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Definition: Dissolution of the Monasteries 1536-41 from Environmental History and Global Change: A Dictionary of Environmental History

Henry VIII’s seizure of the lands and property of 825 religious communities in England, Wales and Ireland involved c.8,100 km2 of land, about 16% of the area of England, in towns as well as the countryside. The social impact of a transformation of landownership on such a scale was profound, particularly the rise of the gentry class. In purely practical terms the abandoned religious houses provided quarries of stone from which many Tudor manor houses and mansions were built.


Summary Article: Dissolution of the Monasteries
from Brewer's Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable

The name given to the process of closing down the monasteries in Ireland, England and Wales during Henry VIII's Reformation. In 1534 the English Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, declaring Henry VIII to be Supreme Head of the church in England. Between 1536 and 1538 the same Parliament passed laws suppressing or dissolving first the small and then the larger religious foundations. When the Irish Parliament met (May 1536-December 1537) under the lord deputy, Sir Leonard GREY, it too eventually passed a law (1537) ordering the dissolution of all Irish religious houses, and for this it became known as the REFORMATION PARLIAMENT.

The main beneficiaries of the dissolution of 42 monasteries and 51 friaries in the Pale and Ormond (the actual extent of the dissolution) were the OLD ENGLISH lords of these areas, who acquired some of the lands that were redistributed. Even greater beneficiaries were Sir Leonard Grey himself and other English officials, while the English Treasury gained less than £2000 in all.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries was not as great a social disaster as might initially appear, since municipal charities and philanthropists among the wealthy of the Pale and Leinster had by then largely taken over the functions of health care, education and relief of the poor. In Gaelic Ireland, where the king's writ did not run, monasteries and friaries were left untouched until later in the century.

Copyright © Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2009

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