Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Medieval and Renaissance Lives
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Oral Presentation  A 20-minute individual orally presented research paper, to be delivered in week 7. Accompanying documentation to include an annotated bibliography, any presentation materials used and an electronic copy of the PowerPoint presentation.  40%
Semester Assessment Essay  6000 words  60%
Supplementary Assessment Supplementary Assessment  Resubmit failed or make good any missing elements. In the event of failure in the oral presentation element, a 20-minute written script on a new topic to be submitted, written as if for delivery, to include an annotated bibliography, any presentation materials used and an electronic copy of the PowerPoint presentation  100%

Brief description

This module explores lives and life writing in medieval and renaissance England (and Wales) by detailed consideration of literary and material evidence from the period, c. 1400-1650. It focuses on the lives of both women and men. Recent scholarship has recovered a great deal of previously neglected medieval women's and men'r writing. For women, spiritual texts (often of an autobiographical nature) make up perhaps three quarters of this material, but some early secular works also exist. For men, there is a range of life writing.


Seminar 1: Introduction to Concepts and Theories
How have academics written about medieval and renaissance lives during the last century? eg HS Bennett. E. Power, S, Greenblatt, J. Bennett
What methods and theories are useful? What problems do researchers face?

Seminars 2, 3 and 4: Types of Source
1) History and Hagiography: early and later English lives eg Aethelthryth and Christina Markyate
2) Letters: the Paston letters
3) Wills: eg of John Ansell (d 1518) and Katherine Styles (d c.1530)

Seminars 5 and 6: Autobiography and Biography
Autobiography and the Book of Margery Kempe
Reconstructing biographies from fragments: eg William Buckley, ? Renaissance Man? (d.1552) and Henry Unton'r portrait

Seminars 7 and 8: Controversial Lives: Dissent and Martyrdom
Heresy trials and religious testimony eg Anne Askew
Reformation lives eg Duchess of Suffolk

Seminar 9: The After-lives of Manuscripts
eg Hengwrt Chaucer/ Brogyntyn 2.1

Seminar 10: Afterlives
Later recensions of lives and texts, such as the lives of Aethelthryth, Christina of Markyate, Book of Margery Kempe, the Paston letters, or the Examinations of Anne Askew


The module will encourage students to think about how to interpret the various surviving evidences for lives. Students will develop their theoretical position(s) on the concept of lives by introducing and enabling critical consideration of theoretical approaches to lives, self fashioning and life writing drawn from literary and cultural studies. The module will examine the often problematic circumstances of the production and dissemination of a text. We will ask questions such as: What is a life? How were medieval and renaissance lives represented through text and object? How do these representations impinge on medieval and renaissance perceptions of life and identity? What is biography? How are past lives represented now? This module will address these questions by examining, in detail a selection of the wide variety of evidence for renaissance lives, such as: diaries, letters, monuments, life stories, testaments, saints' lives, portraits, personal meditations, prayers, biographies and romances.

Reading List

Should Be Purchased
Watt, Diane (ed and trans) (2004) The Paston Women: Selected Letters Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell and Brewer Primo search
Essential Reading
'William Buckley', in Salter, six Renaissance Men and Women The biographical Portrait of Henry Unton Primo search Bede (1990.) Ecclesiastical history of the English people with Bede's letter to Egbert and Cuthbert's letter on the death of Bede /Bede. Rev. ed. Penguin Primo search Beilin Elaine (ed) (1996) The Examinations of Anne Askew Oxfofrd Univesity Press Primo search Davis, Norman (ed) (1999) The Paston Letters: A Selection in Modern Spelling Oxford, World Classics Primo search Donovan, Leslie A. (2006) Women's Saints Lives in Old English Prose Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell and Brewer Primo search Fanous, Samuel and Leyser, Henriette (eds) (2008) The Life of Christina of Markyate Trans. C H Talbot Oxford, World Classics Primo search Mann, Francis Oscar (ed) (1912) The Works of Thomas Deloney London Primo search See notes: Ansell, John (d1518) and Styles, Katherine 9d.c.1530), Las Will and Testament Documents (handbook) Primo search Stubbs, Estelle (ed) The Nengwrt Chaucer National Library of Wales, available in digital facsimile, CD Rom. Primo search Windeatt, Barry (trans.) (2002) The Book of Margery Kempe Harmondsworth, Penguin Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 7