Skip to main content

Plots, Conspiracy Theory and Political Culture in Early Modern Britain and France


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Professor Julian Swann
  • Assessment: one essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

Political action in the early modern world is often viewed through analysis of legitimate channels of influence, such as parliament, public office, patronage networks and private counsel. Yet plots, both real and imagined, punctuate the early modern history of Britain and France and for all social groups conspiracy theory offered a seemingly rational explanation for unforeseen or unwanted events. Protestants, Catholics, Atheists and Jews were all accused of a conspiratorial tendency as were foreign powers, the pope and even the Devil himself.

Through a series of comparative case studies we examine the relationship between conspiracy theory and political culture and investigates how fears of plots against state and society fed into a growing public appetite for news. Popular opinion during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries increasingly came to be recognised as a powerful political weapon, but it was a double-edged sword: the politicians who sought to manipulate and control opinion could easily become its victims. By looking at actual and imagined plots, and the ways in which they were reported, the course seeks to provide fresh insights into familiar themes of early modern historical study: the confessionalisation of the state, the creation of English, British and French national identity and the development of a ‘public sphere’.