Professor Ian Forrest

Featured Publication

The Detection of Heresy in Late Medieval England (Oxford Historical Monographs) (Oxford University Press, 2005)

The Detection of Heresy in Late Medieval England (Oxford Historical Monographs)

Heresy was the most feared crime in the medieval moral universe. It was seen as a social disease capable of poisoning the body politic and shattering the unity of the church. The study of heresy in late medieval England has, to date, focused largely on the heretics. In consequence, we know very little about how this crime was defined by the churchmen who passed authoritative judgement on it.

By examining the drafting, publicizing, and implementing of new laws against heresy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, using published and unpublished judicial records, this book presents the first general study of inquisition in medieval England. In it Ian Forrest argues that because heresy was a problem simultaneously national and local, detection relied upon collaboration between rulers and the ruled. While involvement in detection brought local society into contact with the apparatus of government, uneducated laymen still had to be kept at arm's length, because judgements about heresy were deemed too subtle and important to be left to them. Detection required bishops and inquisitors to balance reported suspicions against canonical proof, and threats to public safety against the rights of the suspect and the deficiencies of human justice.

At present, the character and significance of heresy in late medieval England is the subject of much debate. Ian Forrest believes that this debate has to be informed by a greater awareness of the legal and social contexts within which heresy took on its many real and imagined attributes.

  • Trust and trustworthiness
  • Religious and social movements
  • Inequality
  • Global comparisons

My research interests lie in the social, religious and economic history of Europe between 1200 and 1500. I am particularly interested in relationships between ordinary people and powerful institutions.  I have published on heresy and inquisition, social life and social regulation, and am now writing a book about trustworthiness and inequality. 

My first book, The Detection of Heresy in Late Medieval England examined the development of inquisitorial procedure in England from the 1380s to the 1430s, looking at the involvement of ordinary people in the prosecution of heretics, and exploring themes of government, communication, and propaganda. My current project is Trustworthy Men: A Social History of the Medieval Church. There is a massive literature on trust in all fields of the humanities and social sciences, but the historian's perspective has been missing.  Trust was necessary to the growth of governing institutions, forging links between the powerful and the localities.  But reliance upon trust also promoted deep social and gender inequalities. 

Alongside this I continue to be interested in heresy, inquisition and religious movements across Europe. I am also pursuing various topics in popular (peasant) politics, particularly the symbolism of political protest, and the use of social theory to ask questions about solidarity and rebellion. I am interested in global comparisons for all these themes, with particular attention to West Africa and the Sahara.

  • Trust in long-distance relationships 1000-1600CE

  • Trust in long-distance relationships

  • Trustworthy Men

  • The Thirteenth-Century Visitation Records of the Diocese of Hereford

  • Trust and doubt: the late medieval bishop and local knowledge

  • Trust and Doubt: The Late Medieval Bishop and Local Knowledge

  • Power and the People in Thirteenth-Century England

  • The Masses

  • The Summoner

  • Continuity and change in the institutional church

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Rachel Delman (Power, gender and space in late fifteenth and early sixteenth century elite female households), with Stephen Mileson
  • Anna Boeles-Rowland (Material mnemonics: gifts, identity and memory in late medieval London)
  • Rebecca Springer (Pastoral care in late-twelfth and early-thirteenth century England)
  • Lesley MacGregor (Judicial trials of animals in late medieval France)
  • Rachel Tod (Naming practices of the English aristocracy 1200-1400), with Rowena Archer
  • Jennifer Jones (The politics of heresy trials in late medieval England)

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding social, religious and economic history of Europe 1200-1500                          

I would be willing to hear from potential Masters students looking at social, religious and economic history of Europe 1200-1500                             

I currently teach:


  • MSt Medieval History (The Use of English and the Public Sphere, 1300-1550)
  • MSt Medieval Studies (Methods seminar)



HBI 2 1042-1330

HBI 2 1042-1330

HBI 3 1330-1550

HBI 3 1330-1550

GH 2 1000-1300

GH 5 1124-1273

Approaches to History

GH 6 1274-1409

Crime and Punishment in Medieval England

GH 7 1409-1525

Crime and Punishment in Medieval England

Disciplines of History

Crime and Punishment in Medieval England

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381