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Nobilities in transition 1300-1800


Admission requirements

A good reading knowledge of English is essential. German, French and other languages enhance research scope and precision.


Since the 1970s the view of nobilities has undergone substantial revision in almost any respect. Nobility had traditionally been seen as ‘typically medieval’, as a group in decline in the early modern age, gradually ousted by the joint forces of state building and rising middle classes. More recently historians stress the connections in addition to the tensions between nobilities and the dynastic state. At the same time they underline that the success of social climbers could serve to strengthen nobilities, by adding new wealth to their prestige. What remains unchallenged, is the notion that nobilities in the later middle ages and the early modern age underwent a continuing process of change and redefinition.
In this research seminar, we examine these processes of change, and their reflections in noble identity and legitimation. Changes in warfare, the rise of estate assemblies, the expansion of dynastic courts and central administrative structures, and the challenges of a changing economy all form part of our perspective. The redefinition of nobilities can best be seen as a long-term process, reaching from 1300 to 1800. Among our source materials, we will include discussions of noble status and its essential characteristics. The geographical scope of our course is European, with a focus on individual cases complemented by a comparative perspective.

Course objectives

Students will:

  • familiarise themselves, and engage with, recent scholarship about nobility and social and cultural change

  • learn how to identify, locate and study relevant sources, and to develop the skills needed to conduct independent research for their MA dissertations

  • practice primary source analysis

  • present their findings orally in a class presentation, and in a written paper of 7500 pp. max.


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Research seminar

Assessment method

Entry test, oral presentation, essay of 7500 words max.



Reading list

Preliminary reading: to be announced.


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information

E-mail: Prof.dr. J.F.J. Duindam or Dr. A. Janse


If only native speakers of Dutch participate, the course will be taught in Dutch.