(HIST006) The Stuart Court: History, Politics and Culture

Charles I by Van Dyck


Course start date: Monday 23rd September 2024
Course end date: Friday 13th December 2024
Early Bird Price: £135

Tutor:  Lynne Thompson
Course Code: HIST006
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory. In addition to this students will be given an optional assignment involving the creation of a timeline for the period, where you will be asked to select a limited number of events that you consider to be the most significant, with justifications for your choices. Students who choose to do this assignment will not receive a mark, but will receive feedback on their work.
Duration: 12 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 5 – 8 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Price: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: No academic qualifications or experience of studying history, archaeology, art or literature are required – only a strong enthusiasm for this subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**:

The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714
4th Edition
Barry Coward
London: Longmans, 2011.

The Cradle King: A Life of James VI and I
Alan Stewart
London: Pimlico, 2009.

Required Reading**: There are no required texts for this course.

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Lynne Thompson when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


This course uses a range of disciplines from archaeology to art history to examine the court of James I, Charles I, Charles II and James II between the period 1603 and 1688 – a time of great religious, political and social upheaval.

Art History

We will see how images by court artists can tell us something of the system of ‘favourites’, and the role and status of queens, mistresses and children.


Focusing on the palace of Whitehall we will consider how, as symbols of status and power, the palaces escalated a tradition begun in Elizabethan times – that of the English country house.


We will ask what archaeology can tell us about royal buildings and the lives of their occupants, and we will discuss the ethics of exhuming bodies from battlefields in order to learn more about events in history.

Politics and Religion

Key terms will be introduced as we study the theological and political agendas behind the translation of the King James Bible, and how these agendas hardened into grounds for civil unrest.


We will consider Milton’s contribution to, and influence in the Cromwellian period and also Ben Jonson’s lavish theatre of the court masque. The course also considers how the concept of return to pleasure in the court of Charles II was reflected by aristocratic wits such as the Earl of Rochester, whose obscene verse we will encounter.


Naturally we will also be looking at the personalities of the Stuart Kings and Oliver Cromwell. In what ways were they different, or similar? What motivated them? What impact did the personality of each have on events? How did it the Cromwellian era come about – and how did it crumble? And to what extent, how and why has this period been ‘airbrushed’ from British consciousness?

Syllabus Plan

Week 01: The Stuart Century
Week 02: The Stuart Masque
Week 03: The Religious World of the Stuart Court
Week 04: Royal Favourites and James I
Week 05: Stuart Palaces
Week 06: Women at the Stuart Court
Week 07: Court Artists: Rubens, Van Dyck, and Lely
Week 08: James I and Charles I: Like Father, Like Son?
Week 09: Court and Country
Week 10: The Court of Oliver Cromwell
Week 11: Culture and the Restoration Court
Week 12: The End of the Stuart Court and the Glorious Revolution

Course Content in Depth

Week 01: The Stuart Century

We begin with the first of three documentaries on the Stuarts, presented by Dr. Clare Jackson. This will be followed by an introduction to the course explaining in more detail what each week will contain.

Week 02: The Stuart Masque

Our second week has a literary theme and addresses a key element of court entertainment and spectacle: the masque. Here we look at the work of Inigo Jones, designer of the masque settings, and Ben Jonson, who wrote many of these extravaganzas (with a sting in their tail) for the Stuart kings. We will read Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness to illustrate our studies.

Week 03: The Religious World of the Stuart Court

Religious strife tore 16th-century Europe apart, and this week will trace the theological underpinnings of conflict in the Stuart kingdoms. We will focus on the production of the King James Bible as a means of understanding Protestant and Puritan thought during the early years of James I’s reign.

Week 04: Royal Favourites and James I

In week four we will examine the images, lives and relationships of three royal favourites – Esme Stuart, Robert Carr and George Villiers – all of whom played significant roles in the courts of James I and his son.

Week 05: Stuart Palaces

We’ll then explore some of the architecture and archaeology of the court of the Stuart kings by studying the history and fortunes of the Palace of Westminster. The ‘golden age’ of country house building outside of London will also be considered, with examples.

Week 06: Women at the Stuart Court

Turning to art-history, we’ll see what paintings of the period can tell us about the women of the Stuart court: queens, courtiers and mistresses. We’ll also study portraits of the children of the elite to see how portrait painting developed during the Stuart century.

Week 07: Court Artists: Rubens, Van Dyck and Lely

In week seven we’ll study the biographies of three famous artists employed by the Stuarts, with particular reference to the paintings of Rubens on the ceiling of the royal Banqueting House in the Palace of Whitehall.

Week 08: James I and Charles I: Like Father, Like Son?

This week compares and contrasts the reigns and characters of James I and Charles I, including the question of how they saw their roles as absolutist monarchs in the making. We also consider the influence of their Queens, and look at life at court under these two Kings. A second documentary on the Stuarts will provide useful contextual material.

Week 09: Court and Country

In week nine we’ll consider the literature and architecture of the Stuart country house in two parts. In the first we’ll take a look at Penshurst Place in the company of Ben Jonson, and in the second, we’ll explore the interiors and exteriors of a representative selection of country houses.

Week 10: The Court of Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell is a deeply contested figure in British history, and this week we will trace his rise to power from the country squirearchy to a monarch in all but name. We’ll also consider how his reputation has changed over the centuries.

Week 11: Culture and the Restoration Court

Our penultimate week focuses on the reign of Charles II, his court and its culture. In part one of this week’s work we’ll study the King himself, and his notable peers in the sciences and the arts; and in part two we’ll return to literature in the form of Restoration comedy as we study William Wycherley’s play, The Country Wife, in some detail.

Week 12: The End of the Stuart Court and the Glorious Revolution

The first part of our final week’s work considers the reign of James II and the attempts to topple him, including the ill-fated Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, and the more successful Glorious Revolution in 1688. The second and concluding part traces the demise of the Stuart dynasty and the Jacobite rebellions. The cultural legacy of the Stuart court will also be considered, and our third and final documentary looks at the Stuarts in exile.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help students to develop:

  • Awareness of historical, visual and cultural interpretations of the Stuart dynasty and court
  • Understanding of how Protestantism gained the upper hand during the Stuart century
  • Comprehension of how royal power was transformed into parliamentary sovereignty in Britain

Book your place: BOOK NOW