Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Steven Sargent




europe, monasteries, monastic, religious, houses


Historians often characterize medieval Europe as a period of chaos, lacking in centralized control or power. This is true when speaking of secular power; feudalism prevented centralized power from developing in Europe until the end of the twelfth century. However, unlike their secular counterparts, religious institutions at this time, particularly monastic houses, were a much more organized and powerful body. Bennett Hill asserts that “from about 550 to 1050, almost all organized religious life in north-western Europe… meant monasticism. Monasticism was a large component of how medieval Europeans understood religion. This does not mean that monastic houses and religious authority was uniform across Europe. Especially after 1050, Europe was littered with houses belonging to varying monastic orders, some only differing on small disagreements over lifestyle, while others believed in starkly different religious ideology. The late eleventh and early twelfth centuries in particular were a hotbed of religious concentration. From this strife sprang the Cistercian Order in 1098, with the formation of Citeaux Abbey, in France. Had it not been for the Pilgrimage of Grace, one can assume that Cromwell and Henry VIII would have been content with the results of the suppression of the lesser monasteries, at least for a time. However, after the revolt, monastic communities were seen as dangerous to the well-being of the regime. Therefore, the greater monasteries came under attack. At first several monasteries voluntarily surrendered, including Ellerton priory and Jervaulx abbey in Yorkshire, but as these surrenders slowed, “a more active policy was adopted by the government.” This plan began with another round of visitations. This time however, the visitors were meant to “induce surrender.” These visitations were to be followed up by a “systematic pillage of the richer shrines.” Through this active pursuit of dissolution, “the great monasteries were brought to surrender one by one throughout 1538 and 1539.” Once the monasteries were on their knees, Henry delivered his final blow in May of 1539 when “an Act was passed vesting all monastic property in the King.” This was the end of Cistercian monasticism in England.