HST2005: The Gunpowder Plot

20 credits (semester 1)

Module Leader:

Professor Anthony Milton


Pass in at least two of the Level One modules offered by the Department of History.

Module Summary

The Gunpowder Plot provoked endless debate at the time and in following centuries over the precise nature of the plot, its objectives and the degree of government complicity. The answers to these questions lie in a rich but ambiguous body of primary sources written by the government and its apologists, by Catholics, and by other observers. This course will enable students to analyse all these types of source, and to address systematically the problems of source analysis and interpretation that they present, while building up a detailed understanding of the problematic position of Catholics in late Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

Module Aims

This module aims to:

  • Provide students with an in-depth understanding of the ways in which confessional polarities were understood, represented and experienced in early modern England.
  • Introduce students to a range of source criticism skills.
  • Introduce students to a variety of historiographical approaches to the role of Catholics and the politics of conspiracy in the early modern period.
  • Promote students' ability to write informed and cogent essays in clear, structured and grammatical prose.
  • Promote collaborative learning among students and develop team-work skills.
  • Encourage students to develop their confidence and competence in presenting their ideas orally.


The module will be taught through a series of weekly lecture workshops and seminars. The lecture workshops will introduce students to the basic historical and historiographical context and prime students on pertinent issues and sources. They are an efficient way of providing information, encouraging ideas and guiding students' private study. Seminars will provide opportunities for students to present their ideas and interpretations to the wider group. They will be based on systematic study of primary sources prepared in advance and will involve student-led discussions and presentations in order to enhance team-working, presentational and interpretative skills, while involving students in intensive engagement with practices of source criticism.


The module is assessed by:

  • A formative essay of detailed source analysis (33%), which will allow students to advance their understanding of certain thematic aspects of the module through an exercise of independent source criticism, thus helping students to develop skills of analysis and argument, and to improve their writing skills.
  • An unseen written examination (50%) will require candidates to demonstrate that they have absorbed and understood the material and that they are able to compose a structured argument and analyse primary sources in clear prose under pressure of time.
  • Oral presentations and participation in seminars (17%), in which students will demonstrate their team-working and analytical skills and their ability to analyse different types of primary source material in their historical context.

Selected Reading

To follow.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, a candidate will be able to demonstrate:

  • An advanced knowledge and understanding of the topic studied and the ability to identify and engage with major historical debates and issues.
  • The ability to recognise, evaluate and analyse a wide variety of primary source materials and to apply these skills and knowledge in writing commentaries on source materials under pressure of time.
  • The ability to use a critical knowledge of primary sources to engage with current historiography and to formulate independent conclusions, both orally and in well-written, grammatical prose.
  • Ability and experience in presenting material orally in seminars, exchanging views with the tutor and other students.