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Professor Sarah Hamilton

BA (Cantab.), MA, Ph.D (London)

Professor of Medieval History


01392 724286

I research the religious, social and cultural history of early medieval Europe between c. 900 and c. 1200.  I am particularly interested in medieval liturgy and ritual, bishops, the delivery of pastoral care, penance, excommunication and heresy. 

Research interests

My research focuses on exploring the nature of the relationships between ecclesiastical institutions and rites and medieval society, especially in the years which divide the early from the high Middle Ages, c. 900 - 1100 AD.  My interests include:

  • Episcopal and clerical culture
  • Medieval liturgy
  • Pastoral care
  • Excommunication and dispute settlement
  • Penance
  • Relations between the laity and churchmen
  • Clerical perceptions of the laity
  • Medieval heresy


Research collaborations

AHRC International research network:  'Interpreting Medieval Liturgy, c 500 - c 1500 AD: Text and Performance'  (2009-10) (co-ordinated with Helen Gittos, University of Kent).  This network involved some 25 scholars from 8 different disciplines.

AHRC 'Interpreting Our Medieval Past: A User's Guide to the Languages, Scripts and Records of Medieval Culture' (2013-14) (with Professor James Clark).   We worked with staff at the Universities of Exeter and Bristol and in five heritage organisations, including Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives, Wells Cathedral Library and Archives, the Bristol Record Office and the Devon Heritage Centre, to provide a training programme for medieval research students in both medieval research skills and their application in a public context. 

ERC 'The Past in its Place: Histories of Memory in English and Welsh Locales' (2012-17).  I worked with colleagues in English, History, Historical Geography and Archaeology at the Universities of Chester and Exeter to explore the history of memory in a range of English and Welsh locales from the early medieval period down to the modern era.

HERA 'After Empire: Using and Not Using the Past in the Crisis of the Carolingian World, c. 900-c.1050' (2016-2019).  I worked with colleagues in Berlin, Vienna, St Andrews and Barcelona to explore how people in different regions of Europe reacted to the changing political landscape of the tenth century by looking at the ways they chose to use and not use their shared past.  It took as its starting point the observation that the relatively meagre administrative
and legal structures of early medieval Europe meant that action in the present often drew authority and legitimacy from claims about the past.

Other research collaborations include membership of the following networks:

'Rethinking Reform 900-1150: Conceptualising Change in Medieval Religious Institutions' (with scholars from the Universities of Leeds, York, Ghent and Leuven)

'Formative Memory and Institutional Power: Western Society and the Church, 250-1150' (with scholars from Manchester, Oxford, Berlin and Tübingen)

‘The Social Church’ (organised by Ian Forrest, Oxford University and Sethina Watson, University of York)


Research supervision

I am happy to supervise research students interested in investigating the religious, social and cultural history of  medieval England and the mainland Europe, especially in the years roughly 800 to 1200 AD.

I am especially keen to supervise students on the following topics:

  • medieval Church (or rather ecclesiastical institutions)
  • medieval liturgy
  • medieval ritual
  • medieval bishops and medieval priests
  • medieval heresy
  • ecclesiastical thought
  • pastoral care
  • penance
  • excommunication



Research students

Current Students

  • Gearoid Fitzgerald, 'A Unique Vision?  How far was Gregory the Great's Vision of Authority and Leadership Novel?' (MPhil)
  • Carole Lomas, 'Reconstructing the Development of the Early Medieval Church, with Somerset as a Case Study' (supervised with Oliver Creighton)
  • Marcus Jones, 'Old Hispanic Notation and the Early Written Transmission of CHant: A Palaeographical Case Study of a Liber Misticus (British Library, Additional MS 30845) (co-supervised with Emma Hornby, University of Bristol) (AHRC DTP SW&W funded)
  • Alison Norton 'A Castle's Role: An Interdisciplinary Study of Castles in the Medieval South West' (MPhil)
  • Hannah West, 'Rural Piety: Religious Houses and the Cura Animarum in Parochial Somerset' (AHRC funded, with Catherine Rider)
  • Emily Wride, 'A Notational Analysis of Three Old Hispanic Manuscripts from Toledo' (co-supervised with Emma Hornby, University of Bristol) (AHRC DTP SW&W funded)

