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)
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
Leiston Abbey, value £42.16s.3d (£42.81p). Abbott and 14 Canons.
Mettingham College, value £202. 7s. 5¾ 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
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.