Professor John H. Arnold

Professor of Medieval History
Professor John H. Arnold

John Arnold studied at the University of York, gaining a BA in History, and a D.Phil. in Medieval Studies. He worked at the University of East Anglia, then moved to Birkbeck, University of London, in 2001, until his election to the professorship of medieval history at Cambridge in 2016. He has been lead editor of the journal Cultural and Social History, is on the editorial board of the journal Past & Present, is co-editor of the publication series 'Heresy and Inquisition in the Middle Ages' (York Medieval Press), and in 2019 took over as General editor of the series 'Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought' (Cambridge University Press). 


Medieval religion and culture, particularly the religious culture of the many rather than the few. Heresy and inquisition. Popular politics in the pre-modern era. Gender and sexuality. Modern historiography and theory. 

I have just completed a monograph on the making of lay religion in southern France, c. 1000-1350, published by OUP in 2024.

In collaboration with Rob Portass (Lincoln) , we have launched in 2024 an international research network project on medieval peasants in a global comparative perspective. The project does not aim to produce a substantive history as such, but rather to help explore, refine and make practically feasible a variety of comparative questions across different geographical regions (Europe, China, Africa, south Asia), to provide a building block for subsequent research. The project will incorporate economic, social and cultural/religious aspects of the lives of non-elite rural-dwelling agricultural producers.

I am happy to consider requests to supervise doctoral theses on various areas of medieval history post-1000, having particular archival expertise for southern France and England, but with interests in religious, social and cultural history that cover all of medieval Europe. 

Current students and topics

Matthias Bryson, "Liturgical prescription and religious practice in the local and regional cults of female saints in England, c. 1330–1500"

Héléna Lagreou, "The imaginaire of public executions during the late Middle Ages in England, France, and Italy"

Larissa de Freitas Lyth, "Connections between witchcraft, heresy and inquisitorial culture in the Late Medieval Period"

Emma Olson, "Sonic Violence on the Trans-Pyrenean Frontier: Negotiating Conflict through Speech, Noise, and Music, c. 1213-1391"

Frodi Markan Jones, "Siblinghood in Medieval Southern France"


Completed students

Raphaëlle Golder, "The Changing Uses and Development of Affectivity in the Practice of Confession (12th-13th centuries)" (Cambridge 2023)

Savannah Pine, "Chivalric Culture and the Librairie du Louvre's Textual Community, 1368-1477" (Cambridge, 2023)

Emma Campbell, "The Experience of Listening to Sermons in late Medieval England" (Cambridge 2021)

Derek Hill, "Change in the fourteenth-century inquisition seen through Bernard Gui's and Nicholas Eymerich's inquisitors' manuals" (Birkbeck, University of London 2016); subsequently published as Inquisition in the Fourteenth Century: The Manuals of Bernard Gui and Nicholas Eymerich (York: York Medieval Press, 2019)

Jill C. Moore, "The Organisation and Development of the Medieval Inquisition in Italy (c. 1250- c. 1350)" (Birkbeck, University of London 2015); subsequently published as Inquisition and its Organisation in Italy, 1250-1350 (York: York Medieval Press, 2019)

Tom Johnson, "Law, Space and Local Knowledge in Late Medieval England" (Birkbeck, University of London 2014); subsequently published as Law in Common: Legal Cultures in Late Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

Rachel Lazenby, "A Comparison of Interrogative Processes: canonization, enquêtes and inquisition in thirteenth-century France" (Birkbeck, University of London 2014)



I lecture mainly for Outline 3 (Later Medieval Europe), for Introduction to Historical Thinking 1B and for Historical Argument and Practice. I offer a Special Subject on heresy, inquisition and society in southern France (c. 1150-1320) (suspended however in 2018-19 and 2019-20). I also teach across the M.Phil. Medieval History.

Video of inaugural lecture (2 February 2018) 'Believing in Medieval Belief: Gibbon, Latour and What We Do With Religion'


Tags & Themes


King's College
Cambridge CB2 1ST

Office Phone: 01223 331482



The Making of Lay Religion in Southern France, c. 1000-1350 (Oxford University Press, 2024)

History after Hobsbawm: Writing the Past for the Twenty-First Century, co-edited with Matthew Hilton and Jan Rüger (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Heresy and Inquisition in France, c. 1200-c. 1300, co-edited with Peter Biller; Manchester Medieval Sources series (Manchester University Press, February 2015)

Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity, edited volume (Oxford University Press, 2014)

What is Masculinity? Historical Perspectives and Arguments, co-edited with Sean Brady (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

What is Medieval History? (Polity, 2008); 2nd edition (Polity, 2020); Japanese translation of 2nd edition (Iwanami Shoten, 2022)

Belief and Unbelief in the Middle Ages (Bloomsbury, 2005)

A Companion to the Book of Margery Kempe, co-ed. with K. J. Lewis (D. S. Brewer, 2004)

Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001)

History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000); translated into 16 languages worldwide

History and Heritage: Consuming the Past in Contemporary Culture, co-edited with Kate Davies and Simon Ditchfield (Donhead, 1998)

Articles and chapters

'Continuity and Change in the Experience of Confession across the Central Middle Ages', Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 55.2 (forthcoming 2025), Special Issue Lived Religion and Shared Experience in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe edited by Sari Katajala-Peltomaa and Raisa Toivo

