What was the impact of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII on English Society?

427px-henry_viii_twoDuring the English Reformation, Henry VIII suppressed or dissolved Catholic monasteries by Henry VIII throughout England. The dissolution of the monasteries was a process whereby religious foundations were dissolved and their property confiscated. This is one of the most important acts of the Tudor period and because of the dissolution of the Catholic religious houses changed English society. The suppression of the monasteries transformed many aspects of English life and its culture. It also allowed for a massive transfer of land from religious orders to the English nobility. This had important political consequences and strengthened Protestantism in England.

The context of the suppression of the monasteries was the English Reformation. Henry VIII after the Pope denied him a divorce, made himself Supreme Head of the Church in England. In the Act of Supremacy, ‘the king’s Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England.’ [1] The act made Henry the unchallenged head of the Church of England. At first, Henry VIII was not willing to undertake drastic changes to the Church, and the English Reformation was very conservative. Slowly, but surely the Protestants grouping became very influential and they managed to persuade Henry VIII to undertake several changes to the Church partially because Henry VIII was always short of money because he spent lavishly.[2]

His chief minister Thomas Cromwell and his second wife Anne Boleyn persuaded Henry VIII that as head of the Church of England that he had to reform the church and especially the monastic orders in England. The Reformers had a distaste for monasticism and saw monasteries and convents as corrupt and irreligious and a ‘slander of God.’ [3] The literature for many centuries argued that the monastic system in England was corrupt and in decline. Recent research shows that this was not the case and while some monasteries were corrupt most of them were not. The monks were usually deeply religious and played an important role in the local economy and society. Additionally, the monasteries were often popular with the local community.

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Categories: British History, History of Religion

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