The Dissolution of the Monasteries was about Money – Not Religion
Despite following hot on the heels of Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome and declare himself Head of the Church of England, the dissolution of the monasteries was not about religion but money. There was, in fact, little or no opposition to the Dissolution with those affected. Most ex-nuns and monks took their pensions and melted away into Tudor society quietly- whatever their personal views. Those who lost their lives were executed for denying Henry’s new ecclesiastical authority- not because the King was bringing down the holy houses of England and Wales.
The richness of England’s Church was noteworthy. At the beginning of Henrys’ reign, one foreign diplomat observed that: “There is not a parish church in the kingdom so mean that it has not crucifixes, candlesticks, censers, patens, and cups of silver.” This ecclesiastical wealth must have become a provoking temptation to a King quickly running through his treasury. As early as 1525, Cardinal Wolsey began to look for ways to make money from the monasteries. He started by suppressing all of those with less than seven inmates. However, it was under Wolsey’s protÃ©gÃ©, Thomas Cromwell that asset stripping the church would become a full-blown policy.
In 1530, Thomas Cromwell took over as chancellor. Having promised to make Henry “the richest king that ever was in England, in 1535, the new chancellor ordered the Valor Ecclesiasticus, an extensive evaluation of the Church in England’s assets. The reports of his commissioners, showed- as was expected- that the monasteries had become lax and wasteful. But the Valor also showed that church lands alone were worth Â£120,000 a year- around Â£36 million pounds today. Henry was now the supreme head of the church in England. Those properties were his- and he had every right to claim them back if the church mismanaged them.
Parliment passed an act which initially suppressed all monasteries with a revenue of under Â£200 a year. In 1536, it went further, and now all monastic houses were required to submit, and their inhabitants quit. These lands and assets immediately doubled the royal coffers. Henry also made a further profit by selling land onto interested nobles and gentlemen. In four years all of the 500 religious houses in England had been abolished and their assets seized by the crown.