'Believing in Belief: Gibbon, Latour, and the Social History of Religion', Past & Present 260 (2023), 236-68

'Talking With Ghosts: Rancière, Derrida and the Archive', Journal of Medieval History 48 (2022), 235-49

'Voices in Hostile Sources: Chris Tomlins' In the Matter of Nat Turner and the Historiography of Reading Rebellion', Law and Social Inquiry 46 (2021),  902-9

'Voicing Dissent: Heresy Trials in Later Medieval England', Past & Present (Nov 2019), 1-36

'Dissent and Orthodoxy', in I. Johnson, ed., Geoffrey Chaucer in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 295-300

 'Sexualité et déshonneur dans le Midi (XIIIe-XIVe siecles): Les péchés de la chair et l’opinion collective', in J. Théry-Astruc, ed., L'Eglise et la chair (XII-XVe siècles), Cahiers de Fanjeaux 52 (Privat, 2019), pp. 261-95

'Benedict of Alignan's Tractatus fidei contra diversos errores: A Neglected anti-Heresy Treatise', Journal of Medieval History 45 (2019): 20-54

'Problems of Sensory History and the Medieval Laity', in R. MacDonald, E. K. M. Murphy and E. L. Swann, eds, Sensing the Sacred in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Routledge, 2018), pp. 19-38

'Belief and the Senses for the Medieval Laity', in E. Palazzo, ed., Les cinq sens au Moyen Age (CERF,  2016)

 'The Cathar Middle Ages as a Methodological and Historiographical Problem', in A. Sennis, ed., Cathars in Question (York Medieval Press/Boydell,  2016)

 'Introduction: A History of Christianity', and 'Histories and Historiographies of Medieval Christianity', in J. H. Arnold, ed., Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity (OUP, 2014), 1-41

'Gender and Heresy', in J. M. Bennett and R. M. Karras, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Women and Gender (OUP, 2013), 496-509

'Catholic Reformations: A Medieval Perspective', in A. Bamji, G. Janssen and M. Laven, eds, The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter Reformation (Ashgate, 2013), 419-34

'Resounding Community: The History and Meaning of Medieval Church Bells', Viator 43 (2012) (co-authored with Caroline Goodson), 99-130

'The Materiality of Unbelief in Late Medieval England’, in Sophie Page, ed., The Unorthodox Imagination in Medieval England (Manchester University Press, 2010), 65-95

‘Archivi Franci’, ‘Archivi Inghilterra’, ‘Inquisizione medievale’, ‘Storiografia’ and various other contributions, to Dizionario storico dell’Inquisizione, ed. Adriano Prosperi and John Tedeschi (Edizioni della Normale di Pisa, 2010)

‘Inside and Outside the Medieval Laity; Reflections on the History of Emotions’, in Miri Rubin, ed., European Religious Cultures: Essays offered to Christopher Brooke (IHR, 2009), 107-30

‘Repression and Power’, in Miri Rubin and Walter Simons, eds, Christianity in Western Europe c. 1100-c. 1500, Cambridge History of Christianity vol. 4 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 355-71

‘Gender and Sexuality’, in Carol Lansing and Ed English, eds, The Blackwell Companion to Medieval Europe (Blackwell, 2009), 161-84

‘Religion and Popular Rebellion, from the Capuciati (1182/3) to Niklashausen (1476)’, Cultural and Social History 6 (2009), 149-69

'Doomed or Disinterested? Did all medieval people believe in God?', BBC History Magazine (January 2009), 38-43

'Responses to the Postmodern Challenge; or, What Might History Become?', European History Quarterly 37 (2007), 109-32

'"What's Past is Prologue": Historical Causation and Agency in Ken MacLeod's The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal', Foundation 93 (2005), 132-41

'The Labour of Continence: Masculinity and Clerical Virginity', in A. Bernau, R. Evans and S. Salih, eds, Medieval Virginities (University of Wales Press, 2003), 102-118

'"A man takes an ox by the horn and a peasant by the tongue": Literacy, Orality and Inquisition in Medieval Languedoc', in S. Rees-Jones, ed., Literacy and Learning in Medieval England and Abroad (Brepols, 2003), 31-47

'"Nothing is Written": Politics, Ideology and the Burden of History in the Fall Revolution Quartet', in A. M. Butler and F. Mendlesohn, eds, The True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod (SF Foundation, 2003), co-authored with Andy Wood

'Inquisition, Texts and Discourse', in P. Biller and C. Bruschi, eds, Texts and the Repression of Medieval Heresy (York Medieval Press/Boydell, 2003), 63-80

'Lollard Trials and Inquisitorial Discourse', Fourteenth-Century England II (2002), 81-94

'Nasty Histories: Medievalism and Horror', in J. Arnold, K. Davies and S. Ditchfield, eds, History and Heritage: Consuming the Past in Contemporary Culture (Donhead, 1998), pp. 39-48

'The Preaching of the Cathars', in C. Muessig, ed., Medieval Monastic Preaching (Brill, 1998), 183-205

'The Historian as Inquisitor: The Ethics of Interrogating Subaltern Voices', Rethinking History 2 (1998), 379-86