Henry VIII

The Protestant Reformation

Although Reformation had been under way in Germany since 1517, in breaking with Rome Henry VIII did not intend to embrace Protestantism.

All Henry sought was to end the power of the pope in his realms and to take those powers himself. Protestants were persecuted, with Thomas Capper of Cardiff dying at the stake in 1542.

Yet Henry did follow some semi-Protestant policies, in particular with regard to monasticism. Between 1536 and 1540 all religious houses were suppressed. There were a total of 47 in Wales, including the various cells and hospices as well as the monasteries, nunneries and friaries.

Monastic life had long been in decline. By 1536 the 13 Cistercian houses of Wales had only 85 monks between them, and some of them were of very dubious reputation.

Yet the monasteries were dissolved, not because of these weaknesses but because the king was covetous of their wealth.

The dissolution involved a change in ownership of hundreds of thousands of hectares of Welsh land. The beneficiaries were the gentry, with the Mansel family, for example, gaining possession of Margam Abbey and its lands, and the Somerset family of Raglan enriching itself with the property of Tintern.

While some of the Benedictine houses survived as parish churches, most of the monasteries fell into ruin a cruel blow to the architectural heritage of the Welsh.

By the time of Henry VIII's death in 1547 further religious changes had come about, particularly the destruction of religious icons such as that at Pen-rhys and the suppression of centres of pilgrimage.


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