“A Pitiful Thing”? The Afterlife of the Dissolution of the English Monasteries in Early Modern Chronicles, c. 1540 – c. 1640

10 Jul 2017

Modern scholarship on the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-40) has paid little attention to how it was remembered by those who witnessed it or to the evolution of this memory in subsequent generations. Speaking to a growing interest in the memory of the Reformation, this article explores the afterlife of the dissolution in early modern chronicles, which have too often been themselves neglected as an outdated genre of historical writing. It focuses on three interrelated texts: Charles Wriothesley's manuscript chronicle, John Stow's “Annales of England” (1592), and Edmund Howes's editions of the “Annales” (1615, 1631). Using this case study, the article traces how the cultural memory of the dissolution was transformed according to the proclivities of individual chroniclers and with the changing preoccupations of successive generations. In doing so, it suggests the conventional historiography has fallen victim to Henrician narratives of the expediency and insignificance of the dissolution. Contemporary memorializing practices, it contends, may provide the key to recovering its significance as one of the most controversial events of the Henrician Reformation.