Pippa Byrne

Departmental Lecturer

My research concentrates on the twelfth century, and the intellectual, legal, and political developments associated with the rise of scholasticism and the phenomenon known as the ‘Twelfth-Century Renaissance’.

The focus of my work is the connection between theory and practice, between the schools and politics. Or, to put it another way, I ask how twelfth- and thirteenth-century thinkers attempted to understand the Bible and drew on scripture to make sense of, and reform the social and political structures around them. More recently, I have moved into ‘global history’, specifically in relation to Sicily and the Near East, and considering the reception of Arabic traditions of philosophy in medieval Europe.

Between 2016 and 2019, I worked on a research project, sponsored by the British Academy, examining ideas of law, justice, and royal authority in later twelfth-century Sicily. Sicily was a politically and intellectually complex kingdom, home to Muslim, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Latin Christian populations. My work concentrates on how the new Norman rulers of the island drew on those 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 polities, particularly its near neighbours in Italy. I am currently working on a book which will present my conclusions from this research.

This research speaks to contemporary debates. Norman Sicily, with its different religious and cultural traditions, has often been depicted as an example of the harmonious integration of different cultures and tolerant coexistence – a model ‘kingdom in the sun’. Part of my work examines whether this was truly the case, and how medieval Sicily has been presented (and sometimes appropriated) as a symbol in different political contexts.

Before coming to Sicily, I worked on law and theology in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England. 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 book examines the moral world of those judges. This work was published in 2018 as Justice and Mercy: Moral Theology and the Exercise of Law in Twelfth-Century England, with Manchester University Press.

My work on England 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 considers 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. 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.


‘Cutting out the camel-like knees of St James: the De viris illustribus tradition in the twelfth-century renaissance’
April 2021
Journal article
Historical Research

‘Medieval violence, the making of law and the historical present’
June 2020
Journal article
Journal of the British Academy

“Reddimus urbem”: Civic Order and Public Politics at the End of Norman Sicily
June 2019
Journal article
Al-Masāq: Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean’

‘I Second That Emotion: Modelling the Anxious Experiences of Thirteenth-Century Episcopal Office’
June 2019
Journal article
Emotions: History, Culture, Society

‘Justice and Mercy: Moral Theology and the Exercise of Law in Twelfth-century England’
January 2019

Where Next?