A 12th Century Grand Tour

500 TUTOR: Christopher Moule (Marlborough College)

The huge social, cultural, intellectual, political and economic changes that swept Europe from around 1101 to 1200 are often labelled the 12th Century Renaissance. However, by most measures, the resulting society hardly represented a 'rebirth' so much as a dynamic new world, which has done as much as any period to create the civilisation we know today. Many of our countries, cities, languages, political and financial systems, religious and educational institutions, behavioural tendencies, art and architecture and general 'identities' have their origin in the massive changes of this time. This course will be structured as a Grand Tour; a journey through France, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Germany and England and will focus on the peculiar and distinctive parts of each area in the context of this crucial period.


1 PM
PM course

Course Notes

This course is devoted to some of the glittering cultures of 12th century western Europe and north Africa. From whichever angle we view the period, it can only appear as one that was explosively inventive and of enormous subsequent consequence. Sometimes scholars have talked of a 'Twelfth Century Renaissance', and we'll discuss the merits of such a label.

Instead of discussing general thematic themes one by one, we will imagine a tour through remarkable centres of 12th century civilization, and the course will be structured to imitate a journey. First we'll 'travel' from France and Spain to Morocco; then from Sicily past Rome, Lombardy and Venice into Germany. Wherever possible we'll imagine following famous medieval routes, including the pilgrim roads to Compostella and the Alpine passes used by German emperors in their attempts to keep power over northern Italy. We'll also explore England's place in this culture and visit either outstanding 12th century remains either at Winchester or Malmesbury.

Part of the advantage of this approach will be to explore how distinct - and yet how connected - these cultures were. For instance, the glamorous and highly individual civilization of the Norman rulers of Sicily (most evident in the Palatine chapel of Palermo) borrowed a good deal from Roman Catholic north France, from Muslim north Africa and from Greek Orthodox Byzantium to its east. Meanwhile, the poetic tradition of the troubadours in the south of France had important results for the growth of romantic and chivalric culture across the rest of Europe. It will also be enjoyable to understand the role of geography and geopolitics in the maturing of each culture. We'll be able to sense to discern the different qualities of frontier lands and the more peaceful country at the heart of each state. And very many of the places we'll discuss contain fabulous monuments from the period, including some of the most celebrated in Europe.

On our tour we'll meet recurring themes that will remind us of the revolutionary quality of the times. In the 12th century the weather was generally benign, the population swelled and trade grew enormously. This was a violent age and yet one in which some of the area's greatest cities, including Paris and Munich, were shaped; others, such as Venice, Palermo, Seville and Fez, also enjoyed great heydays; all the arts throve and the quantity of fine building, painting and sculpture was prodigious. There were crucial developments in commerce and banking, chiefly in Italy; the first universities were founded, and theology, law and philosophy advanced apace and in tandem with a flourishing of secular and romantic literature, often connected with love and war. Many European languages became more settled at this time (which is framed by the great epics of France (the Song of Roland) and Spain (The Song of the Cid), and with them the 'nations' that have come to define our modern states (including France, Germany and Morocco, among others). The organs of government grew everywhere, resulting in varied and often experimental political systems. There was a vigorous division in each of the cultures between those inclined to political, religious or cultural extremes (generally including intolerance), and those in favour of moderation. Some cultures sat entirely outside the norm, such as the heretical Cathars in the County of Toulouse. The Jewish communities of Spain - larger and less persecuted than those further north - made impressive and lasting contributions to philosophy and medicine. Finally, the cultures were often shaped in part by conflict between them: most notably in Spain, where Christians and Muslims engaged in a defining long-term struggle anachronistically called 'the Reconquest', but also (strikingly) in Italy, where the city states framed their constitutions in opposition to aggressive German interference.

On our tour we'll make 'stops' at major centres at which such themes can be explored: these will include (among others) Paris, Poitiers, Toledo, Seville, Fez, Marrakech, Palermo, Rome, Venice, Brunswick, Lubeck, Worms, London, and Winchester or Malmesbury. There'll be plenty of reference to smaller places too because the usual structure of 12th century society resulted in very many power centres, and some of the most influential monasteries and castles lay far from the commercial cities. We will not neglect the great monasteries of Glastonbury, Citeaux, Cluny and Mont Saint Michel, the castle-palaces of Dover, Loarre and Nuremberg, or the striking concentrations of parish churches such as that in the wonderful Boi Valley in Catalonia, or on the equally wonderful borderland of Wales.

Course Tutor

Christopher Moule

Marlborough College

About Christopher

Christopher Moule is the Head of History at Marlborough College. He studied History and History of Art at Cambridge University, and taught medieval History of Art to undergraduates at Cambridge before teaching both subjects at Taunton School. Christopher has also guided and lectured extensively. He moved to Marlborough in 2015.

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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM