The Dissolution of the Monasteries

Beginning in 1536, King Henry VIII dissolved over 800 monasteries, friaries, abbeys, and nunneries. This political move continued his rejection of the Roman Catholic Church in favor of greater autonomy by creating the Anglican Church. The dissolution of the monasteries aimed to further diminish papal influence in England and silence any domestic opposition to the English Reformation, while also collecting wealth from the institutions themselves to line his own pockets. Numerous monastery libraries were destroyed, and many impressive buildings left to ruin. Beyond the political and religious implications, the king’s actions had important social consequences. Prior to their dissolution, monasteries and the other religious institutions were a major provider of welfare to England’s poor, and monasteries alone provided nearly £6,500 a year in charity before 1537. After these religious institutions were disbanded, England lost a significant part of its poverty relief infrastructure, leaving a vacuum in society. This vacuum allowed greater government involvement in social welfare, as well as the development of new forms of poverty relief.


British Library. “Dissolution of the Monasteries.” Learning Timelines: Sources from History. Accessed January 11, 2016.

Fideler, Paul A. (2006). Social Welfare in Pre-Industrial England: The Old Poor Law Tradition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Slack, Paul. (1990). The English Poor Law, 1531-1782. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education.

Slack, Paul. (1988). Poverty and policy in Tudor and Stuart England. London: Longman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *