Powys Digital History Project

The Reformation in Wales 3
The dissolution of the monasteries

Exploitation of church assets
Once Henry VIII had established the crown as head of the church in his realm then he had the legal power to exploit the possibilities of stripping the church of much of its wealth. Thomas Cromwell, the King’s agent in matters spiritual, sent out deputies to visit cathedrals and monastic houses report on their condition and assess the value of their properties and estates.
The three deputies who visited sites in Wales appear to have been reasonable in their approach and actually commended Carmarthen Priory on the state of buildings and the behaviour of the prior. Many of the monastic settlements were in debt to the local gentry or were being in part managed by lay officers from this class who were therefore keen to protect their own interests and exploit any opportunities created by the ending of monastic life.
Even the most devout landowners did nothing to defend a monastic world in decline. Strata Marcella near Welshpool had actually been sold to Lord Powis by the time of the dissolution. The years 1536 to 1538 saw the closure of all of Wales’ monasteries and friaries, some by Act of Parliament, and some under pressure from crown agents.

Lost vocations
These closures left around 250 monks, nuns and friars in Wales without a home or vocation. They received a modest but regular pension and some of the more senior clergy were able to find livings in nearby parishes. The many lay workers who served the monasteries as servants and labourers may well have continued to work for their new landlords. The monasteries themselves were quickly stripped of all their movable assets and auctions were often held on the site.

Church of St John the EvangelistIn Brecon the monastery church of
St John the Evangelist (left) continued as a parish church, and the friary became a grammar school.
Sir John Price, himself a member of the visitations which assessed monasteries, took advantage of his position and secured the Brecon Priory buildings for himself. Elsewhere the monastic buildings became convenient sources of dressed stone for local building projects or were converted to domestic use. Monastery estates were awarded as gifts from the crown to reward loyalty or were leased or sold to local gentry, many of whom would have been former tenants or lessees of abbey lands. At Cwm-hir in Radnorshire, Sir John Williams built a large estate in this way.

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