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From nation state to multiple monarchy: British history 1485-1649 HI2008-05

The course deals with the impact of processes such as the increasing powers of the centralised state.

It charts the arrival in 1485 and 1603 of new dynasties, the evolution of personal monarchy (and queenship) during the Tudor period, the growth of parliamentary discontent with royal policies, the political and cultural evolution of the Stuart court with its increasing remoteness and unpopularity, and the impact of the growth of an increasingly vocal public opinion, informed by a great range of printed materials.


30 Credits

Topics covered

The course covers the impact of the Reformation in England, Scotland and Ireland, with Protestantism’s gradual success in mainland Britain contrasted with its failure in Ireland.

The consequent tensions and problems of policy-making gave rise to what historians now label "the British problem", the inherent difficulties of running a multiple monarchy across religiously and politically divergent societies.

The course also covers the foreign policy of the period with particular attention to English relations with Spain, France and the low countries. It covers the crisis caused by the outbreak and continuance of the Thirty Years War, with its arguable insoluble problems for the formulation of British foreign policy and its deeply divisive impact on British public opinion.

Since this is a period which has given rise to intense and unresolved dispute among historians, the course provides an introduction to the competing historiographical explanations for episodes such as the Reformation and Break with Rome in the 1530s; the factional divisions of the 1590s leading to the succession of the Stuart dynasty; and the division of England into royalist and parliamentarian supporters, leading to the ‘British civil wars’ and the execution of Charles I in 1649.

Learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • Show an informed understanding of the period in its British and European context
  • Show an informed understanding of the differing processes of religious change in their parish, regional and national perspectives across the three kingdoms
  • Demonstrate some familiarity with major primary printed sources
  • Demonstrate some ability to analyse and reflect critically on different historiographical viewpoints and schools of thought
  • In terms of the acquisition of skills, students who successfully complete this course will be able to
  • Digest a range of both primary and secondary material and understand how they relate to the subject
  • Write properly-structured and lucidly expressed essays
  • Work systematically and meet the prescribed deadlines.


  • Exam (80%)
  • Essay (10%)
  • Reflective journal and forum posts (10%)

Essential reading

  • Philip Edwards The making of the Modern English State 1460-1660 (2001)
  • AGR Smith The Emergence of a Nation-State 1529-1660 (2nd edition 1997)
  • Derek Hirst England in Conflict (1991)