Church of England: History & Beliefs

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

Explore the history and key beliefs of the Church of England, a Protestant faith based in the European Reformation. End your discovery with a short cycle quiz to assess what knowledge you gained.

Protesting and Reforming

The Church of England, also known as the Anglican church, was created by King Henry VIII out of protest and reform demands of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, history has made knowing this time period easy. It was called the Reformation and saw a great deal of reform and protest in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries (1500s-1600s CE). Many leaders of this era created many new religions out of protest. These new faiths were called Protestant religions, and they included the Church of England.

Reformation Leaders and New Protestant Religions
Reformation Leaders and Protestant Religions

Just what were they protesting and demanding reform from? The Roman Catholic Church. This religion was the head honcho in the Middle Ages (5th-15th centuries) and gained enormous power over the people. How much power? Let's just say if there were tabloids back then in the supermarket line, you would have been obsessed and constantly reading all about it.

The Mafia in American history was well known for its corruption and greed, as well as a thirst for power and control. The Catholic Church was no different back in the Middle Ages. They sold church positions of power, valuable objects and guarantees into heaven. They told people that, in exchange for money, they could guarantee entry into heaven. Such a noble prospect! They wanted total power over nearly everything, especially in Europe.

History of the Church in England

The origins of the Church of England go way back to the 6th century when Catholicism was first practiced in England. Though they would one day despise this church, those in England were loyal followers for nearly 1,000 years. A more accepted founding was by King Henry VIII in the mid-1500s when he declared himself head of the Church in England for two main reasons, based in protest and reform.

First, he didn't want to share power with the Catholic Church. Many in England said that anyone who wasn't in England shouldn't be telling them what to do. Since the Catholic Church was based in Rome, King Henry VIII felt there was no way that he should listen to anything they said.

Second, Pope Clement VII would not allow Henry to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. So, Henry did what anyone who has their eyes on the prize would: he found a way to get what he wanted, and starting a religion was just that. These were the reasons he protested the Catholic Church, and why the Church of England is a Protestant religion.

(L-R) King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Pope Clement VII
King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Pope Clement VII

There was growing sentiment to break away from the Church in England during this time anyways, but Henry's desire to become a bachelor again was a major cause for the creation of Anglicanism.

As time passed, the Church of England became more and more a significant part of England's identity. Many well-known leaders, like Queen Elizabeth I, (no, not the one who is Prince William's grandmother…her grandmother) worked to make the religion strong. Major beliefs and leadership positions were created and drafted, and a major integration into the government of England emerged. The United States, through the First Amendment, will never have a national religion. But in England, on the other hand, the Church of England is the official religion. Don't worry, there are plenty of other religions in England; they have religious freedom too, but don't do something against the Church or you WILL hear about it (Hint: it's illegal!)

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