Life in the Three Kingdoms: Societies and cultures in early modern Britain and Ireland

The details
Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
10 April 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, were home to four, even five, independent regions, seven languages and a number of peoples with vastly different cultures. This module will examine how these different peoples and cultures interacted with each other throughout the early modern period and what the results of this interaction were.

The module will not focus on the great events of early modern Britain and Ireland--The Reformations, the Nine Years War, the Civil War the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution-but will investigate how the people in the three kingdoms interacted with people of different status and wealth, with people of different languages and cultures and how they interacted with the members of their families.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To familiarize students with the political and social history of the British Isles in the early modern era.

  • To enable students to understand how the relations between England, Scotland and Ireland provided the basis for the modern experience of the UK and Ireland.

  • To instruct students in the how cultural identities were created in the early modern British Isles.

  • To instruct students in the formation of national identity.

  • To instruct students in the different ways in which ties of kinship and the institutions of family life developed in the early modern British Isles and the reasons for these variations.

  • To enable the students to assess and examine critically different types of historical sources.

  • To develop research and writing skills.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Have an awareness of the key debates in early modern history and the particular religious and national biases that have shaped these debates.

  2. Be able to read secondary sources critically.

  3. Have a more sophisticated awareness of how perceptions of the past are shaped.

  4. Have an understanding of the objectives in life that early modern people had and to understand how these differ from such objectives today.

  5. Understand how people in the early modern period conceived of themselves and this was different from how we identify ourselves in the present.

  6. Understand how different cultures and societies interact.

Module information

The three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, were, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, home to four, even five, independent regions, seven languages and a number of peoples with vastly different cultures.

The approach of this module is a little like looking through a microscope at a slide. We begin with the largest social and cultural levels, with fundamental cultural divisions between societies that were based on an oral heritage and societies reliant on written records and we look at the different methods of governance and the different legal systems of these societies. Then the module examines the different languages in the three kingdoms in 1500 (English, Cornish, Welsh, Manx, Gaelic, Norn and French) and looks at when and why some these languages became extinct, while English prospered

Lowering the microscope a little, we then examine, the hierarchical divisions with each society, examining from where authority was derived and the maintenance of order. We will also examine varying concepts of individual social behaviours covering varying conceptions of status, honour, criminality, dishonour and shame. The last half of the module lowers the microscope to the most fundamental level, analysing the variant forms of the most basic social unit across the three kingdoms: the family. We will be discussing both the idea and practice of patriarchy within Britain and Ireland. We will be comparing different ideas of courtship, marriage and divorce in the three kingdoms and how they evolved over time. We also discuss ideas of kinship, including fictional kinship. Finally this module will look at concepts of age, parenting and infancy.

Introductory reading

  • Jane Dawson, Scotland Re-formed 1488-1587 (Edinburgh, 2007).

  • Steven G. Ellis, The Making of the British Isles: The State of Britain and Ireland, 1450-1660 (Harlow, 2007).

  • Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (London and New York, 2003).

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 1-hour lecture per week.
  • One 1-hour seminar per week.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Secondary Source Analysis (1000 words)    35% 
Coursework   Essay (2000 words)     60% 
Practical   Seminar Participation     5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Thomas Freeman, email:
Dr Tom Freeman
History UG Administrators:



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 30 hours, 28 (93.3%) hours available to students:
2 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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