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Understanding the links between nobles and gentry

One of the problems for students at A level is understanding the pressures on gentry and nobility and seeing events and decisions from the points of view of those people. Students’ assumptions about motives and attitudes may well get in the way of an effective understanding of 15th century attitudes and this in turn hampers their ability to explain events.

This activity from Helen Snelson helps students understand the complexities of the links between gentry and nobility and gets students to identify their own assumptions.

Here’s Helen’s own explanation of the activity …


Download the resource [ HERE … ]

Helen Writes …

A lot has happened by the time we get to 1461 in our study of the Wars of the Roses at A level.  That is, a lot back then AND a lot now.  In terms of now, keen new, but raw, A level students are becoming battle-hardened, but also rather war-weary.  Source skills, sense of period, sheer knowing of stuff are all developing, but it can all suddenly start to feel a bit much.  Time to inject some humour and to reconnect back to the English people caught up in the conflict.  Time to stand back from the detail and to think in broader terms.  Specifically, time to consider how deeply divided society was in 1461, and to reflect upon the diversity of reactions to events, and where tipping points may be reached. 

The silly quotes to accompany some fairly dry statements about the gentry’s views on the 1450s are simply a vehicle to get them reading each statement carefully and to lighten the mood.  Some groups are even up for a bit of impromptu role play, and enjoy putting on an accent and imagining they are having a whinge with a mate about the state of England.  All useful revision of recent material.

After the statements have been matched, then discussion takes place about the worries, the needs, the hopes and the fears of the gentry.  Division among the nobility and the resulting instability makes their lives unpredictable.  Their positions can become precarious, their world out of kilter, and their natural loyalty to the king and the status quo is challenged.  We reflect upon this in the light of the events of the late 1450s to identify conflicting needs and aims and also how, by 1460, there were simply two rival, equal factions (no longer king versus council), and an adult male who could restore stability may therefore be more acceptable than an anointed king who could not. 

This is a simple exercise, but it enables students to learn more about how English society functioned in a world very different from their own. 


Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.