What links Valentines day, a BBC historical drama based on a Booker Prize winner, and visit to a seemingly remote part of North Yorkshire?
The answer is one of the most revolutionary periods of English History; the dissolution of the monasteries. To simplify things enormously, the love of one of our most iconic monarchs for a young lady of his court resulted in a five year period where the religious and economic foundations of the country, events in which Thomas Cromwell, the protagonist of Wolf Hall, was a prominent player.
Henry VIII’s response to being denied a divorce from Catherine of Aragon saw him appointed head of an independent church that severed ties with Rome. Disbanding the monasteries was more than an act of revenge however, it enabled Henry to acquire their assets and income.
Viewed from a modern perspective that might not seem a significant amount given that monastic life tends to be one of simplicity, but in the 16th Century the 900 religious houses and the 12,000 people within them owned about a quarter of the land in England.
Where do I fit into the connection? My trip to North Yorkshire yesterday took me up the Ure Valley to the former home of one such religious community; Jervaulx Abbey. As is the case with so many of the affected monasteries, it is now a ruin (lead roofing was often part of the plunder).
Even on a cold, grey and damp winter’s day there were riches to be found that Henry could not have stolen; the monastery fishing pond provides beautiful reflections, and the Yorkshire countryside showcases nature on both a large and small scale. Look what you missed Henry.