ecclesiastical and other contexts; literacy in Wales. Literate cultures: the production and use of manuscripts for aristocratic, gentry and rising peasant circles; inscriptions. Genres of text: prose; verse; drama, and evidence of performance.
Reading literature with archaeology. Meaning and context: romance and the chivalric life. Urban literature and bourgeois values. Performance and context: the Harley Lyrics in Stokesay Castle. Reading objects: The Rule for Anchoresses.

Lectures 11–12. The Church: The Cathedrals and Monasteries. The Pre-Conquest Church. Effects of the Norman Conquest. The form of church buildings. Architectural styles of the great cathedrals: Romanesque (Norman), Early English or Gothic, Decorated, Perpendicular. The buildings of the close or cloister: church, chapter house, dormitory, refectory, calefactory, infirmary, abbot’s lodging, guest house, cellar, reredorter, kitchen, cemetery. Characteristics of different orders: Benedictines, Augustinians, Cistercians, Friars and mendicants, Military orders (Hospitallers and Templars), secular canons.

Lectures 13–14. The Church: liturgical space and art. Liturgical space: the chancel and altar; the location of the font; the church door. Clergy and laity: rood screens. Images: wall paintings, stained glass, sculpture. Tombs and chantry chapels.
Burial and cemeteries: A survey of monastic, lay, and battlefield burials and how they have been approached; the development of churchyards. Demography and segregation within the population by age and sex. Graves: the burial of artefacts; special grave forms and inclusions; shrouding. External monuments: grave markers; the forms and art of tombs. The controversy over osteological aging; the identification of diseases and interpretations of their prevalence. Preparing for death: medicine, charity, and the care of the sick and poor.

Lectures 15–17. Towns, Trade, Industry and Transport. Towns before 1066. What is a town? Development of towns 11th–13th century. New towns. Town planning and urban features. Defence: town walls and castles. Churches and friaries. Markets and guildhalls. Urban housing. Water supply and latrines.
Wool and cloth trade: fulling, weaving. Other textiles: flax and hemp. Saltings. Building materials and stone quarries. Metal working: iron, tin, lead, silver. Pottery and tile: manufacture and decoration, kiln types, distribution and imports, tile and brick production. Glass production. Transport: roads and bridges, ships, harbours and waterfronts.

Lecture 18. Artefacts: Metalwork and Costume. The range of metal products, large and small. Materials: iron, pewter/lead; copper alloys; precious metals. The organization of production and marketing. Technical advances; the advent of mechanization. The evidence of pictures, written sources and surviving specimens. Identity and clothing: male and female; rank; profession. Textiles, fur and leather: supply and production. Display through costume: fashion and ostentation. Liveries and badges.

Lectures 19–20. Wales in the Middle Ages. Castles, manors, villages and farmsteads. Boroughs. The importance of the monasteries, especially the Cistercians. The economy of Wales. Cardiff and Cosmeston. Welsh medieval literature and archaeology: Gereint in Cardiff.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module you should have a broad knowledge of the following aspects:

a) The sources of information commonly available to the medieval archaeologist

b) The developmentand function of the medieval castle and its lands

c) The contribution of archaeology to the study of medieval towns

d) The archaeology of high-status residences including royal and episcopal palaces

e) The form, archaeology and function of medieval churches and monasteries before the Reformation

f) Settlement, farming and communities in the medieval countryside

g) The scope of medieval artefact studies and the interpretative issues pertaining to them

h) The connections between archaeology, art history and literary studies in respect of the later Middle Ages

i) The archaeology of medieval Wales

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Gerrard, C. (2003). Medieval Archaeology: Understanding Traditions and Contemporary Approaches. London. [DA90.G3]

Jones, R. and M. Page (2006). Medieval Villages in an English Landscape. Windgather: Macclesfield.

Liddiard, R. (2005). Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape, 1066 to 1500. Windgather: Macclesfield.

Platt, C. (1978). Medieval England. RKP: London.