Skip to main content

Unit information: Kings, Queens, and Sycophants in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Kings, Queens, and Sycophants
Unit code ENGL30131
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Sebastiaan Verweij
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will introduce students to the writing and culture of the British Renaissance royal courts, more specifically, those of Henry VIII, James IV of Scotland, Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I. The core literary texts under consideration here will be writing by kings and queens: Henry VIII’s lyrics, the sonnets of Mary, Queen of Scots, the poetry, speeches and translations of Elizabeth I, and the literary manifestos, poetry, and prose works by King James VI/I. Students will be invited especially to consider questions of literary and textual authority, and to think about what comes into play – for early modern and today’s readers – when a text is authored by a monarch. These royal writings will be contextualised by selected works from courtiers addressed to those kings and queens (e.g., praising or attacking the monarch, or asking for patronage), in order to assess how monarchs were textually constructed. This unit will also consider other types of courtly culture, such as pageants, royal entries, or baptisms, as forms of cultural spectacle that directly connects to the texts. The unit will incorporate a formative assessment: students will be given the opportunity to produce a 1,500-word draft or outline of their essay, engage in structured peer feedback, and receive feedback on the draft from the tutor.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

(1) demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the nature and extent of the writings produced by British renaissance kings and queens;

(2) demonstrate a familiarity with the major literary-historical approaches to these texts;

(3) demonstrate a critical understanding of the modes and genres of those works, as well as the broad cultural contexts in which they were produced;

(4) identify and present pertinent evidence to develop a cogent argument in oral and written discourse, as appropriate to level H;

(5) demonstrate skills in textual analysis, argumentation, and critical interpretation using evidence from primary texts and secondary sources.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

1 x 4,000 word summative essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Craigie, James, ed. 1955-58. The Poems of James VI. of Scotland, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 1955-


Herman, Peter C., ed., Reading Monarch’s Writing: The Poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I (Tempe, AZ, 2002)

Hopkins, Lisa. Writing Renaissance Queens: Texts by and about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2002)

Marcus, Leah S., Janel M. Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose, ed. Elizabeth I: Collected Works (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)

May, Steven W. The Elizabethan Courtier Poets: The Poems and Their Contexts (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991)

Sommerville, J. P., ed., King James VI and I: Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)