THE DISOLUTION OF THE MONASTERIES WAS DONE FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS
The term “Dissolution of the Monasteries” is used to describe the series of administrative and legal processes that were initiated by King Henry III from 1536 to 1541. These processes were aimed at disbanding al the friaries, monasteries, priories and convents in England, Wales and Ireland. Not only were these institutions dissolved by the government, their assets were seized and sold of by the crown and the members were forced to look for other functions to serve in the society. There has been a lot of debate to date on the subject, with some people arguing that the entire process was undertaken for religious reasons while others maintain that financial reasons were the main drivers of the process. This paper will examine the dissolution process with the aim of proving that it was indeed undertaken for religious reasons.
The dissolution process did not begin immediately the authorities began disbanding the monasteries and other similar institutions, but can be traced back to the 1527 when King Henry III, then married to Catherine of Aragon, sought a divorce from his wife through the Catholic Church. Given that the Roman Catholic Church at the time believed in marriage for the life, the Pope refused his request for annulment. Going against the Papal decree, King Henry III marries Anne Boleyn and is excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church which still considers him married to Catherine of Aragon. King Henry III then declares himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England, and initiates laws to validate this decree and enforce his religious authority over the people of England. One of these laws is the Act in Restraint of Appeals which was enacted in April 1533 and effectively prevented all bodies from appealing to any other office above the king, and in particular the Papal office. This law was the first piece of legislation that gave the Crown the authority to disband religious institutions. It was only put in place because the king could not obtain the religious relief he needed from the Pope in terms of a marriage annulment and decided to annex the Church of England from the Roman Catholic head in order to give himself the power to validate his divorce and remarriage. It is therefore safe to say that the dissolution of the monasteries was started out of religious strife between the Crown and office of the Pope.
As already discussed, King Henry III had proclaimed himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England and as such strove to be the religious head of the Church. In order for the rest of the nation to also recognise him as their religious leader the clergy and spiritual leaders had to acknowledge him first and decree that the Pope did not hold that office. The crown used threats, bribes and tricks to cajole a majority of the clergy into agreeing to this decree. There was, however, a great deal of resistance against him, and it was mostly the Observant Franciscan friars, the Carthusian monks and the Bridgettine monks and nuns who actively resisted, maintaining that they owed their allegiance to the Pope and not to the King. The King was unable to force these particular men and women of faith to agree to his demands, as they stood fast in their beliefs even when threatened with death for treason against the Crown. His best therefore option to become the accepted spiritual head of the Church of England lay in disbanding these troublesome institutions and forcing their overzealous members to look for alternative ways of life that would not hinder his purpose. This point thus shows another distinct role which religion played in the dissolution, as without the desire to become the religious head of the Church of England King Henry would never have had to disband the religious institutions that opposed his decree.
The dissolution of the...