Monarchy – Dissolution of the monasteries (1536)

The following activity focuses on the Act for the Dissolution of the lesser Monasteries (1536). It therefore provides lesser-known material to tackle the question of the development of the Church of England in the 16th Century. Students are asked to read a primary source and to answer questions pertaining to it, and then to write an introduction to a commentary on the text. Indicative keys are provided to the questions, as well as a rough outline for an introduction. 

Act for the Dissolution of the lesser Monasteries (1536)

Forasmuch as manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living is daily used and committed among the little and small abbeys, priories and other religious houses of monks, canons, and nuns, […] whereby the governors of such religious houses and their convent, spoil, destroy, consume and utterly waste as well their churches, monasteries, priories, principal houses, farms, granges, lands, tenements, and hereditaments1 […] to the high displeasure of Almighty God, slander of good religion, and to the great infamy of the King’s Highness and the realm […] so that without such small houses be utterly suppressed, and the religious persons therein committed to great and honourable monasteries of religion in this realm, where they may be compelled to live religiously for the reformation of their lives, there cannot else be no reformation in this behalf.

In consideration whereof, the King’s most royal majesty – being supreme head in earth under God of the Church of England, daily finding and devising the increase, advancement, and exaltation of true doctrine and virtue in the said Church, to the only glory and honour of God […] has thought good that a plain declaration should be made of the premises, as well to the Lords spiritual and temporal, as to other his loving subjects, the Commons, in this present Parliament assembled; whereupon the said Lords and Commons, by a great deliberation, finally be resolved, that it is and shall be much more to the pleasure of Almighty God, and for the honour of this his realm, that the possessions of such religious houses […] should be used and converted to better uses, and the unthrifty2 religious persons so spending the same, to be compelled to reform their lives;  And thereupon most humbly desire the King’s highness that it may be enacted by authority of this present Parliament, that his majesty shall have and enjoy to him and to his heirs for ever, all and singular such monasteries, priories, and other religious houses of monks, canons, and nuns, […] manors, lands, tenements, rents, services, reversions, tithes, pensions, portions, churches, chapels […] and all other interests and hereditaments to the same monasteries, abbeys, and priories. […]

Hereditament: an item of property which can be inherited.

2 Unthrifty: who is not careful about their savings.

Two pieces of advice

  1. Look up the words that you don’t understand
  2. Use a colour code to underline all the words that express the same idea. 


1. What is the nature of the document ? 

2. Give the elements of context which are necessary to understand the document. 

3. Explain the following references:

  • the King

  • the Church of England

  • the Commons

  • Parliament

4. Explain in your own words what is the effect of this document for the people mentioned in it. 

5. Write an introduction for a commentary on this text. 


1) Nature of the document: Act of parliament, law

2) Context: Act of Supremacy en 1534, reign of Henry VIII, Anglicanism / Church of England

3) References :

  • King: HVIII, Head of Church
  • Church of England: break with Rome, Act of Supremacy, Anglicanism, difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, Reformation
  • Commons: people and representation in Parliament
  • Parliament: 2 houses, London, Westminster, representatives of the people, legislative power

4) Effect of the document: the king receives properties and resources, members of the Catholic church lose properties, have their smaller monasteries suppressed and have to reform their life and religion

5) Introduction: opening gambit, context, presentation of the document (primary source), summary, thesis statement / main question / angle of analysis, outline of commentary.

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