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. Between 1536 and 1540 he took over 800 monasteries, abbeys, nunneries and friaries, some of which were extremely wealthy. His intention was both to obtain the wealth of the monasteries and to get rid of political rebels.


    The monasteries had been home to over 10,000 monks, nuns, friars and canons. Many 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 off. 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 it was confiscated in 1539. As well as being a financial document, it is also a visual piece of Royal propaganda. 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.

Find out more about the Dissolution of the Monasteries Here

Explore more timeline content: