The Reformation was not pretty anywhere, but in no place was it quite as confused as it was in England. Henry VIII clearly started the Anglican strand of reform, but he insisted that “his” Church, the Church of England, remain strictly Catholic. He fired all the pro-Rome clergy he could find, and put what he thought were thoroughly loyal Churchmen in their places. Well, many were loyal, but many, too, were secretly Lutheran and even more were staunchly Calvinist. When Henry died and his minor son Edward came to the throne, there was an immediate movement within the English Clergy to take the Church of England deeper into the “Reformed” camp.
But then, Edward died. Since he was just a boy, himself, he had no heirs, and so there was a crisis in the succession. In order to keep the Tudor dynasty in place, the nobility agreed to be ruled by a Queen: Henry’s daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was an observant Roman Catholic. As such, she immediately began moving England back into the Roman orbit. In doing so, she ordered one of the great purges of the Church of England clergy, earning for herself the lasting nickname, “Bloody Mary”. It was not a healthy time to b e a Protestant in England.
But, once again, death was the lot of the Tudor monarchs, and Mary, too, died without an heir. Her successor was Elizabeth, her half-sister. Elizabeth had been born to Anne Boleyn. Remember her? Henry’s second wife; the one he divorced Catherine for. Elizabeth was as devoted to Protestant Christianity as Mary had been to Rome.
Elizabeth was a consummate politician, and she also lived longer than most Tudor monarchs. In fact, she ruled for forty-five years, and one of her most enduring legacies was “The Elizabethan Settlement”, in which she worked out a “middle way” for the Church of England: both catholic and protestant. That “way” remains today, in law, if not completely in practice.
In fact, if not absolutely in theory, four strands quickly emerged within the Church of England: Puritanism, which was strongly Calvinist but wished to stay in the Church, Dissenters, who wanted to completely leave the Church, and the “high Church” party, that wanted to remain very close to the Roman style, if not in obedience, and Presbyterians, who were deeply Calvinistic, and who favored an established Church, but one without Episcopal oversight.
All of these soon made their way to the new English colonies that Elizabeth had founded along the eastern seaboard of what would eventually become the United States. The high-Church Anglicans occupied Virginia, the Carolinas and much of Georgia; The Puritans settled in Massachusetts and New England, and different groups of Dissenters settled in Massachusetts (the “Pilgrims”), Rhode Island (Baptists), and Pennsylvania (the Quakers). Interestingly, even English Roman Catholics got into the colonization business, settling in Maryland. The stage was set.