Dissolution of the Monasteries

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The Dissolution of the Monasteries was part of Henry VIII's attack on the old ecclesiastical establishment in England and Wales in the years following the founding of the Church of England.

It took place between 1536 and 1540. All communities of monks and nuns were suppressed and those that refused to take the “oath of supremacy” were executed. In most cases the buildings were torn down and the monastic lands became the property of the nobility or newly rich gentry. Those buildings allowed to remain became Anglican places of worship.

The reason behind it was as much Henry's need for cash as for anything else. The great monastic houses were the depositories of the religious wealth supplied by devout benefactors over the centuries. Also, a close valuation of ecclesiastic incomes, completed in 1535, had revealed the success of these estates as going concerns.

Those buildings that supported the income of the estate were left standing, so we have farm buildings that once were part of the monastic economy still standing. The tithe barn just outside Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, once a part of the great estates of Shaftsbury Abbey, is one of the finest examples of medieval construction joinery still standing in England.


  • The Oxford Companion to British History 1997 pages 297-298