From any point of view the destruction of the English monasteries by Henry VIII must be regarded as one of the great events of the sixteenth century. They were looked upon in England, at the time of Henry's breach with Rome, as one of the great bulwarks of the papal system. The monks had been called "the great standing army of Rome." One of the first practical results of the assumption of the highest spiritual powers by the king was the supervision by royal decree of the ordinary episcopal visitations, and the appointment of a layman -- Thomas Cromwell -- as the king's vicar-general in spirituals, with special authority to visit the monastic houses, and to bring them into line with the new order of things. This was in 1534; and, some time prior to the December of that year, arrangements were already being made for a systematic visitation. A document, dated 21 January, 1535, allows Cromwell to conduct the visit through "commissaries" -- rather than personally -- as the minister is said to be at that time too busy with "the affairs of the whole kingdom." It is now practically admitted that, even prior to the issue of these commissions of visitation, the project of suppressing some, if indeed not all, of the monastic establishments in the country, had not only been broached, but had become part of Henry's practical politics. It is well to remember this, as it throws an interesting and somewhat unexpected light upon the first dissolutions: the monasteries were doomed prior to these visitations, and not in consequence of them, as we have been asked to believe according to the traditional story. Parliament was to meey early in the following year, 1536, and, with the twofold object of replenishing an exhausted exchequer ...
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... produced five times the amount. As far as can be gathered from the accounts still extant, the total receipts of the king from the monastic confiscations from April, 1536, to Michaelmas, 1547, was about thirteen million and a half of 1910 money, to which must be added about a million sterling, the melting value of the monastic plate. Of this sum, leaving out of calculation the plate and jewels, not quite three millions were spent by the king personally; 600,000 pounds was spent upon the royal palaces, and nearly half a million on the household of the Prince of Wales. More than five millions sterling are accounted for under the head of war expenses, and nearly 700,000 pounds were spent on coast defence. Pensions to religious persons account for 330,000 pounds; and one curious item of 6000 pounds is entered as spent "to secure the surrender of the Abbey of Abingdon."
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