In around 1535 (following Henry VIII’s break from Rome and marriage to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but before he relieved her of the burden that was her head), Henry was in desperate need of cash.
In a continuation of his attack on Roman Catholicism, Henry launched a campaign against the monasteries which would result in their dissolution. It was not enough, simply to take the belongings of the smaller monasteries. In order to gain the quantity of wealth that he required, Henry had to build a strong and infallible campaign, designed to destroy the reputation of the clergy within and further his break with Rome.
Visitations of these establishments began in the summer of 1535 and lasted over a year in some cases. Determined to besmirch the characters of those within, the commissioners attacked everything with which they could pick fault in their reports. These ranged from complaints regarding the relics and image worship within the monasteries to claims of sordid, ungodly acts going on within the confines of supposedly holy grounds.
One of my favourite quotes from Richard Layton at the Syon Abbey discusses the Bishop…
‘[The Bishop] persuaded one of his lay breathen, a smith, to have made a key for the door, to have in the night-time received in wenches for him and his fellow and especially a wife of Uxbridge… he was desirous to have had her conveyed in to him. The said Bishop also persuaded a nun, to whom he was confessor, to submit her body to his pleasure, and thus he persuaded her in confession, making her believe that whensoever and as oft as they should meddle together, if she were immediately after confessed by him, and took of him absolution, she should be clear forgiven of God…‘
Claims of gambling, drinking, homosexuality and blatant promiscuity filled many of the reports regarding the monks and nuns in question. Whilst some of the reports found the monasteries in perfect order, the work of an overenthusiastic few saw the monasteries liquidated into the pockets of Henry VIII.