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Photo of Professor Sarah Hamilton

Professor Sarah Hamilton

BA (Cantab.), MA, Ph.D (London)

Professor of Medieval History


01392 724286

I research the religious, social and cultural history of early medieval Europe between c. 900 and c. 1200.  I am particularly interested in medieval liturgy and ritual, bishops, the delivery of pastoral care, penance, excommunication and heresy. 

Research interests

My research focuses on exploring the nature of the relationships between ecclesiastical institutions and rites and medieval society, especially in the years which divide the early from the high Middle Ages, c. 900 - 1100 AD.  My interests include:

  • Episcopal and clerical culture
  • Medieval liturgy
  • Pastoral care
  • Excommunication and dispute settlement
  • Penance
  • Relations between the laity and churchmen
  • Clerical perceptions of the laity
  • Medieval heresy


Research collaborations

AHRC International research network:  'Interpreting Medieval Liturgy, c 500 - c 1500 AD: Text and Performance'  (2009-10) (co-ordinated with Helen Gittos, University of Kent).  This network involved some 25 scholars from 8 different disciplines.

AHRC 'Interpreting Our Medieval Past: A User's Guide to the Languages, Scripts and Records of Medieval Culture' (2013-14) (with Professor James Clark).   We worked with staff at the Universities of Exeter and Bristol and in five heritage organisations, including Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives, Wells Cathedral Library and Archives, the Bristol Record Office and the Devon Heritage Centre, to provide a training programme for medieval research students in both medieval research skills and their application in a public context. 

ERC 'The Past in its Place: Histories of Memory in English and Welsh Locales' (2012-17).  I am  working with colleagues in English, History, Historical Geography and Archaeology at the Universities of Chester and Exeter to explore the history of memory in a range of English and Welsh locales from the early medieval period down to the modern era.

HERA 'After Empire: Using and Not Using the Past in the Crisis of the Carolingian World, c. 900-c.1050' (2016-2019).  I am working with colleagues in Berlin, Vienna, St Andrews and Barcelona to explore how people in different regions of Europe reacted to the changing political landscape of the tenth century by looking at the ways they chose to use and not use their shared past.  It takes as its starting point the observation that the relatively meagre administrative
and legal structures of early medieval Europe meant that action in the present often drew authority and legitimacy from claims about the past.

Other research collaborations include membership of the following networks:

'Rethinking Reform 900-1150: Conceptualising Change in Medieval Religious Institutions' (with scholars from the Universities of Leeds, York, Ghent and Leuven)

'Formative Memory and Institutional Power: Western Society and the Church, 250-1150' (with scholars from Manchester, Oxford, Berlin and Tübingen)

‘The Social Church’ (organised by Ian Forrest, Oxford University and Sethina Watson, University of York)


Research supervision

I am happy to supervise research students interested in investigating the religious, social and cultural history of  medieval England and the mainland Europe, especially in the years roughly 800 to 1200 AD.

I am especially keen to supervise students on the following topics:

  • medieval Church (or rather ecclesiastical institutions)
  • medieval liturgy
  • medieval ritual
  • medieval bishops and medieval priests
  • medieval heresy
  • ecclesiastical thought
  • pastoral care
  • penance
  • excommunication



Research students

Current Students

  • Hannah West, 'Rural Piety: Religious Houses and the Cura Animarum in Parochial Somerset' (AHRC funded, with Catherine Rider)
  • Tom Chadwick, 'Men of 'High Emotion'? Emotion in Anglo-Norman Society of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries' (with Helen Birkett)
  • Ryan Kemp, ‘Images of Kingship in English and German Chronicles in the Twelfth Century' (supervised with Professor Björn Weiler (University of Aberystwyth); funded by AHRC South West and Wales DTP award)
  • Carole Lomas, 'Reconstructing the Development of the Early Medieval Church, with Somerset as a Case Study' (supervised with Oliver Creighton)
  • Lenneke van Raaij, 'After Empire: Using and Not Using the Past in the Crisis of the Carolingian World, 900-1050: the Liturgical Sources' (HERA funded)

Former Students

  • George House, 'Understanding the End of Time: Decoding the Ethical Apocalyptic Trend at the Turn of the First Millennium' (University funded)
  • Matthew Mesley, 'The Construction of Episcopal Identity : the Meaning and Function of Episcopal Depictions within Latin Saints' Lives of the Long Twelfth Century' (AHRC funded)
  • Tamsin Rowe, 'Blessings for Nature in the English Liturgy, c. 900-1200' (AHRC funded)
  • Michael Williams, 'Medieval Devon Roodscreens'  ( with Nicholas Orme)
  • Christopher Wilson, 'The Dissemination of Vision Narratives of the Otherworld in Thirteenth-Century England and northern France' (University funded, with Catherine Rider)
  • Arnold Shipp, ' William of Wykeham and the Founding of Winchester College' (with Nicholas Orme) 

External impact and engagement

I worked with St Fagan's National History Museum, Cardiff, as part of the AHRC International Research Network, 'Interpreting Medieval Liturgy c. 500-c.1500: Text and Performance' (2009-10); this included the staging of a medieval rite for the reconcilation of penitents in the medieval church at St Fagan's.  A film of this event is available on YouTube

I worked with PhD students and various heritage organisations, included Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives and the Devon Heritage Centre to work together collaboratively to train students in research skills and public engagement as part of the AHRC Interpeting Our Medieval Past: A User's Guide to the Languages, Scripts and Records of Medieval Culture (2013-14).


Contribution to discipline

I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and am currently Honorary Treasurer of the Royal Historical Society.  I am also currently a member fof the AHRC Peer Review College (2014-17).

I was a member of the editorial board , finishing with a term as co-ordinating editor, of the journal Early Medieval Europe between 2004 and 2015.



I currently lead on education for the College of Humanities, and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.   Research has informed my teaching at all levels, and I seek not just to expose students to research developments in specific areas, but to develop them as researchers in their own right.

Modules taught


My first degree was in history at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge . After spending some time out of academic life as an accountant, I returned to do an MA in Medieval History at King's College, London and went on to do a PhD there on 'The Practice of Penance, 900-1050' under Professors Janet L. Nelson and Anne Duggan.

I taught at Birkbeck, University of London, King's College, London, the Universities of Glasgow, Manchester and Southampton before being  appointed to a lectureship at the University of Exeter in 2000.  I held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship from 1999-2002, first at Southampton, then at Exeter.  I have also held grants from the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.