Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module HIST3893: Henry VIII and the English Reformation

Department: History

HIST3893: Henry VIII and the English Reformation

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To provide a detailed knowledge of the key events of Henry VIII’s Reformation
  • To think about the wider impact of these events
  • To enable students to achieve a nuanced understanding of the politics and religious changes of Henry VIII’s reign, through a detailed study of the contemporary sources
  • To give students the opportunity to engage critically with the interpretations offered by other historians
  • To provide students with an opportunity to develop their skills of oral and written presentation and debate in seminars and written work


  • Henry VIII’s break with Rome remains one of the most striking assertions of royal authority and national independence. In 1533 Henry repudiated the authority of the pope and secured his much-sought divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. These were crucially important years in English political and religious history. This course centres on a study of the 'high politics' of the break with Rome in the early 1530s, set in the context of the nature of early Tudor government and society.
  • Taught via a series of student-led seminars, the course begins with three detailed case studies - the Hunne affair, the fall of the duke of Buckingham in 1521, the Amicable Grant of 1525 - which at once raise key questions about the late medieval church, the power of the nobility and the effectiveness of royal and ministerial government. This is followed by an extended discussion of the ascendancy of Cardinal Wolsey and the condition of the church. The focus then turns onto the break with Rome, studied in depth, year by year. Henry VIII's desire for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the fall of Wolsey, pressures against the church, the timing and evolution of the royal supremacy, propaganda and counter-propaganda are all considered. Opposition is carefully assessed, both from individuals - Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More - and from people in general, especially those involved in the great northern rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, in 1536-7.
  • Throughout, close attention is given to the current controversies over the role of Henry VIII and political factions: moments such as the fall of Anne Boleyn and of Thomas Cromwell are comprehensively analysed.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module students should have:
  • A detailed understanding of the course of the Henrician Reformation and of the politics of Henry VIII’s court.
  • An awareness of the wider impact of the changes undertaken during this period
  • A critical awareness of the contemporary sources for this subject and an ability to use these sources to construct independent analyses of the key questions and issues raised
  • An understanding and awareness of the relevant historiography and an ability to engage critically with this material
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 Termly in Terms 1 & 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 35%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen examination (gobbett paper) three-hour 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen examination (essay paper) two-hour 100%
Component: Essays Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 50%
Essay 2 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 50%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography), submitted in Term 1. This will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Coursework essays are formative as well as summative. They are to be submitted in two copies, of which one will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Preparation to participate in seminars and tutorials. At least one oral presentation in each term, and at least two practice gobbets in each term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University