When King Henry VIII on England set about the dissolution of monasteries in the years 1536 to 1541, one of the main reasons given the English government for the suppression of hundreds of religious communities was accusations of widespread illicit sex by monks and nuns. Now research by a scholar at the University of Toronto has shown that the evidence collected by King Henry’s officials did not even show many sexual crimes, but instead used accusations of masturbation to make the monastic communities seem like they were deviant.
Christian Knudsen, a PhD student at the Canadian university, presented his findings at a paper entitled ‘Sodomitic Monks and Other Dissolution Myths: The Late Medieval Monastic Decline Narrative Re-visited.’ They were presented this week to fellow medievalists on the campus of the University of Toronto. He makes use of the few available records about the state visitations that took place in 1535 and 1536, where about 85% of the monasteries in England were inspected by royal bureaucrats who were collecting evidence that would help Henry dissolve the monasteries.
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