Dissolution of the Monastaries 1535-1541

  • Fall of Anne Boleyn
  • Motives behind the dissolution
  • Reactions against the Dissolutions
  • Consequences of the dissolutions
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Fall of Anne Boleyn


  • Many believed she was a witch
  • Henry viewed Anne as an 'evil omen'
  • accused of:
    • engaging in elicit sexual acts whith 5 other men including her own brother
    • afflicting Henry with impotence
    • conspired to kill both Mary Tudor and Henry FitzRoy
  • had a deformed baby --> said to be result of gross sexual conduct
  • sources claim candidates chosen to be accused of adultery alongside Anne were 'Libertines' = a faction henry very much disliked
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Fall of Anne Boleyn (2)


  • Anne = carefully plotted against
  • Jane Seymour deliberately teased the king --> poisoned his mind against Anne; Married just ten days after Ann'es execution
  • Jane kept the king occupied whilst Cromwell provided the evidence against anne


  • Countess of Worcester was pregnant with illegitimate child --> brother infuriated = stated 'Anne is worse'; brother then tells 2 friendsFitzWilliam and Cromwell who then told the King
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Outline of Motives

MONASTARIES = generic term used to describe a place where you would find an order of monks/nuns i.e convents, friary etc.


  • Financial --> said to be the main factor influencing the kings decision
  • Religious --> said to be the least important influencing the king
  • Political
  • Personal

* all factors are interlinked

* In theory if this went well Henry would never need to go to parliament for taxes ever again. The more money he had, the more power he gained

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Financial Motives (1)


  • 1530'S --> crown = poor; spent money on wars with france
  • Monarch was expected to live of his own --> inflation affected revenue
  • Act for first fruits and tenths (1534) brought Henry £4000
      • made up of revenue from bishoprics and forcing clergy to pay one tenth of their income to the crown on an annual basis
  • 1534 idea of taking church land had already been thought of and abandoned
  • Cromwell suggested evaluatiion of the church so Henry could tax them realistically
  • put together the document of 'valor Ecclesiastiais' listing all property owned by the church in England
  • showed annual income approx £136,00
  • could make significant differences in increasing his prestige especially amongst other european monarch i.e Francis I
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Finanial Motives (2)


  • Henry saw no conflict between the break with Rome and remaining a catholic
  • Henry retained antipapalist views in order to increase his power as monarch
  • henry overestimated the threat from abroad
    • no doubt Pope would ask Charles V and Francis I to mount a military campaign against England
    • attack delayed due to continuation of disputes between Habsburgs and Valois
  • Henry had the threat of excommunication and a country could be lay under interdict = no burias, mass, christenings --> ordinaries may disobey king
  • Money aqquired from an attack on religious houses could be used to construct necessary defences from crusades
  • Whilst being militarily weak, Henry was keen to maintain the state of isolated neutrality from what was happening in main land Europe
  • Henry's ambitions were to attack, France, regaining his claim to the territory --> money gained from monastaries could be used for war with fr.
  • Henry was commited to the idea that a monarch proved his worth on the battlefield
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Religious Motives


  • attack on monastaries = attack on good works as a means of salvation
  • catholics believed they were douing good by giving to the church
  • injunctions drawn up by Cromwell in Henry's name (1536) intended  to remove all superstition forbidding monks to worship icons
  • strict instructions given against pilgrimages and praying to saints
  • people should not offer candles/money to images/relics of saints; only God emphasising restoration of healthand grant forgiveness (idoltary)
  • 1538 Becketts shrine destroyed by order of government = pilgrim centre
  • attack on monastaries = attack on nuns/ monks standards
  • Eton: by 16th cent. lay people had no respect for monks because of poor behaviour/ disrespect for vows
    • evidence = provided by those who conducted visitations i.e Layton/ Tregonwell suggested those who lived in religious houses were greedy / lazy/ sexualised
  • Recent historians challenge this : inspections = too short, evidence fabricated, nuns could have had children before they took their vows, retiring to a nunnery to escape marriage
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Political Motives

  • large % of house of lords belonged to the the church
    • made up of nobles, bishops and abbots
  • disolving the monastaries = need to break with rome
  • dissolving monastaries would reduce the religious influence withing the House of lords as more power was handed over to the nobles
  • Henry forced people in monastaries to swear oath whereby they recognised him as supreme head of the church in England rather than the Pope
  • Monastaries had HQ's in foreign countries and had strong ties with the pope
    • taking orders from foreign power = potential riva
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Personal Motives

