Monday, February 8, 2010

Henry VIII and his Destruction of English Monasteries in the 1530's

The Park Cattle of the British Isles have long been associated with the herds of various ancient abbeys. What's never been mentioned is the historical impact on the movement of the breed following the wholesale destruction of abbeys, monasteries, and priories during the time of Henry VIII, including Whalley Abbey. King Henry took possession of the inventory of the multitudes of abbeys and as a consequence their cattle would have been confiscated and no doubt disposed of in a variety of ways, including placing cattle herds in the hands of nobility, and including no doubt wholesale slaughter of cattle herds and salting of the beef for the King and his nobility. Even the personal dwellings, household goods, and clothing of friars were confiscated and sold to raise money for King Henry's coffers. Wholesale destruction of religious houses and the dwellings of monks and friars was seen across the whole of England. Dozens, if not hundreds, of religious figures were hanged, and often boiled and quartered and hung.

In an example of dastardly political strategy very much still practiced in modern day, King Henry VIII began this wholesale destruction and robbery under the guise of official 'Visitations' to the Monasteries in 1535. At the same time he had rabble rousers under the guise of 'preachers' appealing to the masses with lies and promises in an effort to secure popular support for the destruction of the monasteries and the establishment of his new Church order with himself as the head.

" . . and preachers were commissioned to go over the country to educate public opinion against the monks. These were of three sorts apparently: 1) railers who orated against them as hypocrites, sorcerers, and idle drones, etc. . . 2)preachers who said the monks made the land unprofitable, and 3)those who told the people that if the abbeys went down the King would never want any taxes again. This last was a favourite argument of Cranmer at Paul's Cross.

The very fabric of medieval England was forever changed. The society of England up until this time was very much supported by the stability and charity and grace of the thousands of religious houses throughout England. These monasteries were the critical support for the poor and the lower classes (commoners) of England. Pasturage owned by the monasteries was available to the commoners, so generally each family had a milk cow, some sheep, and a horse. Once the lands of the monasteries fell to Henry VIII and were sold to nobility, those lands were generally withdrawn from use by the commoners.

To read more about this critical and bloody period in England's history, see "Henry VIII and the English Monasteries" by Cardinal Francis Aidan Gasquet, 1906

In April 1537 the popular discontent manifested itself in a serious way in Norfolk. Men met in the streets of Walsingham . . .One man said "See how these abbeys go down and our living goeth away with them. For within a while Burnham shall be put down and also Walsingham and all other abbeys in this country. And further he said that the gentlemen there had all the farms and all the cattle in the country in their hands so that poor men could have no living by them."