As Henry VIII’s quest to become the recognised Head of the Church in England continued, many acts were passed in Parliament to lessen the power and influence Rome and the monasteries had over the country. Many religious houses fell in line with Henry’s demands that saw them swear to the oath of succession and support the King’s claims that the marriage with Katherine of Aragon was null and void. Henry still had opposition from other houses which he needed to scare and threaten to get them to fall in line with his reformation.
In 1534, Thomas Cromwell was commissioned by Henry to complete a thorough investigation into the income, endowments and liabilities of the religious houses in England and Wales, this included the monasteries. Cromwell delegated the task to a team of trusted commissioners to also investigate the quality of life, the validity of religious artefacts and the morality of the inhabitants.
Reports were sent back to Cromwell in 1535 full of claims of immoral and loose living, with monks showing little regard to the monastic vows. It was recommended to the Cromwell and the King that the monasteries needed to be brought in line and suppress those that would not. The authority to suppress the religious houses use to lay with the Pope but with Henry claiming the church, the Crown now had the authority to fulfil this.
Armed with these reports on 6th March 1536 Parliament passed the Act of the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries. The act stated that if any monastery had an income of less than £200 per year it was to be dissolved and everything given to the Crown. The heads of the houses were to be offered pensions and anyone who lived there was given the option of either moving into a larger monastery or they could leave the religious house and move into the open world forgoing their vows of poverty and obedience but they had to maintain their vow of chastity.
Henry chose to save 67 of the lesser monasteries but they had to pay a year’s income to remain open, therefore earning the Crown money regardless. However, commissioners moved quickly to close down the rest of the houses, in fear that valuables could be smuggled out and hidden. Land was rented to locals and items unwanted by the Crown were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Anything else was left for the locals to loot and buildings were destroyed.
This was just the beginning of what was to come for the monasteries and the reformation.