Dr Philippa Byrne

  • Scholasticism and the Twelfth-Century Renaissance
  • Arab and Norman Sicily, tenth to thirteenth centuries
  • History of medieval law (England and Europe)

My current research project, sponsored by the British Academy, focuses on ideas of law, justice, and royal authority in twelfth-century Norman Sicily, a newly-conquered and diverse kingdom, with sizeable Islamic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Latin Christian populations. I consider how the Norman rulers of the island drew on different traditions in an attempt to create a royal ideology and coherent legal system, and the extent to which the Sicilian experience of the ‘Twelfth-Century Renaissance’ differed from that of other European kingdoms.

This research also connects to a number of contemporary debates. Norman Sicily, with its mixed population, has traditionally been seen as an example of the harmonious integration of different cultures and tolerant coexistence – a model ‘kingdom in the sun’. Part of my research examines whether this was truly the case, and how Sicily has been presented (and sometimes appropriated) as a symbol in current political debates.

Before embarking on this project, I completed a DPhil at Oxford which examined the relationship between law and theology in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England, and the moral and official duties of common law judges. I am currently preparing this research for publication as a monograph. The twelfth century witnessed the creation of the English common law as a systematic, ‘national’ set of rules, but extant legal texts and documents provide relatively little information on the duties, responsibilities and office of the judge during this formative period.

My work argues that judicial roles in this period were shaped by the teachings of pastoral theology, and aimed to challenge the strict separation between the categories of ‘lawyer’ and ‘theologian’ which historians have employed when discussing this period. In this vein, it considered what authors like Gerald of Wales, Robert Grosseteste, Stephen Langton and Ralph Niger can teach us about the law. Administrators of the law shared a common formation and background, rooted in the scholastic tradition. As a former lawyer, the intellectual hinterland of the servants of the law is an issue of particular interest to me.

My research often intersects with issues of public perceptions of the past, and the medieval period in particular. As a result, I am enthusiastic about public history and like to consider critically the different ways in which lawyers, politicians, journalists, broadcasters engage with medieval history.

https://studyofthebible.wordpress.com –  ‘The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages: Where are we now?’ is a conference I am organising (Feb 2017) on current directions in the study of medieval exegesis and biblical commentary.

    No publications have been listed.

I currently teach:



British History I, c.300-1087

British History II, c.1042-1330

British History II, c.1042-1330

British History III, c.1330-1550

British III, 1330-1550

General History V, 1100 – 1273

OS 1: Theories of the State

Disciplines of History

For The Conversation, UK: Why medievalists should stop talking about Game of Thrones: https://theconversation.com/why-medievalists-should-stop-talking-about-game-of-thrones-61044

I have made a number of appearances on Voice of Islam Radio (voiceofislam.co.uk) in June and July 2016, discussing the historical context for the EU referendum and medieval background to the idea of parliamentary sovereignty.

I also contributed to an ‘Academic Archers’ conference in February 2017, (the first attempt at ‘academic’ analysis of the long-running BBC Radio 4 drama). I asked how Ambridge fitted into our ideas about what a medieval village looked like. A round-up of the conference (proceedings forthcoming) can be found here:  BBC Radio 4 Blog, ‘5 Important things about The Archers we learned from the Academic Archers Conference’, 18th February 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thearchers/entries/4040a47c-1d4b-4bcc-98d8-01a628f28230.

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