Dissolution of the Monasteries


Dissolution of the Monasteries


  • Intro

    The destruction of English monasteries under Henry VIII transformed the power structures of English society. Henry had cut off from the Catholic Church in Rome, and declared himself head of the Church of England. His intention in destroying the monastic system was both to reap its wealth and to suppress political opposition.


    Between 1536 and 1540 he took over 800 monasteries, abbeys, nunneries and friaries, some of which had accumulated great wealth and land (through bequests for instance). These had been home to more than 10,000 monks, nuns, friars and canons. Many former monasteries were sold off to landowners. Others were taken over and became churches, such as Durham Cathedral. Many were left to ruin, such as Tintern Abbey. A few monks who resisted were executed, but those who surrendered were paid or pensioned off.


    Some of the funds gained went to finance new institutions, such as Trinity College in Cambridge and Christ Church in Oxford. But whole monastic libraries were destroyed, countless music manuscripts lost and England’s rural landscape changed forever. Shown here is a survey of all ‘lorshippis, manners, landes’ belonging to the former Benedictine monastery of Colchester, produced after the monastery was dissolved in 1539. As well as being a financial document, it also serves as a piece of visual propaganda that promoted the royal agenda. Shown in the background is the execution of the Abbot of Colchester, one of three Benedictine abbots executed in that year.


    Shelfmark: Egerton MS 2164

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