The Dissoloution at Buckfast



Thomas Cromwell

  The Dissolution of the Monasteries
By the beginning of the 16th century the monasteries in England, although generally very rich, were in decline. At Buckfast in the 12th century, there may have been as many as 60 choir monks, and perhaps twice as many lay-brothers; between 1500 and 1539, only 22 monks were ordained, ten of whom remained at the Dissolution and signed the deed of surrender. Historians have tended to view monasteries of this period as being corrupt, as well as being lax in their religious and charitable duties. However, some modern historians now dispute this.
Whatever state the monasteries were in, King Henry VIII had his eyes on the wealth which they possessed. In 1535, he appointed a new Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, with instructions to visit and reform the houses of the religious orders. Only a year later, the smaller monasteries in England had been closed down, with this essentially financial decision justified on the grounds that they were centres of "manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living" - a conclusion not supported by the Visitor's reports.

For Buckfast, the fateful day arrived on 25th February, 1539. The king's commissioners, led by a select group of some five distinguished lawyers, had been travelling around the country for the past twelve months closing monasteries as they went. Two of them, William Petre and John Tregonwell, turned their attention to the West Country in January 1539. In Exeter, they separated in order to "clean up" the remaining monasteries in Devon and Cornwall. William Petre was at Torre Abbey on the 23rd, and Buckfast on the 25th, before continuing to Buckland (27th) and Plympton Priory (March 1st). They met again in Dorset on March 8th to close Forde Abbey. In four months, these two men had visited and closed forty monasteries. During each brief visit they will have presented and witnessed the signing of the Deed of Surrender, assigned pensions to the monks, and taken possession of the Abbey's seals, charters, and church plate. After this particular campaign, they delivered 1.5 tons of gold, gilt and silver to the Tower of London, which included the treasures of Buckfast Abbey.


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