8 - Dissolution of the Monasteries

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So Henry VII came to the throne bringing a wave of optimism to the people of Wales, that they would once again exist as equals with their fellow islanders...but they were to be disappointed. Apart from introducing the British aristocracy to Welsh harpists at court in London, Henry VII did precious little to help the Welsh who had risked their lives bringing him to power.

If you thought Henry VII was bad…well we all know about Henry VIII’s wives. But to put this in context. In 1536 his reign saw the first major European-wide inflation, caused by the Spanish bringing large amounts of silver back from their conquests in the new world. The inflation affected both high born and low born and Henry urgently needed cash to fund his lavish lifestyle (a man who in today’s money spent the equivalent of £6million a year on booz and £3.5 million on meat) Looking around to see where he could find large amounts of money to replenish his piggybank, he settled on the church; the only source of wealth in the country without an army.

After dissolving the monasteries and creating a new church with him conveniently as its sole leader, he asset stripped the church, selling off most of its land, which at this point was around 1/5 of the country (est 10 million acres). This is the first major redistribution of land since the Norman occupation and much of this land soon ended up in the hands of the merchant and lawyer class, the new money of the day.

Somehow this story has been spun over the years, pinning the reason for the foundation of the Church of England at the feet of his wanting to divorce his first wife. We would suggest that as ever, is it perhaps far more about power and money and Catherine of Aragon, the woman in question, is being made a historical scapegoat.

Welsh monasteries played a vital role in Welsh cultural and spiritual life. They were centers for the arts and patrons of their local bards. Without Strata Florida Abbey in Ceredigion you would not have Dafydd ap Gwilym, one of the greatest medieval poets of his age. Not only did destroying the monasteries contribute to a decline in the bardic tradition, it also literally ripped the cultural and spiritual heart out of the country as sacred places were fenced off and privatised.