The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries


Exploring the enormous upheaval caused by the English Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, this vivid new history draws on long-forgotten material from the recesses of one of the world's greatest cathedrals—the great Benedictine Durham Priory, now the Anglican Durham Cathedral.

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Exploring the enormous upheaval caused by the English Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, this vivid new history draws on long-forgotten material from the recesses of one of the world's greatest cathedrals—the great Benedictine Durham Priory, now the Anglican Durham Cathedral.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"First-rate."  —Library Journal

"As it mourns what was lost in the English Reformation, Moorhouse's absorbing account takes stock."  —Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

In this rich study, British historian Moorhouse (Great Harry's Navy) portrays the destruction of England's 650 Catholic monasteries and nunneries in the 1530s as a brazen smash-and-grab by a cash-strapped King Henry and his crafty vicar-general, Thomas Cromwell. After a beady-eyed inventory of assets by Cromwell's lawyer-accountants, Moorhouse notes, religious houses were seized or semivoluntarily "surrendered" to the Crown by terrified abbots, their occupants dispersed, their estates auctioned off, their shrines vandalized and buildings demolished, their jewelry and chalices sent to the royal treasury. Moorhouse finds continuity amid the upheaval by focusing on Durham Priory, a Benedictine monastery with a celebrated cathedral, that survived to become an Anglican Deanery. Drawing on monastic archives, the author vividly recreates the Priory's close-knit community and the warmth and grandeur of its Catholic observances -whose spirit, he contends, infused the Anglican era. His story is partly about the triumph of modernity, with its mercenary logic and remorseless bureaucracy, over medieval values of tradition and sacredness. But as it mourns what was lost in the English Reformation, Moorhouse's absorbing account takes stock of what was not. Photos. (May)

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Boston Globe
[An] elegant narrative.
Library Journal

In the 1530s, England and Wales boasted 650-plus religious houses, few of which were more prosperous or better run than the Benedictine chapter of the house and cathedral of Durham. But on New Year's Eve 1539, the monks celebrated their last mass in Durham Cathedral because their order was dissolved by royal decree as part of Henry VIII's attack on the Church. Across England, monks and nuns left their houses, chapters were stripped of their wealth, and their land sold: "the biggest transfer of wealth...the country had ever known" took place, enriching the monarch and many others. This admirable study looks at the transformation of England's religious life during those upheavals of the 1530s, with Durham as its focus. Award-winning author Moorhouse (Sun Dancing) depicts the life and routines of monastic life before Henry and then painstakingly details the changes that followed as the king's assault grew in momentum. He respects his subject and pays scrupulous attention to detail. American readers may wish for a fuller account of the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536), the last great religious uprising of Tudor times in the north of England, but this is a minor cavil about a historical study that is in all other respects first-rate. Recommended for large public and all academic collections.
—David Keymer

Kirkus Reviews
The magnificent Benedictine Durham Priory is the protagonist of this latest from historian Moorhouse (Great Harry's Navy: How Henry VIII Gave England Seapower, 2006, etc.). The priory serves as a focal point for the author's elegiac history recounting King Henry VIII's dissolution of England's Catholic monasteries. After his break with Rome over the pope's refusal to countenance his second marriage, the king took over the English church and disbanded hundreds of monastic communities in the 1530s and '40s. The monks could remain in the religious life, if they accepted Henry's spiritual leadership, or enter secular society. The dissolution was tremendously disruptive to English society. Monasteries like Durham had been vital centers of their communities, providing jobs, rental housing and crucial supply to, as well as demand for, local food markets. All those services, as well as charitable aid to the poor, were lost when Henry's henchmen destroyed a monastery-and they destroyed quite a few. Durham survived-it's the Anglican Durham Cathedral today-and Moorhouse revels in descriptions of its architectural splendor and the monks' routine. His ladling of details is occasionally excessive, but the author's gusto for his topic resonates like a Gregorian chant, and he draws his villains in all their outsized venality. Henry was a tyrant who practiced several of the deadly sins, including lust and greed. He hijacked the monasteries for their loot as much as for religious motives, needing to replenish an exchequer drained by his profligacy. Those who refused to cooperate with his makeover of the nation's spiritual structure went to their deaths. The overseers of Durham capitulated, thus sparingfrom destruction a breathtaking monument to a past world. Moorhouse celebrates their acquiescence, if not their timidity. Dense at times, but conducted with brio.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933346526
  • Publisher: BlueBridge
  • Publication date: 6/1/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 756,181
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Moorhouse was the author of 20 books, including the Thomas Cook Award-winning "To the Frontier" and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist "Sun Dancing."

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