Church and State in Medieval Literature

Module code: EN3115

In this module you will trace the development of relations between Church and State as reflected in medieval literature, including some already familiar authors and some of the medieval period's most intellectually stimulating literary works. We will discuss examples of romance, narrative poetry and prose and a range of visual material illustrating their principal thematic concerns.

We will begin in the Anglo-Saxon period with the concept of the Three Estates, moving on to Layamon’s Brut and the Alliterative Morte Arthure, which are concerned in part with the establishment of a British empire to succeed that of Rome. We will then examine the extraordinary clashes between Church and State in Becket's murder in Canterbury Cathedral from the South English Legendary and the short metrical romances The Siege of Melayne and Athelston.

Next we will explore the dissolution of the moral and legal authority of the Church during the period of the Great Schism through selected readings from Langland, as well as Chaucer's Friar's Tale, Summoner's Tale and Monk's Tale. Finally we will investigate issues such as the impact of civil war, the role of the Church and the judiciary in the rise of British imperialism, and growing resistance to papal authority in relation to Malory, John Fortescue and Skelton.