Dissolution of the Monasteries

  • What was the condition of monasticism in England in 1530?
  • How and why were the monasteries dissolved?
  • What were the effects of the dissolution of the monasteries?
  • How series a threat to the Crown was posed by the pilgrimage of Grace?
  • Created by: alys
  • Created on: 15-01-13 17:33

Monasteries, community and popularity

There were 825 religious houses in England:

  • 502 houses of monks
  • 136 nunneries
  • 187 friaries

Some houses were closed: the occupants spent all their time in the confind of the abbey or nunnery.

Communication with the secular world varied regoinally but the houses were established features of the countryside. Most people did not have regular contact with monks but most knew their institution and activities. They were a visible minoruty (about 10,000 had taken their vows of poverty, obedience and chastity) so a spiritual connection between them and the people probably existed. Little popular hostility existed between them & the degree of loyalty shown in the north as a reaction to the dissolution suggests affection.

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The Different Rules

Benedictine, Carthusians*, Cistercians**.

  • Monasteries usually found in the countryside.
  • Monks and nuns devoted their lives to prayer
  • All took their vows of poverty, obedience and chastitiy, upheld with varying degrees of success. (There was some corruption)
  • Carthusians*: a monastic order practicing strict abstinence and living solitary. Lay brothers lived in the community.
  • Cistercians**: Strict rule of poverty, solitude and simplicity.

Urban: The 'Open' Houses

The open houses were usually urban based. Friars could leave the house to work in the secular world (eg, caring for the sick and needy in hospitals)

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The Condition of Monasticism

The Vast Wealth of the Monasteries
1535: Cromwell carried out a survey of all ecclesiastical property and wealth in England through a visitation- it was an assessment of the Church's wealth
This was the Valor Ecclesiasticus. It found that the church income was £160,000pa and that the monasteries owned 1/3 of all landed property
Monasteries gained their wealth through rents on said property and through spiritual sources such as tithes (1/10th of the produce made payable to the church) & the profits of pilgrimage.
This wealth was 3 times greater than the Crown's income. 

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Was the dissolution pre-planned?

The King's motives for dissolution were that the church was corrupt and in need of change, and he believed that he could get money from the religious houses and the ordinary people through this.

Cromwell and Henry did not plan the total dissolution. They had only planned the dissolution of the smaller monasteries but when Henry realised how much he could gain he dissolved the greater monasteries too. He blew all of the money he gained from this on foreign affairs, with no gain.

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Dissolution of the Smaller Monasteries

WHAT? Parliament passed an act for the dissolution of all religious houses with a net income of less than £200pa. (Spring 1536) 

WHY? They were 'dens of vice'- places of 'manifest sin'. The greater monasteries were places where religioun was 'well kept and observed.'
Reform: inmates in the smaller houses would transfer to the greater for improvement

HOWEVER not all of the smaller houses were dissolved- 67 remained because their spiritual duties were being performed. They did have to pay Henry a large sum for their reprieve.

SIGNIFICANCE: dissolution not meant to be universal

TERMS: displaced monks and nuns went to larger houses. Others were released from their vows (obedience and poverty) so they could become secular clergy or take an ordinary job. They had to keep their vow of chastity. Heads of house were granted an annual pension.

IMPLEMETATION: county comminssioners sent to oversee closures. Moveable goods taken to London before they could be seized by the locals. The land was sold for the enrichment of the crown. 

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Legh and Layton

2 key royal commissioners on visitations of monastic property in 1535

Cromwell have them a list of things to ask abbots and monks, probable aim to record moral failings

They returned with a detailed comperta highlighing sinful excesses of monks and nuns.

Fierce and unscrupulous

Cromwell's two favourite servants with experience on the Valor Ecclesiasticus. They were instructed to suppress of alter all remaining religious houses. Altering would mean the conversion of an existing monastery into a secular one or cathedral.

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Surrender of the Great Houses

The government went for full dissoultion towards the end of 1537
Some houses were involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the heads of houses were declared traitors by Acts of Attainder. They were to be executed and their monasteries handed to the crown. Other abbots therefore surrendered. 

Others survived as 1538 approached and Cromwell sought to suppress them all.
Some were aware of the threat so began to lease out land and sell off their gold in order to secure future financial security. Cromwell wrote to them all and promised that general supression was not planned, all recent submissions were voluntary and an underlying threat of force if sales continued. (he was lying)

Many abbots and abbesses resigned voluntarily and more resistant leaders were dealt with with force.

The Act of Supression in 1539 ratified the legality of voluntary surrenders.

There was some opposition and those who opposed were condemned or executed after forfeiting their land. 

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Declining Resistance

Given what had happened to the Abbot of Glastonbury and other punishments the continued justification of reform convinced many that it was a force for progress.

Waltham Abbey, Essex was England's last surviving house. It surrendered in March 1540. 800 monasteries had been dissolved over 5 years.

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Ecclesiastical & Educational

6 new dioceses set up on the remians of monastic buildings and catherdrals.

New cathedral schools set up.

Grammar schools re-endorsed.

Trinity colllege in Cambridge founded. 5 Regius Proffessorships set up at Oxford and Cambridge. 

Also consider Cultuarl, Local Population and the Impact on the Crown.

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Success of the reforms

Spiritual and education: not enough

Financial gain: most went to the Crown. Little land was sold off at once because Cromwell understood long-term benefits, but lands were sold off to finance wars against France and Scotland.

Argument: Henry squandered the chance to secure the Crown's financial independence for the forseeable future.

But all this suffers from the benefit of hindsight. Henry saw parliament as submissive and he also saw it appropriate to sell off his assets in order to bolster coastal defences and engage the enemy.

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