Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
History & Identity in the Age of Magna Carta: the World of Matthew Paris
Academic Year
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminar 10 x 2 Hour Seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Essay 1 - 1 x 3,000 word essay  50%
Semester Assessment Essay 2 - 1 x 3,000 word essay  50%
Supplementary Assessment Essay 1 - 1 x 3,000 word supplementary (resit) essay  50%
Supplementary Assessment Essay 2 - 1 x 3,000 word supplementary (resit) essay  50%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Demonstrate a critical understanding of relevant themes in and approaches to the history of historiography and historical culture in high medieval Europe.

Marshal and understand the use of appropriate evidence in formulating historical arguments regarding medieval history and the history of historical culture.

Demonstrate through written work an ability to integrate historical themes and methodology into their own research.

Brief description

Matthew Paris (fl. C. 1240- c. 1259), member of the Benedictine community of St Albans, was one of the most wide-ranging and one of the most prolific writers of history in the age of Magna Carta, St Francis and Frederick II. His oeuvre thus included texts - in both Latin and Anglo-Norman - about the history of St Albans (Gesta Abbatum), England (Historia Anglorum), and the world (Chronica Majora, Flores Historiarum), as well as numerous saints lives (Thomas Becket, Stephen Langton, Edmund Rich, Edward the Confessor, St Alban, Offa I and Offa II). In addition, he produced some of the earliest surviving medieval maps, and was an accomplished draughtsman, with his manuscripts ranking among the foremost surviving examples of Gothic manuscript art in England. Exploring the range of languages, topics, genres and art forms employed by Matthew Paris is a key concern of this module.
Yet Matthew Paris' significance does not exhaust itself in his prolific output or the variety of genres he employed. First, he formed part of and reflected an established tradition of engaging with the past. Part of this module will therefore be concerned with setting Matthew alongside his predecessors at St Albans, his contemporaries and peers in England and elsewhere. Second, Matthew established a tradition that dominated engagements with the past well into the early modern period and beyond. Studying Matthew Paris is thus also an investigation into the roots of historical consciousness in early modern and enlightenment Britain. Third, while a distinctly English historian, Matthew's interests spanned the whole of Christendom: he was as interested in the appearance of monsters and marvels in the Welsh marches as in the practices, beliefs and customs of the Mongols, in his community's struggles over property rights as in the reform of Benedictine monasteries in Norway. His works thus offer a rare opportunity to explore how one medieval individual understood and experienced the world around him, how his writings sought to grapple with and interpret a world of often bewildering complexity. Finally, Matthew Paris was nothing if not outspoken. He is, in fact, famous also for the vitriol and wit, the exuberant comedy and bitter invective of his commentary. He recorded as much as that he interpreted the world around him.
All this makes the works of Matthew Paris an ideal point of departure for exploring issues of identity (institutional, `national' and religious) or of the culture of history in medieval England and Europe, but also of networks of communication (where did he get his information from?) and patronage (who were his patrons, his audience, his informants), of religious practice, political norms, and cultural tradition (where did Matthew's works deviate from, where coincide with, and where and why did they form traditions of history in St Albans, England and Europe?).


This module uses one of the most prolific, most widely read and most wide-ranging historians of the central Middle Ages to ask broader about the nature and purpose of history in the period, of the relationship between history and `national' or institutional identity, and of the relationship between religious culture and the society around it.


Introductory seminar, plus six from the following:

Matthew Paris the Writer
Matthew Paris, Roger of Wendover and St Albans
The legacy of Magna Carta: Matthew Paris and politics
Matthew Paris and the cult of the saints
Matthew Paris and the Church: St Albans, pernicious popes & pious pagans
Matthew Paris and the world beyond: Christendom, Europe and Britain
Matthew Paris and the languages of history
Text and Image in the works of Matthew Paris
Matthew Paris and his legacy: the culture of history in Britain, 1260-1485

Individual tutorials for essay feedback

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number
Communication Through seminar discussion and essay writing. Only the latter is formally assessed.
Improving own Learning and Performance By guided reflection during seminars and feedback sessions following submission of written work.
Information Technology Through data retrieval exercises for research purposes and word-processing for essay writing purposes.
Personal Development and Career planning Through furthering understanding of the discipline of history and the opportunities for research that it offers.
Problem solving By understanding how historians employ a variety of different methodological approaches towards understanding problems within their field.
Research skills By learning how to identify appropriate primary and secondary sources and utilising that material in their work.
Subject Specific Skills By enhancing methodological understanding of high medieval history and an awareness of key sources and approaches.
Team work Such skills will be developed through seminar work.


This module is at CQFW Level 7