A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 2


The Dissolution of the Monasteries 

Henry VIII was now in charge, and a further Act of Parliament granted him one-tenth of the income of the Church. In order to work this out, he set up a taxation evaluation in 1535 known as 'Valor Ecclesiasticus'. This proved fascinating reading for him as it showed that although 80% of the monasteries had an annual income of under 300 a year, about 16% had 300 - 1,000 per annum, twenty-eight houses had over 1,000, while the greater ones, such as Westminster, Glastonbury or Bury St. Edmund had incomes up to about 3,000 a year. And the bottom line of the calculations added up to a total annual income of  165,000.

Well, what would you have done in his place? He moved in a most diplomatic way and set up a Commission to enquire into the spiritual health of monastic life ... for which the findings were severe, with financial incompetence high on the list, followed by  'sins of the flesh' lower down! Out of it came legislation between 1536-38 which closed down all the religious houses in this country and confiscated with land, buildings and contents to the State. As one contemporary writer said 'The Great Abbeys go down as fast as they may' and the properties were granted or sold to the highest bidder in an attempt to raise money for the King.

Other legislation changed the way that worship was to be held in the churches. All images were to be taken down, and the lighting of candles before images forbidden. Every church was to display two Bibles, one in Latin and one in English, and English was the language in which services were to be conducted. All reference to Thomas a Becket, formerly one of the most sacred of English saints was forbidden, church dedications changed and his name scratched out of any inscriptions.

In this area the effects must have been quite considerable, as the religious houses would have been landowners and could have employed local people in certain work, and their disbandment would have left large gaps in the life of the people. Of local houses the report stated their value and community:-

Bungay Nunnery, value 60 - 'no nuns left therein'.

Blythburgh Priory, value 8. 2s.8d (5 horses and an old cart 40s). The ex-prior was given an annual pension of 6 and the three canons (monks) turned out-penniless.

Flixton Nunnery, value 20.9s.5d (9.47p). Prioress, ex-prioress and six sisters. The treasures included 'St Katherine's cote worth iiiip' (the clothing for the image of St. Katherine 4d).

Hoxne Priory, value 18.1s. 0d (18.5p). The monks recalled to Norwich Cathedral Priory.

Leiston Abbey, value 42.16s.3d (42.81p). Abbott and 14 Canons.

Mettingham College, value 202. 7s. 5 d (202.37p). Master, nine Chaplains, fourteen boys being educated with board, lodging, clothes at an annual charge of 28.

Sibton Abbey, value over 200. Prior and six monks, all received a pension.

Wangford Priory, no value quoted, as the priory in ruin, and the total of Prior and 4 monks left for Thetford Priory.

Wingfield College, value 47.10s.4d. Master and four Fellows, 8 paid to three poor boys on the Foundation which provided for their support.

These religious buildings had their roofs removed and the lead from these and from the stained glass windows was melted down. At a stroke of a pen, the architectural heritage of over four hundred years was allowed to decay.


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