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Thrones, Families, and Power: Dynastic Rule in Medieval and Early Modern Worlds.


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


In empires, kingdoms, republics, and chiefdoms across the globe, families competed for leading office. Whether their ascent to power took shape through elections, acclamations, divine choice, military charisma, violent competition or hereditary succession, the element of family and genealogy was invariably present. Not only did families compete: conflict among generations and branches of the ruling house was also the norm. In this format of family-based power, women were often as important as men, carrying family traditions and acting as conduits between families.

Families were key to holding power, yet they needed to demonstrate their right to rule. Imperial and royal traditions, always intertwined with moral-religious mandates, towered above families and individuals on the throne. As guardians of these traditions, learned advisors admonished princes to accept their moral guidelines. At times, rulers took to writing themselves, offering advice to their intended successors. These religious mandates, articulated by advisors and integrated into the education of princes, dictated a concern for the well-being of the populace and could act as a check on royal conduct.

Princes, with their relatives, household servants, guards, and administrators, were a conspicuous presence in society. While they usually moved around their realms in a seasonal rhythm, a fair share of the year was often spent in a main palace. The presence of a royal court turned cities into centres of government and consumption; it attracted purveyors, petitioners and visitors. Whether they were accommodated in tent camps or in palatial compounds, royal retinues were always subject to rules for access, defined by security arrangements as well as by a concern for hierarchy. At the same time, elaborate buildings and decorations, complex designs and internal plans, as well as defensive structures such as walls and entrance gates all played an important role in showing royal power.

The religious aura and the magnificent environment of royalty do not tell us much about the power of individuals on the throne. Very young and very old kings were usually manipulated by relatives and advisors. Mature men or women on the throne had greater chances to prevail. All kings and queens reigned, but in each case we have to ask ourselves whether they actually ruled, in the immediate environment of the court, and in the realm at large.

In this research seminar we focus on the details of dynastic power: competition and alliances; reigning and ruling; kinship structures and gender roles; legitimacy and moral guidelines; display of power, and the connections with the realm at large. We examine primary sources from a variety of periods and regions in the context of current debates on global and comparative history. Participants can study specific cases against this wider background, or can choose to highlight connections rather than comparative aspects.

The course starts with an opening assignment (a brief essay rather than a ‘test’), commenting on texts and presenting a first statement of individual research plans.

Literature: Jeroen Duindam, Dynasty. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2019) University Library, Study Area 1st floor, entrance 4 JC330 .D85 2019;

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the t
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  10. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the specialisation as well as of the historiography of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the broader processes of political, social and cultural identity formation between about 1000-1800; awareness of problems of periodisation and impact of ‘national’ historiographical traditions on the field.

  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the ability to analyse and evaluate primary sources from the period, if necessary with the aid of modern translations; ability to make use of relevant methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis to interpret sources in their textual and historical context.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student aqcuires:

13) Understanding of the comparative method, particularly in a global context.
14) Understanding of the specific problems of global comparison related to finding and interpreting sources with regional biases; ability to work with these sources (in translation)
15) Ability to integrate specialised literature as well as sources in a wider comparative perspective.
16) (ResMA only) Understanding of the current debates on connected and comparative approaches to global history; the ability use these perspectives in individual research; contributing to the comparative and global history research paradigms.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 12-15 (ResMa also: 9 and 16)

  • Opening assignment
    measured learning objectives: 1, 4, 5

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 12-15

  • Weekly Assignments (For the introductory phase of this seminar students will write a QUARP on the basis of the literature. This combination of a Quote-Argument-Relation-Problem from the text will be explained at length in the first seminar meeting.)
    measured learning objectives: 10-15 (ResMA also 16)


  • Written paper (including research proposal, first version, final paper): 70%

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Written assignments (opening assignment, weekly QUARPs, peer review of first versions papers (20%)
    The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised. 

Reading list

A list of obligatory readings will be made available in digital format and/or on a course shelf in the Library; in addition, an extended list of suggestions for literature and sources to be used for individual research will be presented.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory)

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable