dissolution of the monasteries

views updated Jun 08 2018

dissolution of the monasteries of England and Wales occurred between 1536 and 1540. Profoundly controversial to contemporaries, this was an unparalleled secular spoliation of ecclesiastical property. By the 16th cent. most English monasteries were in decline. Numbers of religious were falling; the economy of the majority had been seriously disturbed by changes consequent upon 14th-cent. crises; few new communities were being founded, though there were exceptions such as Syon and Sheen; spiritual and literary life were generally insipid, and few new benefactions were being attracted from lay patrons. However, very few houses had been forced into ‘liquidation’ through religious or economic failure prior to the 1530s, and those that had, disappeared largely because they were ‘alien priories’, i.e. subject to monasteries in France and hence potentially disloyal. Their property was usually passed to another monastery or, as happened at Cardinal Wolsey's foundation of Cardinal College (later Christ Church, Oxford), used to finance educational establishments. Nor is there much evidence that lay society was hostile to the monasteries: indeed, following their dissolution there was considerable support for them, notably expressed in the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

But the monasteries remained wealthy communities, and hence tempting to Henry VIII and his chief adviser Thomas Cromwell. The full-scale valuation of ecclesiastical income, the Valor ecclesiasticus (1535), had revealed the extent of monastic revenues. The desire to appropriate these potently combined with the king's continuing onslaught on the ecclesiastical establishment. Royal visitations revealed convenient scandals and in 1536 all monasteries with an annual income of less than £200 were suppressed. This was followed by the gradual dissolution of individual larger houses and in 1539 all surviving greater monasteries were dissolved. Comparatively few monks raised more than token resistance, those most likely to object having in most cases already been executed for refusing to take the oath of supremacy. Monks were given annual pensions; a number became secular priests. Ex-nuns were more harshly treated and were not permitted to marry till the reign of Edward VI.

Monastic lands, administered through the Court of Augmentations, largely fell into the hands of the aristocracy and gentry, though some were used to endow new bishoprics; buildings were looted for their materials, though some churches were adapted to parochial use; the great artistic treasures accumulated over centuries were destroyed or dispersed.

Brian Golding

Dissolution of the Monasteries

views updated May 18 2018

Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536–40) Abolition of English monasticism in the reign of Henry VIII. The operation, managed by Thomas Cromwell, was a result of the break with Rome, but also provided additional revenue, since the monasteries owned c.25% of the land in England, all of which passed to the Crown. The smaller religious houses were closed in 1536, larger ones in 1538–40. The Dissolution caused social hardship, resentment and revolt, while providing estates for upwardly mobile gentry.

dissolution of the monasteries

views updated Jun 11 2018

dissolution of the monasteries the abolition of monasteries in England and Wales by Henry VIII under two Acts (1536, 1539), in order to replenish his treasury by vesting monastic assets in the Crown and to establish royal supremacy in ecclesiastical affairs.