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18 September 2014
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Towards the Floodgates of Religious Reform

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
The Dissolution

Image of ruins at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire
Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire - ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries  ©
The consequences of Henry’s decision to suppress England’s monastic institutions were far-reaching, and changed the face of society forever. The effects of the Dissolution of the Monasteries can still be seen today, in the ruins of monastic buildings scattered across the landscape. Most monasteries simply ceased to exist. Their structures were torn down, and the stone recycled in new buildings in the local community.

'... valuables such as gems and plate from the shrine were collected and appropriated by the king ...'

Henry VIII’s decision to strip the assets of the monasteries was instigated by a direct need for cash, but it also provided an opportunity to assert the power of the state over the Church. Teams of Commissioners were sent out by royal command.

They were often drawn from the ranks of the local community and were people who had coexisted with the monasteries for generations. In some cases they would have been known, personally, by the abbots and monks they were about to dispossess.

The process of Dissolution was brutally simple. The monastic seal of the abbey in question was broken, to ensure that the abbot could take no further legal action in the name of the house. Valuables such as gems and plate from the shrine were collected and appropriated by the king as the head of the Church.

Finally, the most symbolic act of destruction was carried out - the church that had been used by the monastic community was destroyed to prevent future use. The monks were cast out into secular society, some given pensions and new appointments, others left to wander the countryside or find a new calling abroad.

Published: 2005-02-04

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