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'The Devil's Brood':The Angevin Kings of England, 1154-1272 - 30 credits (HS1713)

Module Tutor: Dr Paul Webster

Course Description

Upon Henry II’s accession in 1154, the English kingdom became part of a wider ‘Empire’ extending, at its fullest, from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees. Until Henry III’s death in 1272 England’s importance varied in the minds of its rulers. This module will examine the relationship between king and kingdom, asking how royal rule changed after the pivotal events of 1204, when much of the dynasty’s continental power was lost, and 1215, when the barons of England imposed the celebrated charter of liberties, Magna Carta, upon their king. We will consider how the Angevins governed England, and the crises in which they were involved: the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket; the excommunication of King John by Pope Innocent III; and the thirteenth-century baronial attempts to restrain royal power. Participants will be introduced to contemporary narratives, royal letters, and official documents. We will explore the political, religious, and military history of the Angevin kings of England, and ask how they came to be known as ‘the Devil’s brood’.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year


Necessary for


Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures and seminar discussion of major issues. 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.

The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one 1000 word assessed essay [15%], one 2000 word assessed essay [35%] and one two-hour unseen written examination paper in which the student will answer two questions [50%].

Course assignments:

Assessed Essay 1 will contribute 15% 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 1,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

Assessed Essay 2 will contribute 35% 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 (excluding empirical appendices and references).

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

The course will cover a wide range of topics including:
“The Devil’s Brood”: Introduction.
Historical perspectives on “the Devil’s Brood”.
Henry II: Empire Builder.
Henry II’s turbulent priest: the Becket crisis.
Murder in the Cathedral: sources for the study of Thomas Becket.
Henry II’s government
Henry II’s children: diplomacy, rebellion, and succession.
Barons and Bishops at the King’s Court: the risks and rewards of royal service.
Richard I: from warrior prince to crusader king.
Richard I: absentee king of England?
Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Legend.
The Angevin revolution in government.
‘English king only by default and against his will’: the loss of Normandy.
The Outlaw in the Greenwood: Robin Hood.
John vs. the church: the Canterbury crisis and an excommunicate king.
Bad King John.
The road to Magna Carta: John’s government.
John vs. the barons: Magna Carta.
Civil war and the minority of Henry III.
Governing England after Magna Carta: the Personal Rule of Henry III.
Matthew Paris: Chronicler of the reign of Henry III.
‘Aliens’ and Empires: Henry III’s foreign policy.
A Captive King: Simon de Montfort and baronial rebellion.
Simon de Montfort: the baron who would be King?
‘By the wrath of God, Queen of England’: Empresses & Queens.
The Angevins in Britain: Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
The Royal Court: images and structures.
Did the Devil’s Brood go to Church? Royal Religion.

Learning outcomes

  • On successful completion of the module a student will be able to:
  • To demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the rule of the kings of England in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and to discuss this in an informed manner.
  • To demonstrate an understanding of the historical background and historiography of the subject.
  • To analyse themes and issues such as the so-called ‘loss of Normandy’, or the causes and consequences of Magna Carta, in the light of the historical background and argument.
  • To express your ideas and assessments relating to a full range of issues and interpretations arising from the course, for instance the Becket crisis, or the thirteenth-century baronial efforts to control royal power.
  • To demonstrate an understanding of selected primary sources and an appreciation of how historians have approached them.
  • To evaluate the relative merits and demerits of alternative views and interpretations of key events and evaluate their significance.
  • To identify problems, assess evidence, and reach conclusions consistent with them relating to the themes raised by the course.

Skills that will be practised and developed:

  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form, in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner.
  • formulate and justify arguments and conclusions about a range of issues, and present appropriate supporting evidence
  • an ability to modify as well as to defend their own position.
  • an  ability to think critically and challenge assumptions
  • 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 to organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.    

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Participants are strongly advised to purchase one of the following textbooks:
D.A. Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery. Britain 1066-1284 (London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2003).
M.T. Clanchy, England and its Rulers 1066-1272, 3rd edn. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006).

Further indicative reading:
M. Aurell (trans. D. Crouch), The Plantagenet Empire, 1154-1224 (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2007).
R. Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000).
D.A. Carpenter, The Reign of Henry III (London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press, 1996).
D.A. Carpenter, ‘England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries’, in A. Haverkamp and H. Vollrath (eds), England and Germany in the High Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 105-25.
D.A. Carpenter, ‘The Plantagenet Kings’, in D. Abulafia (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History. Volume V. c.1198-c.1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 314-57.
C.R. Cheney, Pope Innocent III and England (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1976).
S.D. Church (ed.), King John. New Interpretations (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1999).
D. Crouch, William Marshal. Knighthood, War and Chivalry, 1147-1219 (London: Longman, 2002).
A.J. Duggan, Thomas Becket (London: Arnold, 2004).
J. Flori (trans. J. Birrell), Richard the Lionheart. King and Knight (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999).
J. Gillingham, Richard Couer de Lion. Kingship, chivalry and war in the twelfth century (London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press, 1994).
J. Gillingham, Richard I (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999).
C. Harper-Bill and N. Vincent (eds), Henry II. New Interpretations (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2007).
J.C. Holt, The Northerners. A Study in the Reign of King John (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961).
J.C. Holt, Magna Carta and Medieval Government (London: The Hambledon Press, 1985).
J.C. Holt, Magna Carta, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
M. Howell, Eleanor of Provence. Queenship in Thirteenth Century England (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998).
R. Huscroft, Ruling England 1042-1217 (London: Pearson Longman, 2005).
J.E.A. Jolliffe, Angevin Kingship (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1955).
T.K. Keefe, ‘England and the Angevin dominions, 1137-1204’, in D. Luscombe and J. Riley-Smith (eds.), The New Cambridge Medieval History. Volume IV. c.1024-c.1198. Part II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 549-80.
J.R. Maddicott, Simon de Montfort (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1994).
R. Mortimer, Angevin England 1154-1258 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994).
F.M. Powicke, The Loss of Normandy 1189-1204 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1960; 1st published 1913, reprinted 1999).
M. Prestwich, Plantagenet England 1225-1360 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005).
M. Staunton, The Lives of Thomas Becket: Selected Sources Translated and Annotated (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001).
R.V. Turner and R.R. Heiser, The Reign of Richard Lionheart. Ruler of the Angevin Empire, 1189-99 (London: Longman, 2000).
R.V. Turner, Magna Carta through the ages (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2003).
N. Vincent, Peter des Roches. An alien in English politics, 1205-1238 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
W.L. Warren, Henry II (London: Eyre Methuen, 1973).
W.L. Warren, King John (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1961).
B. Weiler with I.W. Rowlands (eds), England and Europe in the Reign of Henry III (1216-1272) (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).
B. Weiler, Henry III of England and the Staufen Empire, 1216-1272 (London: Royal Historical Society, 2006).
B. Wheeler and J.C. Parson (eds.), Eleanor of Aquitaine. Lord and Lady (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).