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Title: The afterlives of the dissolution of the monasteries, 1536-c.1700
Author: Lyon, Harriet Katharine
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 4260
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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The dissolution of the monasteries (1536-40) was one of the most critical transformations wrought by the English Reformation. It was also perhaps the most visible manifestation of the idea that Henry VIII’s break with Rome was also a break with the medieval past. Yet despite this, historians have paid little attention to how the dissolution was remembered by those who experienced it or to the evolution of this memory in later generations. This thesis probes the nature of the diverse afterlives of the dissolution between 1536 and c. 1700. On one hand, it seeks to account for the persistence of the narratives of monastic corruption and the expediency of suppression propagated by the Henrician regime in the 1530s, which have continued insidiously to shape its modern historiography. On the other, it examines the development of alternative traditions which challenged and interacted with this orthodoxy, highlighting the multivocal and polyvalent character of a memory culture that was dynamic rather than static. The first chapter examines the attempts of the Henrician government to shape the memory of the dissolution in the 1530s and 1540s, and undertakes a re-assessment of the sources that have conventionally been used by historians of the dissolution. It highlights a triumphant Henrician narrative of monastic corruption and iniquity that the remainder of the thesis sets out to test, complicate, and unravel. The second chapter explores the relationship between the dissolution and early modern senses of time, chronology, and history. It asks both how perceptions of the dissolution shifted over time and how the protracted and complicated four-year long process of suppression came to be remembered as the historical event that we know as ‘the Dissolution of the Monasteries’. The third chapter turns away from the temporal dimensions of the memory of the dissolution to explore its material, visual, and spatial aspects. It argues that historians have been preoccupied with an emergent ‘nostalgia’ for the monasteries at the expense of a gentry antiquarian culture that instead promoted a powerful culture of amnesia. It focuses particularly on the neglected subject of converted religious houses, which quite literally embodied efforts to forget the dissolution and the monastic past. The final chapter focuses on local traditions of memory. It deploys evidence of oral culture mediated through antiquarian writing to question previous work on a purely secular, socio-economic memory of the dissolution. It argues that the concept of sacrilege and the emergence of a folklore of the dissolution are key to recovering the religious dimension of local memory cultures. If the thesis begins with an account of Henrician attempts to shape the legacies of the dissolution, it concludes by demonstrating how, by 1700, these memory-making processes were starting to be exposed. This thesis thereby demonstrates the value of exploring the dissolution in terms of its long afterlives. It also argues that the dissolution is a powerful case study of historical memory, raising larger questions about the relationship between contemporary memorialising practices and the models of periodisation inherited by modern scholarship, as well as making a significant contribution to the emergent interest in the memory of the English Reformation.
Supervisor: Walsham, Alexandra Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Dissolution of the Monasteries ; English Reformation ; Memory ; Early Modern History ; Historical Amnesia ; Protestant Reformation