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Journal > Volumes > 53 (2022) / 2 (Summer)
“Furnaces of all letcherousness”: Narratives of Sexual Depravity and the Dissolution of the English Monasteries
Jessica Keene
University of Massachusetts Amherst

This article investigates connections between allegations of monastic sexual depravity in printed Continental and English Protestant polemic in the late 1520s and early 1530s, the royal visitation of the English monasteries in 1535/36, and the legitimation of the closure of England’s “lesser” monasteries after 1536. It makes two central claims: first, early English Protestant polemicists, inspired by the works of early critics of the Roman Church, frequently accused Catholic monastics and clergymen of engaging in “whoredom,” “incontinence,” and “sodomy.” It secondly contends that the language of sexual depravity outlined in polemical literature was paralleled in reports of the royal visitations of the monasteries ordered by Thomas Cromwell. The alleged illicit sexuality of England’s monastics was central to Henry VIII’s justification of the suppression of the smaller religious houses on the basis of the “manifest synne, vicious, carnall, and abhomynable lyvyng” of England’s Catholic religious.

Pages: 379 - 404