Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST31F3: France in the Wars of Religion

Department: History

HIST31F3: France in the Wars of Religion

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 18 Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To give students a thorough understanding of the origins, impact, and legacy of the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598), set in a European and Atlantic context.
  • To develop students' critical approach to a wide range of source material, including criminal trials, diaries, diplomatic correspondence, images, and literature.
  • To acquaint students with the methods used by historians for understanding the cultural, social, and political impact of religious violence.
  • To contribute towards meeting the generic aims of Level III study in History.


  • During the late sixteenth century, France plunged into decades of religious division and dynastic crisis. These Wars of Religion lasted throughout the reign of Elizabeth I in England, drew in all of the major European powers, and reached the shores of Florida and Brazil. Catholics fought against Protestants, known as Huguenots, over matters of authority and belief that would determine who won power on this earth and salvation in the next. Most people longed for the conflict to end, yet the problems it raised seemed impossible to resolve. At its core the module examines the religious wars up close. What was it like for women and men to live through events like the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacres, when Catholic militia killed thousands of Protestants in Paris and elsewhere during a matter of weeks? How might historians understand the experiences of the killers, victims, and bystanders, or the French subjects who did not encounter the military conflict directly but who endured the indirect effects of the religious troubles over decades? What impact did the religious wars have on the material conditions of their existence, and the society and culture they inhabited? By the turn of the seventeenth century, French subjects came to see the Wars of Religion as a period of zealotry and rebellion they had overcome thanks to the new Bourbon kings who imposed their absolute power on the kingdom. This module instead explores France’s sixteenth-century troubles as a critical period of instability and experiment which made unexpected and sometimes contradictory contributions to the making of the Old Regime in the centuries that followed.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A comprehensive and critical understanding of the history of the French Wars of Religion in a European and Atlantic context.
  • An ability to critically evaluate a range of historiographical debates and to demonstrate an understanding of the methods used by historians to assess the significance and impact of religious violence in the sixteenth century.
  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the quality and significance of sixteenth-century primary sources for the study of the Wars of Religion, and to use them to construct an effective argument.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • reading and use texts and other source materials critically and analytically, addressing questions of content, perspective and purpose at an advanced level;
  • handling and critically analysing varying interpretations of a given body of historical evidence;
  • managing a body of evidence or information, particularly gathering, sifting, synthesizing, organising, marshalling and presenting information consistent with the methods and standards of historical study and research;
  • assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses;
  • intellectual independence and research, including the development of bibliographical skills, the ability to research, use, evaluate and organise historical materials, and to present independent research in written form.
Key Skills:
  • self-discipline, self-direction, initiative, the capacity for extended independent work on complex subjects, the development of pathways to originality, and intellectual curiosity;
  • discrimination and judgement;
  • ability to gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information, and familiarity with appropriate means of identifying, finding, retrieving, sorting and exchanging information;
  • analytical ability, and the capacity to consider and solve complex problems;
  • structure, coherence, clarity and fluency of written expression;
  • intellectual integrity, maturity and an appreciation of the validity of the reasoned views of others;
  • imaginative insight

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.
  • 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: Essay Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 Words 34%
Essay 2 3000 Words 34%
Source Analyses 3000 Words 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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