How to look for records of... Dissolution of the monasteries 1536-1540
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1. Why use this guide?
This is a guide to finding records at The National Archives on the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1540. It also covers the build-up to the dissolution and its consequences.
The Act of Supremacy in 1534 declared Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England, thus separating England from papal authority. This and subsequent acts gave the Crown the authority to disband monasteries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriate their income and dispossess them of their assets.
The term ‘dissolution of the monasteries’ encompasses all the religious establishments that were appropriated by the Crown in this period. This guide, therefore, covers records relating to the dissolution of all kinds of religious houses, including abbeys, priories, convents and friaries, all of which can also be considered component parts of monasteries.
2. How to start your research
The best place to start is with the published volumes of Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. These are available via British History Online and State Papers Online (institutional subscription required), as well as in their published form. Use the indexes at the back of the published volumes to locate person, place name and subject index terms which you can use to search for documents in our catalogue. See our research guide on the letters and papers for more information.
Alternatively, you can use Discovery, our catalogue, to search many of the records series listed in this guide, using search terms such as:
- “monastery” or “monasteries”
It will often help to combine these words with a place name, using the following format:
- Whitby AND abbey
3. The dissolution and the build up to it 1524-1540: key records
You can trace the build up to the dissolution of the monasteries and the dissolution itself through the records described below. Not all of the records have been described in our catalogue in detail, making a search within them tricky, and most are not viewable online. To view records which are not online you will need to visit The National Archives at Kew or pay for research.
Try searching the following records using keywords in our catalogue or, if this proves fruitless, browse each series by clicking on the links:
Cardinal Wolsey’s dissolution of about 30 religious houses:
The Valor Ecclesiasticus, the greatest survey of ecclesiastical property since 1291. The survey valued taxes paid to the Crown from ecclesiastical property and income that had previously been paid to the Pope:
The Oath of Supremacy, with which all religious houses were ordered to acknowledge royal supremacy over the Church and the consequences of taking or not taking the oath:
- E 25: acknowledgements of royal supremacy
- KB 8: trial records of clerics who refused to take the oath
- SP 1 and SP 5: correspondence about the Oath of Supremacy and the visitation of monasteries (searchable on State Papers Online and British History Online)
The Compendium Compertorum, which recorded whether or not the monasteries were complying with the Oath of Supremacy, detailing any alleged offences against the Crown:
The dissolution of the monasteries:
- E 315/2: copies of the acts relating to the dissolution
- E 322: surrenders of monasteries and other religious institutions
- KB 8: treason trial records of clerics who refused to surrender their houses
4. Consequences of the dissolution: key records
The Court of Augmentations was established for the purpose of managing the confiscated estates of religious houses. Consult records of the Court of Augmentations within the Exchequer records department.
Many of the following series cover more than the subject matter listed and with some series you may have to browse through them, by clicking on the links, to find relevant records. Alternatively, use the advanced search in our catalogue to try searching any series using your own search terms or those recommended in Section 2, above.
4.1 Audits and inventories of ex-monastic estates
- LR 1 and LR 2: audits of land revenue for land confiscated from the monasteries
- DL 41: monastic lands confiscated in Lancashire
- E 301, E 315, LR 2, DL 38 and SC 11: surveys of religious land and institutions taken over by the crown
- E 315/67-68 and DL 14: details of the sale of land and property
- E 117: inventories of religious houses
4.2 Managing the ex-monastic estates and their personnel
- LR 6, DL 29 and SC 6: local accounts of ex-monastic estates
- SC 2 and DL 30: court rolls which include accounts for ex-monastic estates
- SC 11, SC 12, LR 2, LR 10 and E 315: surveys and rentals of monastic lands
- C 66: sales and leases of ex-monastic land if above a certain annual value (calendared in Letters and Papers of Henry VIII)
- LR 1: sales and leases of ex-monastic land if below a certain annual value
- E 318: particulars for grants (There is a published alphabetical index of grantees’ names in the Deputy Keeper of Public Records’ 9th and 10th Reports. There is also a manuscript index of place names)
- E 315/244–247 and LR 5: warrants for pension grants to former monks and nuns
- SP 5, LR 1, E 314 and E 101: some lists of monks, nuns and other dissolution pensioners
4.3 Legal records
- E 315/108–133: court records of monastic lands confiscated as a result of the treason of their abbots
- E 321, E 314, E 315/19–23, E 315/108–133, E 315/165, E 315/516 and E 315/522: court records of the settlement of disputes over the former monastic lands
- E 134: later disputes about ex-monastic land
- E 324: records ratifying the new owners of ex-monastic property legal right to this property
5. Monastic property in Ireland
In 1540, royal commissioners surveyed monastic property in Ireland. Consult Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII for summaries. Also use the Calendar of State Papers, Ireland, available online through State Papers Online (institutional subscription required). Both are available at The National Archives’ library at Kew.
Most Irish records relating to the dissolution were destroyed in 1922, but there are some printed records in the Calendar of the Patent and Close Rolls of Chancery in Ireland, Vol I (Dublin, 1861), also available in our library.
6. Records in other archives
Consult the English Monastic Archives database on the University College London website, for information on the types and current locations of documents generated by medieval English monasteries.
7. Further reading
The following publications are all available in The National Archives’ Library at Kew.
D Knowles, The Religious Orders in England vol III (Cambridge University Press, 1959)
J Youings, The Dissolution of the Monasteries (Allen and Unwin, 1971)
C Haigh, The Last Days of the Lancashire Monasteries and the Pilgrimage of Grace (Manchester University Press, 1969)
W C Richardson, History of the Court of Augmentations, 1536–1554 (Louisiana State University Press, 1961)
B Bradshaw, The Dissolution of the Religious Orders in Ireland under Henry VIII (Cambridge University Press, 1974)
A H Lawes,’The Dissolution of the Monasteries and Chantries’, The Genealogists’ Magazine vol 27 No 11 (September 2003)