Former Students

  • Lenneke van Raaij, 'Celebrating local saints in a civitas: the role of archbishops in the production of local liturgy in Trier (882-c. 1050)' (2020) (HERA funded); Lenneke is currently teaching at Radboud University, Nijmegen
  • Teresa Witcombe, 'Between Paris and Al-Andalus: Bishop Maurice of Burgos and his World, c. 1208-1238' (2019) (AHRC SW&W DTP funded); Teresa currently holds a Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship as a visiting researcher at Universidad Autónoma, Madrid/CSIC-CCHS Madrid
  • Ryan Kemp, ‘Images of Kingship in bishops' biographies and deeds in twelfth-century England and Germany'  (2019)(supervised with Professor Björn Weiler (University of Aberystwyth); funded by AHRC South West and Wales DTP award); Ryan currently holds a Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship as a visiting researcher at Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
  • Tom Chadwick, 'Re-evaluating Norman Ethnic Identity in Europe, 911-1140' (with Helen Birkett) (2018); Tom currently holds a Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.
  • George House, 'Understanding the End of Time: Decoding the Ethical Apocalyptic Trend at the Turn of the First Millennium' (2015) (University funded)
  • Christopher Wilson, 'The Dissemination of Vision Narratives of the Otherworld in  England and northern France c. 1150-1321' (2012) (with Catherine Rider)  (University funded)
  • Tamsin Rowe, 'Blessings for Nature in the English Liturgy, c. 900-1200' (2010) (AHRC funded)
  • Matthew Mesley, 'The Construction of Episcopal Identity : the Meaning and Function of Episcopal Depictions within Latin Saints' Lives of the Long Twelfth Century' (2009) (AHRC funded)
  • Michael Williams, 'Medieval English Roodscreens with special reference to Devon' (2008) ( with Nicholas Orme)
  • Arnold Shipp, ' William of Wykeham and the Founding of Winchester College' (2008) (with Nicholas Orme) 

External impact and engagement

Arising from my involvement in the HERA After Empire project I led on and worked with the Historical Association to co-develop and deliver CPD for secondary school teachers tasked with teaching early medieval history, resulting in a workshop held in June 2018 to support teachers, many of whom have little experience of studying medieval history, with the requirements of the new GCSE curricula in England.

I worked with PhD students and various heritage organisations, included Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives and the Devon Heritage Centre to work together collaboratively to train students in research skills and public engagement as part of the AHRC Interpeting Our Medieval Past: A User's Guide to the Languages, Scripts and Records of Medieval Culture (2013-14).

I worked with St Fagan's National History Museum, Cardiff, as part of the AHRC International Research Network, 'Interpreting Medieval Liturgy c. 500-c.1500: Text and Performance' (2009-10); this included the staging of a medieval rite for the reconcilation of penitents in the medieval church at St Fagan's.  A film of this event is available on YouTube



Contribution to discipline

I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.  I have been a member of the AHRC Peer Review College since 2014.

I was Honorary Treasurer of the Royal Historical Society (2015-19)

I was a member of the editorial board , finishing with a 3-year term as co-ordinating editor, of the journal Early Medieval Europe between 2004 and 2015.



Research informs my teaching at all levels, and I seek not just to expose students to research developments in specific areas, but to develop them as researchers in their own right.   From 2013-16 I was Associate Dean for Education in the College of Humanities.

Modules taught


My first degree was in history at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge . After spending some time out of academic life as an accountant, I returned to do an MA in Medieval History at King's College, London and went on to do a PhD there on 'The Practice of Penance, 900-1050' under Professors Janet L. Nelson and Anne Duggan.

I taught at Birkbeck, University of London, King's College, London, the Universities of Glasgow, Manchester and Southampton before being  appointed to a lectureship at the University of Exeter in 2000.  I held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship from 1999-2002, first at Southampton, then at Exeter.  I have also held grants from the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and HERA.

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