  • from Henrys point of view, family and securing the Rudor dynasty was the most important
  • needed nobility to accept whoever he left to succeed him
  • Henry closed monastaries henry would have patronage  he could then give to people to gain their support
  • nobles preffered Henry as the head of the church --> did not like the wealth of the monastaries
  • People were keen to get their hands on church property
  • Cromwell  was trying to keep some of this land for the crown but it was impossible to take care of it all
  • Nobility & Gentry saw profit in this
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Roland Blyton

  • Abbot of Rievaulx
  • Cisterian monk --> focussed on primative monasticism
  • intended to uphold rules of St Bernaduct;emphasis on manual work, prayer and praise
  • elected to abbacy for Rievaulx in 1533
  • former abbot = investigated by Royal Commisionerson allegations of misconduct --> resigned
  • benefited from relaxations
  • enjoyed aristrocratic lifestyle
  • retired to land previously owned by abbey
  • recieved handsome pension
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Enforcement of Dissolutions

  • dissolutions led to the appointment of Cromwell as Vicegerant to the King
    • responsible for control of the church
  • introduced programme of visitations of monastaries in 153
    • similar to checking religious houses under church
    • follwed by 'Valor Ecclesiastias which listed all property owned by church
  • Marcch 1536 = act passed by parliament for dissolution of the smaller monastaries
  • 300 religious houses = deemed to have income less than £2000 per year
  • 1536 at not preseted as an attack on monastaries as members of religious houses to be disolved were offered oppurtunity to transfer
  • act gave king right to exept those he deemed fit 
    • 67/300 exempted --> probably through bribe
  • was important to stop monastaries movable wealth out of the country
  • commissioners actedd quickly --> Innates expelled and goods siezed to the tower of london
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Enforcement of Dissolutions (2)

  • led to uprisings i.e lancashire and pilgrimage of grace
    • Cromwell & Henry reluctant to take further actions
  • demand for restoration lead to henry restoring a select few
  • once suh uprisings were defeated they were punished sufficiently
  • abbots of houses involved declared to be traitors
    • acts of attainder brought in
    • could be executed and property confiscated
  • 1540 all monastaries dissolved
  • final assault achieved through combination of persuasion, bribery, bullying and an act of parliament
    • 1539= act of parliament legalised voluntary surrender
    • not all surrendered--> accused of treason
    • 4 years = 800 religious houses closed
    • lay brothers forced to find work
    • nuns thrown back to family
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Role of Cromwell

  • behind wanting to make Henry ' a man of his own'
  • servant of Henry VIII --> power limited as he had to follow kings orders
  • seemed to follow Wolseys footsteps --> limited comparisons
    • Wolsey dissolved 29 small monastaries, set up educational institutions
  • Cromwell closed monastaries for 3 main reasons:
    • raise money for the king
    • gain support from the nobility
    • destroy the supersticious approach to religion and unnaceptable practices
  • skilled administator, organising church and break with rome
  • very much in charge of dissolutions --> planned in advance/ ad hoc
  • Cromwell was testing for an attack then larger dissolutions would take place
  • court of augmentations set up to deal with property matters
  • saw to it justices of peace kept him informed of dissidents
    • 65 executed for opposing change
  • dissolutions = irrevocable --> nothing more than a political move to gain money for attacks on france
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Lincolnshire Rising 1536

  • Act of dissolutions required commisioners to inspect monastaries
  • caused problems as they were challenging institutions which valued for religious/socioeconomic roles
  • Niholas Metton led the uprising encouraged core of 20+  in order to sieze the rep of the Bishop of Lincoln and royal commisioners in the area
  • reported crowd of 3000 advanced from Louth
  • gathered support from Horncastle --> 10000 marched to lincoln
  • 4th oct = attacked leading official & murdered him
  • symbolic = divided clothes amongst crowd
  • rebellion regarded as treasonable --> Royal army dispatched
  • Gentry decided to sue for pardonand encouraged people to dispense
  • great reluctance to follow this advice and serious unrest for 12 days
  • Some of those involved placed banner showing 5 wounds of christ
  • different groups had different motives
    • ordinaries : afraid crown would take the treasures of churches, worried about jos and land rentals
    • gentry : predominantly politial and religious concerns
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Pilgrimage Of Grace 1536

  • Led by Robert Aske = lawyer , capable of compromise
  • grew in pockets with 4 main captains = Charity, Poverty, Faith & Pity
  • peacefully sieged castles i.e Lord Darcy ceded Pontefract castle
  • had majority of north under control = 30,000 rebels
  • did not criticise the king
  • governnment underestimated the scale of uprising
  • Duke of Norfolk sent to negotiate with rebels --> agreement was clear
  • Norfolk played for time = persuaded Henry of the rightness of the demands
  • 6th december = bargain struck at doncaster whilst parliament to discuss demands
  • agreed whilst parliament met abbeys would continue to stand, dissolutions suspended
  • Aske convinced rebels of the sincerity of promises
  • Aske had been invited to court to discuss petition further
  • pilgrims could return home confident concerns will be dealt with
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Motives of Pilgrimage of Grace - Religious

