Friday, June 4, 2010

Bare Ruined Choirs: A Review

Dom David Knowles died before final editing on this version of the third volume in his series on monaticism in England. The original volume was highly praised by historians of the time like R. W. Southern and G. R. Elton. While it is slightly abridged, it serves as a great chronicle of the monastic movement in England just before and during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, masterminded and coordinated by Thomas Cromwell, Vice Regent and Chancellor of Henry VIII.

Throughout the book Knowles, himself a Benedictine, is even-handed and fair about the condition of the monasteries. In the epilogue he notes that some were in definite need of drastic reform, some had diminished in numbers such that individual foundations should have been combined; on the other hand, some of the best houses were destroyed (The Observant Franciscans, the Carthusians, Syon) because of their zeal to defend the Church against Henry's Supremacy, and the majority were harmless: perhaps not pure and zealous, but not deserving of destruction.

This abridged version, and the complete third volume, The Religious Orders in England III: The Tudor Age are highly recommended.

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