James  Titterton

James Titterton

IMS PG Researcher

Summary: Thesis: Deception & Trickery in Medieval Warfare 1050 – 1320


My research examines the practice and perception of deception in medieval warfare. Trickery and deceitful tactics designed to mislead one's enemy are staples of military history but little has been written about their use in the Middle Ages. As well as categorising the various deceptions employed by medieval combatants, my research seeks to analyse how deception in a military context is portrayed in contemporary narrative sources. Deception can be viewed as something underhand and dishonourable, or as an admirable ruse that demonstrates a combatant's intelligence and tactical skill. I am interested in how medieval thinkers reconciled this behaviour with contemporary social values of honour, chivalry and Christian piety.

Supervisors: Dr. Alan V. Murray (Institute for Medieval Studies) and Dr. Karen Watts.


‘Worthy, Wycht and Wys: Romance, Chivalry and Chivalric Language in John Barbour's The Bruce’ Bulletin of International Medieval Research, 20 (2017), invited [forthcoming]


Upcoming Conference Activity 

'The Chivalrous Virtue of Cunning: The Military Ruse as a Manifestation of Prudence in Medieval Chronicles', International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo MI (10-13 May 2018) 

'A Chivalrous Trickster?: Remembering Cunning in the History of William Marshal', International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds (Session 1146, 11:15-12:45, Weds 4 July 2018) 

Recent Conference Activity 

'Bloodless Turks and Sanguine Crusaders: William of Malmesbury’s Use of Vegetius in the Gesta Regum Anglorum', 8th International Conference of the Medieval Chronicle Society, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (10-14 July 2017)

'I have a cunning plan': Ruses and Trickery in Siege Warfare, 1000-1250', International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds (4 July 2017)

'Quasi militares insidias: The Ambush in the High Middle Ages', Conference in War & Peace Studies, University of Leeds (15-16 June 2017)

'Bloodless Turks and Sanguine Crusaders: Racial Diversity in William of Malmesbury's Account of Urban II's Sermon at Clermont', The Northern Network for the Study of the Crusades, Inaugural Symposium, Manchester Metropolitan University, (10 February 2017)

'Skilful Stratagem or Base Treachery? The Representation of the Artful Ruse in the Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis', Medieval Culture and War: Ideals, Representations, Realities, University of Leeds (5-7 May 2016)

'For Fame and Honour: Ideas of Honour as Reflected in the Medieval Tournament', International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds (6–9 July 2015)

Book Reviews

Bernard S. Bachrach and David S. Bachrach, Warfare in Medieval Europe c. 400 - c. 1453 (Routledge: 2017), for De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History. link


I was a Postgraduate Tutor on the module 'HIST1090: Medieval & Renaissance Europe' during Autumn term 2016.

In Spring term 2018, I will be teaching 'HIST1300: Primary Sources for the Historian' using the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi.

Public Engagement, Impact and Outreach

Arts, Humanities and Cultures Faculty Postgraduate Research Open Day, University of Leeds, 6 December 2017

I presented my poster, 'All is Fair in Love and War: The Ethics of Deception in Medieval Warfare', to prospective postgraduate students at a faculty open day.  

Three Minute Thesis Competition, University of Leeds Doctoral College Showcase, 4 December 2017

I took part in a competition in which postgraduate researchers had to present a summary of their thesis to a non-specialist audience in under three minutes. I was awarded first prize by the panel of judges. You can see my presentation here: link

Arts, Humanities and Cultures Poster Conference, University of Leeds, 1 November 2017

I presented an interactive poster entitled 'All is Fair in Love and War: The Ethics of Deception in Medieval Warfare' that challenged the audience to judge whether they thought a medieval author approved or disapproved of a particular incident of military deception. I was awarded 'Most Popular Poster' by the other conference delegates.

Publication in Medieval Warfare magazine VII.5, October 2017

I adapted a paper that I gave at the Leeds IMC for an article in the popular history magazine, Medieval Warfare, entitled: 'The "rules of the game" - Deception in siege warfare'.

Arts, Humanities and Cultures Poster Conference, University of Leeds, 27 October 2016

I presented a poster entitled 'How Do You Get Into a Castle? Trickery and Deception in Medieval Siege Warfare (1000-1200', which analysed the variety of ruses used by besieging armies in chronicle narratives,at a multi-disciplinary conference. I was awarded 'Most Popular Poster' by the other conference delegates.

'Light Night: A World of Ice and Fire', University of Leeds, 7 October 2016

I created a fun, activity-based stall about the use of 'Greek fire' in an excerpt from Geoffrey Malaterra's De rebus gestis Rogerii. I used information panels to present a brief history of 'Greek fire' but also challenged the public to reflect on the author's attitude towards this unconventional weapon and their own preconceptions about the proper conduct of war.

'Be Curious Festival: Health and Wellbeing', University of Leeds, 19 March 2016.

I created a multi-sensory, interactive display to illustrate the problems faced by besieged garrisons in siege warfare and the foodstuffs that some people reportedly ate to stay alive. I also challenged the public to reflect critically on reports of cannibalism on the First Crusade and whether we can rely on medieval chronicles to be transparent windows into the past.

Other activities

I am one of the PGR leads for the 'War and Peace' research cluster at the university. I am also a postgraduate representative for the Institute of Medieval Studies on the Research and Postgraduate Committee and the department's Staff-Student forum. 

About me

I graduated from Lancaster University in 2009 with a BA (Hons.) in History. During my studies I received the Austin Woolrych Scholarship and Queen's Scholarship for outstanding academic performance. After several years in the world of work, I returned to higher education in 2012 (funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Studentship), receiving an MA (Distinction) in Medieval History from the University of Leeds in 2013. My current studies are funded by a studentship from the School of History at the University of Leeds.

In my spare time, I enjoy reading, cooking, playing board games and following rugby union.