Henry VIII,the Reign - the Blog
By Mark Holinshed
Dissolution of the Monasteries
Why it happened, and how it happened - Part 2
In March 1533, Henry promised that he would repair the insult to Kings Henry II and John, who had been tricked into offering the realm in tribute to the Holy See. He was also determined to reunite the crown with the goods churchmen had appropriated from it.
Letters & Papers No 235 1533 Volume 6, dated 15 March 1533
The 1535 Royal Progress
The war against the clergy thus far had been one-sided, and the spirituals had largely buckled under pressure. The overt dominance of Roman Catholicism in England had been all but broken–but now there were problems within the ranks of those who had broken it.
The torrent of anti-clericalism that flooded in after Wolsey’s fall had subsided and then divided into different streams. The wholly French Anne de Boulogne favoured reform of the church from within, upholding the Catholic and Apostolic faith, following the teachings of Jesus Christ, the proclamation of the good news of the Gospel to the whole creation. She would have it based on the revelation contained in Holy Scripture and the Catholic creeds, interpreted in light of tradition, scholarship, reason and experience.
By this creed, influenced by her mentor in France, Marguerite of Angoulême, she would not have destroyed the monasteries, the edifices would have been retained and redeployed as Mathew Parker, her daughter Elizabeth’s Archbishop of Canterbury did at the collegiate church of Stoke by Clare near Sudbury. The reforms he undertook included the appointment of a lecturer on the Bible, with teaching given in both English and Latin; a new grammar school that admitted both fee-paying and non-fee-paying pupils; and eight or ten scholarships, which could lead to a six-year bursary at Cambridge.
The German ideal, however, from which the Cromwell – Seymour regime took its lead was based around the preaching of Martin Luther, who lambasted monkery. Closure of the monasteries was inevitable, simply because under that creed, there was no scriptural basis for monastic life.
In the summer of 1535, following the executions of More and Fisher, Henry’s court left on the royal progress – royal tour – bound for the Vale of Berkley and Bristol. Its purpose was to cajole the king into the rejection of monasticism and destroy his marital relationship with Anne Boleyn and the policy of her faction. Alongside it, in the West of England, a visitation of the monasteries, essentially an audit, began. It was undertaken by commissioners headed by men whose names have become synonymous with the Dissolution, Richard Layton, Thomas Legh, John ap Rice and John Tregonwell. They investigated, using various methods, for example, the quality of religious life maintained in the houses; assessed the use of 'superstitious' religious observances such as the veneration of relics; and looked for evidence of moral laxity.
By the time the royal entourage returned at the end of October, the Cromwell – Seymour faction had won, Seymour had trounced Boleyn in the marriage stakes, and Cromwell would have his way over the monasteries.
A parliament had been called for 3 November but was postponed, ostensibly because of the plague, and instead began on 4 February 1536.
Anne de Boleyn and her followers in the outgoing regime were executed that spring, and to seal his union with the incoming government, Henry VIII was married to Jane Seymour.
Stages of the of the Dissolution
The first winding up order came in the form of the Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries. This applied only to small houses "which have not in lands, tenements, rents, tithes, portions, and other hereditaments, above the clear yearly value of two hundred pounds".
This was the start of it. That which followed was in three stages: stage one, the suppression of houses by the Act of 1536; stage two, ‘voluntary’ surrenders 1536 – 1540; stage three, the small number of houses that fell by the attainder or disgrace of the abbot or other seniors.
Initially, the religious could if they wished to transfer from their suppressed lesser house to one of the larger monasteries or with an expression of regret for their monkery were given a pension and a small reward – in effect they were paid off, with a godly handshake.
With the monks or nuns gone the plate and jewels were sent up to London, furniture and domestic items were auctioned on the spot, often in the cloister or chapter house. It seems there were bargains to be had including at one auction, an alabaster table, a door and the high altar – seven bob the lot.
All done, and just the deserted stone structures remained.
The commissioner’s instructions were to ‘pull down to the ground all the walls of the churches, stepulls, cloysters, fraterys, dorters, chapter howsys’.
The church, of course, owned a vast amount of land, and that together with much of the building material from the destroyed buildings was sold off.
“The nest has been destroyed lest the birds build there again.”
The government formed a new department called ‘the Courte of thAugmentacions of the Revenues of the Kinges Crowne’, to look after all this, and ‘reunite to the crown the goods which churchmen held of it’. The department employed a chancellor, treasurer, attorney, and a myriad of other staff including receivers and visitors.
While the Exchequer administered the Crown’s traditional revenues, it was not fit to manage such an enormous upsurge in business. Neither was it capable of running the vast, newly acquired, landed estates.
The new government department of Augmentations was designed to cope. It was set up on a model of the tried and tested systems of the vast Duchy of Lancaster. At the head of this new body of bureaucrats were Sir Richard Rich as chancellor and the somewhat ironically named Thomas who was treasurer.
Enormous Armed Rebellion Against the New Government
The policy against the monasteries, for the new regime, was all going to plan when suddenly, in October 1536, in Louth, Lincolnshire an enormous armed rebellion erupted. It spread to the counties of York, Durham, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire and Cheshire. It was of sufficient size and force to bring down the entire government and even the king himself.