The Church of England (the Anglican Church)

Protestantism established a precarious toehold in England very shortly after Luther’s initial protest in 1517, but for many years Protestants remained a tiny minority, frequently persecuted. There was, however, widespread discontent both at the extent of corruption within the English Catholic Church and at its lack of spiritual vitality. A pervasive anti-clerical attitude on the part of the population as a whole and in Parliament in particular made it possible for Henry VIII to obtain an annulment in 1533 of his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) in the face of papal opposition, and in 1534 the Act of Supremacy transferred papal supremacy over the English Church to the crown. It was not until the 1550’s, however, under Edward VI, that the English Church became Protestant in doctrine and ritual, and even then it remained traditional in organization. Under the Roman Catholic Mary I a politico-religious reaction resulted in the burning at the stake of some prominent Protestants and the exile of many others, which led in turn to a popular association of Catholicism with persecution and Spanish domination. When Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne in 1558, however, she restored a moderate Protestantism, codifying the Anglican faith in the Act of Uniformity, the Act of Supremacy, and the Thirty-Nine Articles.

From the time of the Elizabethan settlement on, the Church of England (the Anglican Church) attempted, with varying degrees of success, to consolidate its position both as a distinctive middle way between Catholicism and Puritanism and as the national religion of England. Under Charles I, the “popish” High-Church policies of the Arminian William Laud alienated the Puritan wing of the Church, and after the victory of Cromwell’s (frequently Puritan) parliamentarians over Charles’s (frequently Catholic) Royalists in the Civil Wars of 1642-1651, the Anglican Church, by now the Church of England, was largely dismantled.