The Dissolution of Monasteries

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Who abolished all the Catholic monasteries and why?

It was King Henry VIII, after becoming the head of the Church of England according to the Act of Supremacy passed by the parliament in 1534. Many opposed and the monks remained loyal to their Pope and so, he took revenge on them by confiscating all their immense property.

Was that the only reason?

NO! He was tempted by their expensive plates, land and coats. Though he inherited a great fortune from his father, The King’s treasury was empty due to his spendthrift attitude. Thus to replace his wealth he did this. The other circumstances that made it happen:

  • The corrupted nature of Clergymen created Anti- Clericalism. (Chaucer and Wycliffe mentioned such practices in their works.)

  • A few years before the act happened, the attitude of the Church made a group of unknown writers write the King a pamphlet titled “The Supplication of the Beggars”.

  • This pamphlet was written in the form of addressing the King providing suggestions of how good it is to remove the Monk and Clergymen from their position and make them work and how their property will make the Kingdom wealthy.

The Abolition:

  • In 1536, King Henry VIII made the parliament pass the Act for abolishing the monasteries.

  • The act first declared to abolish the smaller monasteries with endowments less than 200 euros.

  • The Act abolished nearly 400 monasteries.

  • This provoked a riot called the Pilgrimage of Grace. (this ends in few months)

  • Then the King took advantage and declared for the demolition of the bigger monasteries.

  • The opposed monks were killed and speared on their gates to send a message to the protesters. (Abbot of Glastonbury was hanged)

  • On 23rd March, the last great Abbey at Waltham surrendered and the destruction of monasteries came to an end.

What was the situation of all the Monks and people worked in the monasteries?

  • According to G. M. Trevelyan, about 5000 monks, 1600 friars and 2000 nuns were sent back into the world they came from.

  • They received 25 Euro to 1000 Euro per annum according to their categories.

  • All monks and nuns younger than 24 were absolved of their vows and were made free to marry and get a job to live.

Where did the properties go?

  • All movable properties such as plates and jewels were made royal treasury.

  • The Lands were divided as three: i) To the royal coffers ii) Used in endowing new bishoprics and iii) The rest sold or rewarded to gentlemen for services.

  • The part of the King’s land was later used for founding Trinity College, Cambridge, fortifying the harbours, and building up the Royal Navy.

Who was affected by this Act?

THE POOR PEOPLE!

  • The abolition affected many pilgrimage towns and districts from growth.

  • Though the church was corrupted, the Poor at least had a place to ask mercy for food and shelter.

  • During this act, many valuable libraries were destroyed and many irreplaceable manuscripts demolished along with them. This affected the art and literature field.


Sources: Social History of England by Louise Creighton An Introduction to the Social History of England by A.G.Xavier A Short History of Social Life in England by M B Synge

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