  • people are still deeply upset by the break with rome
  • both rebellions were the result of recent changes to religion
  • wanted rid of protestant reformers i.e Boleyn, Cranmer etc
  • wanted monastaries restored
  • evidence of motives found in use of religious symbolism
  • Aske suggested economic importance of abbeys
  • tried to use things which would work against Henry
  • important part of popular culture i.e praying for the dead
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Motves for Pilgrimage of Grace - Political

  • against the actions of Henrys advisors
    • responsible for the break with rome, dissolutions and legislation
  • 1536 = some historans believed the aragonese faction were behind this i.e against divorce
  • focussed on low politics represeted by yeomen an high politics of nobility/court
  • duty of nobility was to advise king when they felt he had made any bad decisions from bad advice and prevent commoners uprising
  • 1536 = supporters of the king might wish to portray the yeoman as having beliefs of the country --> see themselves as caring and honest government with clear sense of right/wrong
  • nobility/gentry and yeomen would argue that they were acting in the kings interest
  • gentry and nobility stated when the commoners rose spontaneously that it was they who took control of the situation
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Henry's Actions in Ending the Uprising

  • despite promises made, nothing happened
    • Henry had no intention on fulfilling wishes
    • came to realise they had been fooled
  • considerable discussion over how far royal supremacy had been established
  • new leader emerged = Bigod
    • decided to seize scarborough --> only beverly held for a short period of time
    • fled to cumberland = captured
  • small no. of incidents of unrest were reported across yorkshire
  • 16th feb = mustering of the commons in eskdale but gentry turned on them
  • Henry persued systematic policy of punishmentand sent Norfolk north
  • 144 executions took place including Aske, Bigod, Husse, Darcy
  • no. of vicious reprisals i.e burninng wives at stake of gentry on fringe of the rebellion
  • clearest evidence of Henry's fear for his government was the execution of Thomas Miller who was instrumental in securing negotiations with pilgrims in doncaster
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Outcomes of the Pilgrimage

  • Henry made no. of leaders of Pilgrimages such as Baves and Elleker parts of the council in the north
  • promise to restore monastaries ignored and failed
  • Hery excommunicated by pope
  • 6 articles was published = clear henry saw the country as catholic
  • statute of wills passed in 1540 more firmly recognised rights of landowners to dispute property
  • 1540 = Cromwell removed from power
  • 1543 = Mary restored to 2nd in place for succession
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Implications of Dissolutions on Society

  • abbeys of England & Wales amongst greatest land owners and institutions
  • sources of charity and medical care = hospitals lost
  • vagrancy and sturdy beggars became a cause for concern
  • limited sources of relief foor poor
  • partial sollution later established through elizabetgab poor law
  • eve of reformation = monastaries owned 2,000,000 acres of land
  • transfer of power for those who purchased property  --> owned by king
  • passed on to nobility/gentry established families allowed them rights to their land
  • brought end to masses said for souls and making children monks/nuns
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Impacts on Culture

  • loss of monastary libraries i.e worcester priory had 600 books - only 6 survived
    • some books destroyed for precious binding, others sold/burned
  • books were irreplacable
    • many of the anglo saxons manuscripts were lost
  • precious possesions taken away and sold by court of augmentations
  • Henry did invest some wealth into education
    • grammar schools set up in canterbury
    • universities/colleges rebranded
  • Sinods may not have happened as a result of monastaries being dissolved
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Impacts of the Pilgrimage on the Church

  • dissolution of the monastaries represented final break from formal links with the continental religion and catholic church
  • 8000 extra priests = addressed issues of illiterate clergy
  • reorganisation of the church
  • 1540 = 6 new bishoprics created i.e oxford
    • lead to changes in parliament
    • good because some bishoprics had became too big
  • Bishops = handpicked, supported by king = more support in the house of lords
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Motives for Pilgrimage of Grace - Socioeconomic

  • Economic problems = serious as they made life harder
  • enclosure land = reason to take action --> land owner would fence off common land which means they had no access to wood or space to graze their annimals leading to hardship
  • evidence found when enclosure ocured in settle in 1535 it appeared in the articles for rebels demands
  • those who rented land found rent increasing
  • Henry wanted to retrieve land --> feudal system = land owners not happy
  • Henry wanted Gentry to pay inheritance to get land
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