'The Dissolution of the Monasteries' was the forcible closure of English monasteries, convents, priories and friaries during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547).
The closures followed Henry's break with the Catholic Church in Rome, and allowed him to seize the considerable wealth that had accumulated in the religious institutions. The process began in the mid 1530s, and by 1540 over 800 monasteries had been dissolved.
It is thought that the line from Shakespeare's sonnet no. 73 which reads, 'Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang' may be a covert reference to the devastation caused by the Dissolution.