The dissolution of the monasteries: an economic study

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The dissolution of the monasteries in England and Wales is too often viewed simply as a component of the English Reformation and little more. Its place in the Reformation is obvious, but its importance extends far beyond that fact. Unlike the other elements of the Reformation which transformed the traditional nature of the church in England and established a new confession of faith, the dissolution brought about a complete and far reaching alteration in the established social and economic structure of England.

The most prominent feature of the dissolution was the sudden transfer of the vast landed estates of the monks to the laity. In the sixteenth century land was still the paramount source of wealth and influence. Englishmen looked to the land not only for their food and drink, but also for their fuel and industrial materials. The dissolution occurred in a period of expanding trade and commerce, rising prices, and rapidly growing population. In the society of the sixteenth century, where the individual and economic concerns of England became increasingly important, the monasteries as they were structured had no place. In many ways they were a major block to capitalistic development. When the monks were eliminated from the social structure and their landed wealth dispersed among the English people, the way was cleared for economic progress to begin.

The dissolution must be viewed against this wider background of England's economic transformation during the mid-sixteenth century and beyond. It is the purpose of this thesis to examine the economic significance of the monasteries as well as the reasons for their dissolution, and to delineate the economic and social changes which occurred in English industry and agriculture after they disappeared from the scene.