The Medieval Inquisition (HIH1598)

StaffProfessor Sarah Hamilton - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will give students an understanding of the myths which surround the medieval inquisition, of how these evolved, and of the sources used by modern historians to study the history of the inquisition itself. In 1231 Pope Gregory IX instituted the first medieval papal inquisition at Regensburg in southern Germany to deal with the problem of popular heresy. Over the course of the next three centuries ad hoc local inquisitors evolved into institutions, ones, moreover, which were to continue into early modern Europe, and the inquisition, as both a contemporary and historical institution, acquired a powerful, and malevolent, image amongst Reformist and Enlightenment writers which in turn has influenced the way modern scholars have viewed it. This module will approach the medieval inquisition from two different angles. First it examines some of the modern sources used to study the medieval inquisition. Secondly it considers how the medieval inquisition has been represented in more modern texts, and how the modern image of the inquisition was compiled by earlier historians and polemicists. Students will therefore gain an understanding of the development of the myths surrounding the inquisition, and of the sources used by modern historians anxious to deconstruct such myths.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Assess the nature of the medieval inquisition.
  • 2. Work critically with a range of written and visual sources relating to the topic.
  • 3. Assess the sources in relation to the historical debates, purposes for which different contemporary sources were produced, and analyse and evaluate their reliability and usefulness for the study of the medieval inquisition.

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 organize 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

1. Introduction to the medieval inquisition and the myths surrounding it.

2. Aims of its creators

3. Development of inquisitorial procedures.

4. The inquisitors’ self-image.

5. Testifying before the inquisitors I.

6. Testifying before the inquisitors II.

7. Medieval views of inquisition.

8. Images of the medieval inquisition.

9. Early modern and Enlightenment views of the inquisition.

10. Nineteenth-century views of the inquisition.

11. Modern portrayals of the inquisition.

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 five source commentaries and an 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, 6-7, 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 commentaries602000 words (500 per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments.
Essay on Sources401500 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 of 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

Ames, Christine Caldwell, Religious Persecution: Inquisition, Dominicans and Christianity in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)


Arnold, John D. and Peter Biller, eds and trans, Heresy and Inquisition in France c. 1200-c.1300 (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2015)


Bernard Hamilton, Bernard, The Medieval Inquisition (London: Edward Arnold, 1981)


Eco, Umberto, The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (London, 1983)


Edward Peters, Inquisition (Berkeley, 1989)


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel, Montaillou. Cathars and Catholics in a French Village, 1294-1324, trans. B. Bray (Harmondworth: Penguin,1978)


James Given, James, Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline and Resistance in Languedoc (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1997)


Mark Pegg, The Corruption of Angels: the Great Inquisition of 1245-6 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2001)


Peters ,Edward, Inquisition (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989)


Taylor, Craig, ed. and trans., Joan of Arc. La Pucelle (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2006)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Various translations available at the Medieval Sourcebook:


Translations from the inquisition records of Jacques Fournier at and

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Inquisition, Heresy, Medieval Studies, Medieval History, Religion.