The Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1536-40 essentially resulted in the appropriation by the Crown of all the monastic houses in England, Wales and Ireland, of which there were several hundred, and of all of their assets (monastic houses in Scotland were annexed by the Scottish King, James VI, in 1587). The smaller houses, with incomes of less than £200 per year, as evaluated by the Valor Ecclestiacus, were dissolved under The Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries of 1536; the larger ones, by The Act for the Dissolution of the Greater Monasteries of 1539. After the Dissolution, the assets of the monastic houses were disbursed, under the auspices of Henry’s Vicar-General and Vice-Gerent in Spirituals Thomas Cromwell, and his Court of Augmentations. In London, the change in land ownership and usage is evident in the marked contrast between the map of 1520, from before the event, and the “Copper Plate” one of 1556-8, the “Agas” one of 1561-70, and the Braun and Hogenberg one of 1572 (*), from after the event. Many of the former monastic properties evidently became parish churches, hospitals, orphanages or schools, or combinations thereof, or play-houses, while others passed into private ownership. Of the former monks, nuns and priors, of whom there were several hundred city-wide, and several thousand country-wide, most went to work in the newly created parish churches, although a still substantial number were forced to seek out entirely new ways of life (**). All were at least offered more or less generous pensions, although none of their servants was.
(*) The Braun & Hogenberg map was published in 1572, but still shows “old” St Paul’s with the spire it lost in a lightning strike in 1561.
(**) Lest we forget, between 1535-40, the Prior (John Houghton) and six Carthusian monks from the London Charterhouse, two Priors from other Charterhouses, a Bridgettine monk from Syon Abbey, and a secular priest were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the king as the head of the church, most of them at Tyburn. And in 1537, a further nine monks from the London Charterhouse died, or rather were allowed to die, of starvation, in gaol at Newgate.