Review: The Dissolution of the Monasteries by G.W.O. Woodward

The Dissolution Of The Monasteries - John McIlwain

Read via online checkout here at Open Library. [If you haven't ever tried checking out a book on Open Library, all you need is a copy of Adobe Digital Editions (link to download page at Adobe) to try it. The software is basically like Adobe reader only it allows you to read books checked out via Open Library, that will be readable for about 2 weeks and then go away on the due date. So just like the regular library but no worrying about overdue books. You can save lists of books to read, so it's yet another place where I have multiple To Read shelves.]


A short book, this is only 24 to 30 pages, depending on how you count. And much of that is taken up with photographs and illustrations. Which is not really what I was wanting (I wanted a bit more detail on the dissolution, but this'll have to do for now.) Downside of the book is that the scanning job wasn't particularly good. So there are many jumbled words and illustrations that aren't anywhere near the caption text. Example of the weird spelling (that indicates scanning issues):


p. 19: "Visitors entered tlie monastic preaiicts throitgh tlie gatehouse, a large and often elaborate building."



Helpful background, wikipedia page: Dissolution of the Monasteries


Random architecture to check out on wikipedia if you feel the need to look through some photos: Castle Acre Priory, Mount Grace Priory, Lacock Abbey, Fountains Abbey, Easby Abbey, Tintern Abbey, Furness Abbey, The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Michelham Abbey, Cleeve Abbey, Bury St. Edmunds AbbeySt Augustine's Abbey, Rievaulx Abbey, Tewkesbury Abbey, Norwich Cathedral, Chester Cathedral



Random quotes:


p 15: "...when the Dissolution proper began in 1536 with the Act for Supression of the Lesser Monasteries, it was also at first presened as a measure primarily of reform rather than of expropriation. ...considerable stress is laid upong the worthiness of the 'great and honourable monasteries' where 'religion is right well kept and observed,' but which are nevertheless 'destitute of such full numbers of religious persons as they ought and may keep.' "


p 16: "The act of 1536 was of course an act of expropriation, however heavily disguised as an act of reform."


p 21: "...assorted small priories (mostly nunneries) were specifically exempted from suppression under the terms of a discretionary clause included in the act. In most cases these exemptions were necessary to provide sufficient accommodation for the quite considerable number of monks and nuns who had no wish to abandon the religious life and asked to be transferred to other houses when their own came to be suppressed."


p 24: "How 'voluntary' were these surrenders? To what kind of pressures were the monks and nuns subjected in order to encourage them to fall in with the government's plans? There is room here for considerable difference of opinion for the evidence in most cases is so slight. ...It is also clear that those who resisted the royal will too long or too blatantly might suffer severely for their obstinacy."


p 24: "Their treasures, in the form of altar plate and richly embroidered vestments, had been gathered into the king's jewel house. Their bells had been taken down to be recast as cannon in the Tower foundry. The lead had been stripped from the roofs of the abbey churches for use as shot. To reduce it to a convenient form for transport local pit furnaces had been dug at many abbeys, and the roofing timbers used as fuel. Deprived of their protection from the weather, the great churches soon fell into decay. There was no general policy of destruction, except in Lincolnshire, where the local government agent was so determined that the monasteries should never be restored that he razed as many as he could. Most often the buildings have simply suffered from unroofing and neglect, or from quarrying by the local people, who found them a very convenient source of building stone. Fountains Hall is build of Fountains' stone."


p 26: "What happened to the monks? Many of them found openings in the Church. Others seem to have turned with considerable success to secular avocations. Some died in poverty. For most of them their pension was a mere subsistence allowance when first granted, and rapidly declined in real value as inflation ran its course in the 1540s. The nuns were much less generously treated. Their pensions could not give them independence. They had to depend upon the charity of friends or relations to give them housing in return for a small contribution to their keep. There were no career prospects for women in the 16th century, outside of marriage. Quite a number of the ex-nuns did however marry. Very, very occasionally (there are only a handful of properly attested cases) a group of monks or nuns clung together and tried to retain privately some semblance of their former community life. There was after all no law against living and praying together.


...of course the most noteworthy monastic survivals are the fourteen cathedral churches which once were served by monks."