Saturday, June 24, 2023

Discovering the Dissolution

I live near Abbey Road in East London. The road is named for Langthorne Abbey, which used to be one of the largest Cistercian abbeys in England. At the beginning of the 16th Century the abbey owned most of the land in East London. It also owned a number of local mills and controlled a number of local industries including brewing, shearing, weaving, tannery and farming. Then came the Dissolution.

Between 1536-1541 Henry VIII closed down monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in England, Wales, and Ireland. He stole their income and disposed of their assets. The land of Langthorne Abbey was granted to Sir Peter Meautas (a follower of Thomas Cromwell) and his wife Lady Jane Meautas, who then became two of the largest land owners in what is now East London. 

This appropriation of Catholic land and assets took place across the whole of England, Wales and Ireland. You can learn more about Henry VIII's break from Rome and all the monasteries and abbeys seized by the crown in the National Archives Education Service's Discover the Dissolution. This introduction to the Dissolution has been published to help schools and history groups learn more about their local history. 

Using the resources in Discover the Dissolution users can find their nearest local monastery or nunnery and learn more about the history of these local religious sites. The resource includes a number of interactive maps which show the locations of all the monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries which were closed by Henry VIII. 

You can use these maps to view the closed monasteries by year of dissolution, by religious order and by the gender of the occupants of the religious houses. Another map allows you to view the annual income of each monastery in 1534, as recorded in Henry's Valor Ecclesiasticus audit of religious houses. 

In 1534 the annual income of Langthorne Abbey was recorded in the Valor Ecclesiasticus as £511. Using the National Archives' Currency Converter you can discover that this was roughly the equivalent of £225,492.55 in modern terms. According to the converter it was enough income to buy 408 cows or 107 horses in 1530. 

The Discover the Dissolution map calculates the combined annual income of all the catholic houses as £139,552. The Currency Converter says this is the modern equivalent of £61,581,087.90. Of course all the assets and land owned by the monasteries means that they were worth a lot more than £61.5 million to the crown. The World History Encyclopedia states that the state coffers were boosted by 1.3 million pounds (over 500 million today) through the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This could have been much more but Henry awarded some of the seized land to his favorites and sold off much of the rest cheaply to the nobility.

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