Murder in Early Modern England (HIH1042)

StaffDr Sarah Toulalan - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim of the module is to introduce students to the rich range of sources available that allows historians to analyse the crime of murder in its various manifestations in early modern England. In doing this, the module will help students develop skills in source analysis and research that will provide a foundation for future historical work, particularly in the histories of crime, punishment, and gender.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Assess the nature of early modern thinking about, attitudes towards and prosecution of murder.
  • 2. Work critically with a range of sources for the history of murder in the early modern world.
  • 3. Assess the sources in relation to the historical debates surrounding homicide and interpersonal violence.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. utility, limitations, etc, and compare the validity of different types of sources.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely.
  • 6. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Conduct independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

Following an introductory session in the first week, a separate source will be analysed in each of the remaining 10 weeks. Sources will be diverse including, for example, newspaper reports, legal texts and works of medical jurisprudence, court records, literary and popular representations e.g. in plays, ballads, chapbooks and pamphlets. The first seminar will explain the basic outlines of the subject, providing a framework into which students can then fit the sources they will be studying, as well as explaining the format that the remaining classes will take, in particular, that students will be divided into groups. In subsequent weeks, the class will have been told, in advance, to prepare an answer in 400-500 words to a question relating to one of the set texts. In the class, a group of students will present a selection of answers to the question in turn. The rest of the students will then subdivide into their own groups to comment on the presentation and to ask questions. These questions will then be answered and discussion allowed to develop on key points. In the light of the discussion and the tutor's comments, the students will then self-assess their own work according to a pro-forma, which will then be collected by the tutor for moderation. Finally, the tutor will outline the work to be done for the following week's seminar.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2010 x 2 hour seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing a weekly source essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries602000words (500 per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments
Essay401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period
1500 word essay1500 word essay1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Baker, J. H., An Introduction to English Legal History (4th ed., London, 2002)
  • Beattie, J M., Policing and punishment in London 1660-1750: urban crime and the limits of terror (Oxford, 2001)
  • Clark, Sandra, Women and Crime in the Street Literature of Early Modern England, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)
  • Cockburn, J S., ‘Patterns of violence in English society: homicide in Kent 1560-1985’ Past and Present, 130 (1991)
  • Devereaux & P. Griffiths (eds), Penal practice and culture, 1500-1900: punishing the English (Palgrave, 2004)
  • Dolan, F E., ‘Home-rebels and house-traitors: murderous wives in early modern England’, Yale Journal of Law and Humanities, 4 (1992)
  • Gaskill, Malcolm, ‘Reporting murder: fiction in the archives in early modern England’, Social History, 23 (1998)
  • Gatrell, V A C, The hanging tree: execution and the English people, 1770-1868 (Oxford, 1994)
  • Jackson, Mark, New-born child murder: women, illegitimacy and the courts in eighteenth-century England (Manchester : Manchester University Press, 1996)
  • MacDonald, Michael and Terence R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990)
  • Rosenberg, A., ‘The Sarah Stout Murder Case: An Early Example of the Doctor as an Expert Witness’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 12:1 (1957), pp. 61-70
  • Saxton, K. S., Narratives of women and murder in England, 1680-1760: deadly plots (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009)
  • Sharpe, J A., ‘Domestic homicide in early modern England’, Historical Journal, 24 (1981)
  • Sharpe, J. A., Judicial punishment in England (London, 1990)
  • Sharpe, J. A., Crime in Early Modern England 1550-1750 (London, 1984)
  • Staub, Susan C., Nature's cruel stepdames: murderous women in the street literature of seventeenth century England, (Pittsburgh, Penn.: Duquesne University Press, 2005)
  • Sugg, Richard, Murder after Death: Literature and Anatomy in Early Modern England (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2007)¬†

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Edited collections of calendar of assizes.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Murder; homicide; unlawful killing; suicide; infanticide; execution.