Why the Dissolution of the Monasteries Happened

In England and Ireland the 1530s, Henry VIII and his advisors conducted the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Several reasons account for the suppression of the religious houses within the King of England’s domain. The monasteries were closed down and dissolved because of the rise of Protestantism among the King and the ruling classes of England. Also, when the King’s church commissioners investigated the religious houses, they made reports of corruption, licentiousness, and immorality. Then, most of all, King Henry was influenced to seize the monastic lands and their assets because of the wealth he could gain from their suppression.

Henry VIII had separated the Anglican and Irish churches from the See of Rome because of the inability of the Pope to give him an annulment of his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Once he, effected separation from the Pope’s rule, with the help of his First minister; Thomas Cromwell; and his Archbishop of Canterbury; Thomas Cranmer, he forced all the clergy, nobility, and gentry to swear an oath recognizing him as “Supreme Head of the Church”. Seizing on a chance to curry the king’s favor, nearly all took the oath. Those that refused the oath, recognizing the king’s supremacy, were imprisoned and executed. This left very few supporters or friends of the monasteries among the ruling classes. No one would argue against the suppression and destruction of the religious houses.

Convinced by his advisors that the monasteries where a cloak behind which the Roman Church maintained a defiance of the royal supremacy, Henry VIII ordered an investigation of all religious houses in his kingdom. The commissioners who went to investigate the monasteries were Cromwell’s men, zealous Protestants who had a predisposition against the religious houses. Though not all the monasteries received bad reports, the commissioners found that many monks had wives and families, practiced homosexuality, and amassed wealth and possessions. Also, it was discovered that many inmates of the monasteries still voiced their loyalty to the See of Rome. King Henry was convinced by the commissioner’s reports that these religious houses were places that indulged vice, corrupt practices, and disloyalty. Thus, he could not allow them to stand.

In the commissioner’s reports, it was stated that the monasteries owned nearly one-third of the land in England and Ireland and paid no taxes to the king’s treasury. For Henry VIII, who was perpetually in need of money, this was tantamount to a criminal act that ought not to be allowed to continue. With the suppression of the monasteries and other religious houses in his realm, he became richer by 150,000 pounds per year, a large sum in those days. However as time went on the king, who needed large sums of money immediately, sold off the lands he had received to the nobility and gentry of the country. This action secured a base of supporters of Protestantism because they stood to loose their lands if Catholicism were ever to be reestablished.

The rise of Protestantism among the ruling classes of England coupled with the reports of bad practices and the prospect of gaining lands sealed the monasteries of England and Ireland to destruction. With there end the King believed he eliminated a threat to his rule and religious supremacy. He also established a constituency in his country that would support the established Protestant church that survived for many years after him.

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