Noble Violence in Early Modern Europe


Just how violent were the nobility and gentry in early modern Britain and Europe? What forces drove so many of them to participate in honour-based violence and duelling in this period?

This one-day event will analyse the changing nature of noble and elite violence in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It will ask how far the English experience was any different from other parts of Europe. We will examine the nature of the duel and how different notions of honour shaped the issuing and sidestepping of challenges. We will explore some of the opportunities presented to historians by primary source evidence such as judicial records, as well as their limitations.

This day school brings together for the first time four of the leading experts in this field, and concludes with a roundtable discussion where they will answer questions from the audience and debate their views on the nature of elite violence in early modern history. To promote our understanding of the material culture of duelling, the Royal Armouries will display some of the kinds of weapons used in these deadly combats.

Programme details


Andrew Hopper

Cultures of Gentry Violence in Tudor and Early Stuart England
Richard Cust 

There is an influential narrative amongst historians of early modern England that sees the violent clashes between nobles and gentlemen that characterised the era of ‘bastard feudalism’ and the Wars of the Roses as becoming far more controlled and restrained in the course of the sixteenth century. Changing notions of noble honour, habits of litigation and ‘civility’, above all the growing reach of the Tudor state, are all seen as contributing to this process. This talk will explore the extent to which this was happening, assess the prevalence of the duel as a substitute for less-organised forms of combat, and analyse the shifts taking place in the culture of elite violence over this period.

Tea/coffee break

Feast and Famine: Duelling and the Problems of Evidence in Early Modern England
Lloyd Bowen 

This paper explores the question of evidence and elite violence in early modern England through two duels. They were fought in the same place within a year of one another. They both resulted in an unlawful killing. However, our evidential base for these cases is radically different. The killing of Benjamin Barlow by Richard Awsiter in January 1611 is recorded in the briefest terms in the Middlesex sessions rolls. The duel which saw John Egerton die at the hand of Edward Morgan in April 1610, by contrast, produced such a glut of evidence that I have produced a whole book about it. It is problematic for historians that the Awsiter-Barlow case is much more representative of our evidence for early modern duelling in England. The paper considers some of the implications of these evidential disparities and suggests how our understanding of early modern elite violence is often rendered as snapshots of moments rather than as episodes with longer histories and richer contexts.

Lunch break

Display of swords given by Keith Dowen, Assistant Curator of European Arms and Armour at the Royal Armouries (in-person only)

Aristocratic honour and resort to the duel in the autobiography and correspondence of Lord Herbert of Cherbury
Christine Jackson 

Lord Herbert achieved notoriety as a duellist in the Jacobean period and was reprimanded by the Privy Council for duelling on several occasions. This paper will explore his notion of aristocratic honour and his reasons for resorting to the duel to defend it. It will trace his duelling challenges and engagements over several decades and examine the reaction of both admirers and detractors to his duelling exploits in court circles. It will draw brief comparisons with the challenges issued and duels fought by other men from his social circle in England and France.

Tea/coffee break

Elite Violence in Early Modern England in Comparative Perspective
Stuart Carroll 

This talk compares elite violence in early modern England with some of its European neighbours. Elite violence exploded across Europe from the 1570s peaking in the mid seventeenth century before declining rapidly in the eighteenth century. The talk explores the evidence for and causes of this parabola. England provides both points of comparison and contrast. While it was likely one of the most peaceable states in Europe, it was still subject to the same processes of historical change as elsewhere.

Tea/coffee break

Concluding Roundtable Discussion

Course disperses


Description Costs
Tuition - in-person attendance (includes tea/coffee) £85.00
Tuition - virtual attendance £75.00
Baguette £6.10
Hot lunch (3 courses) £16.50


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Prof Richard Cust


Richard Cust is an Emeritus Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Birmingham, specialising in the political and cultural history of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England. He is also (with Dr Stephen Roberts) editor of the journal Midland History and is currently writing a book on ‘Charles I and the Aristocracy, 1625-1642’.

Dr Lloyd Bowen


Lloyd Bowen is Reader in Early Modern History at Cardiff University. He has published widely on gentry culture and politics; early modern Wales; and royalism and the civil wars of the 1640s. He has recently produced a book on elite violence, Anatomy of a Duel in Jacobean England (Boydell, 2021) and Early Modern Wales, c.1536-c.1689 will be published in late 2022.

Dr Christine Jackson


Dr Christine Jackson BA, PHD is University Lecturer in History and Fellow of Kellogg College, Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford

Prof Stuart Carroll


Stuart Carroll is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of York. He is the author of Blood and Violence in Early Modern France (2006) and one of the editors of the Cambridge World History of Violence: vol: 3 (1500-1800). Martyrs and Murderers: the Guise Family and the Making of Europe won the J. Russell Major prize of the American Historical Association in 2011. He has won the Nancy Roelker prize for the best article on early modern French history four times (1999, 2004, 2014 and 2020). Enmity & Violence in Early Modern Europe is in press.

Prof Andrew Hopper

Course director and moderator

Director, Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then please contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.

IT requirements

For those joining us online

We will be using Zoom for the livestreaming of this course. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Zoom interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.