Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3403: The Princely court in northern Europe, 1350-1500

Department: History

HIST3403: The Princely court in northern Europe, 1350-1500

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 introduce students at an advanced level to the complex world of the late medieval European court.
  • To give students a deep and sustained opportunity to interact with a rich range of primary materials from this period.
  • To give students an understanding of the processes by which courts developed a distinctive contribution to medieval culture.


  • The late Middle Ages witnessed the spectacular growth of princely courts serving important functions for rulers of dynastic states. This course will explore the social and political circumstances of the development of courts, their composition and functions, and their cultural characteristics and influence. Particular attention will be paid to court of the rulers of the Burgundian Netherlands, and to the English, Scottish and French royal courts, from the fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries. Broadly speaking the court existed to protect the person of the ruler; to meet his or her daily needs (physical, spiritual); to serve as a centre of government (although how far and in what ways are items for further discussion); to integrate elites, aristocratic and urban; and to project the ruler's magnificence within his lands and further afield. Following a consideration of the early history of the princely court, the course will explore these functions in greater detail, considering along the way courts as centres of consumption and of artistic innovation. How far was there - as Elias claimed - a 'civilising process' of 'courtization' which affected the lifestyles of a warrior nobility on the one hand, and the urban milieu in which courts were often located on the other? What common denominators and contrasts can one trace in court life in different parts of northern Europe? Within the court we will consider the development of etiquette and protocol as indicators of status and prestige. Beyond the court, we will explore its relationship to the civic milieu in which it was commonly located, and some of the ritual acts which shaped that relationship. There will also be some consideration of the life of the aristocracy away from the court, using the remarkable Paston letters.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will:
  • be able to analyse at an advanced level the primary sources relating to medieval court life, and will be able to assess the processes and institutional cultures that developed the medieval court into an institution of predominant importance and power in Europe.
  • be able to weigh critically the contribution to the development of court life of different roles and individuals, assessing their respective significance and that of aristocracy outside the princely court.
  • To reflect upon the nature of history as a discipline, by analysing the questions historians ask of their primary sources and/or the nature of the dabates among historians.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/
  • In addition students will acquire the ability to handle different types of primary source material from different disciplines.
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/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:
  • lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • 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;
  • 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 and 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 and 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision Term 3 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Essay 2 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Source Analyses 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen examination 3 hours 100%

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 source/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