The Dissolution of the Monasteries

The Dissolution of the Monasteries

Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries was received in Dorset without any of the open opposition which it met in the North and, for example, at Glastonbury. In some cases it seems that the last abbots had been deliberately appointed as men likely to give no trouble when the time came.

Bindon was the only one of the Dorset abbeys with an income of less than £200 a year, and therefore due to be dissolved with the smaller houses in 1536. However, it paid £300 to be allowed to continue, till it fell with all the greater abbeys in March 1539. The Abbess of Shaftesbury and the Abbot of Ceme also offered bribes to Henry and his chancellor Cromwell to escape dissolution, but without avail.

The table given below shows the number of inmates, and the income, of the Dorset abbeys in 1539, and also the pensions paid to the former when their houses closed. Abbots who handed over without fuss were generously treated — since the money figures must be multiplied by at least thirty to get their modern values – and the ordinary monks had enough to live on. In some cases work was found for them in the Church: the last Abbot of Milton became a suffragan bishop, and the prior of East Holme and one of the Bindon monks were made local parsons.

The College of Wimborne Minster fell as part of the abolition of chantries in 1547, but its school was later refounded by Queen Elizabeth I as Wimborne Grammar School. The Milton School, which was separately endowed, survived, and that at Sherborne was refounded in 1550.

Monastic and chantry property passed into the hands of the king, and much of it by sale or gift soon afterwards to local gentry on whom the king could rely for support. In some cases, as at Sherborne and Milton, the church survived for parish use: but most of the buildings were destroyed or altered out of recognition to make mansions.

Probably the effect on everyday life was not great. The towns which had grown up round abbeys – Cerne, Milton, and Abbotsbury – continued to flourish as market centres without them, and the poor-relief they had given in their later days had generally been neither large nor well—directed. The great days of the English monasteries were in fact over long before they were dissolved. The chief pity is that so much of their splendid buildings and libraries perished and so little of their wealth was used for any purpose of public benefit.