The Protestant Reformation in England (c.1530 - c.1600)
is a unique and fascinating event in the history of this country. In one sense, it is connected to the greater Reformation in Europe
as a whole, but in other ways it is very unique
in its circumstances
Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. She had failed to produce him a male heir, and was past childbearing age. Henry's amorous attentions had turned to Anne Boleyn, as well. England, being a Catholic state, needed papal dispensation. Now, the Vatican was normally in the practice of granting such annulments, but the Pope was under extreme pressure from Spain not to allow the annulment to occur. So, in 1528, the request was denied.
Exhausted of ordinary legal avenues, Henry called on Parliament to replace the Pontiff with the English Monarch as supreme head of the church in England, which they did in 1531. He now had the legal grounds for annulment.
Meanwhile, in the Holy Roman Empire (modern-day Germany), Martin Luther had started a movement to separate from the Catholic church on theological grounds. These separatists would eventually come to be known as "Protestants." Ironically, in the 1520s Henry had been an outspoken opponent of Luther, and defender of Catholic theology. What Henry established in the 1530s and up until his death in 1547 was a Catholic church in England, without the Pope. Theologically, and ceremonially, this church was Catholic.
During this period, England had become a safe haven for Protestant clergy and scholars from the Continent. Loyal Catholics, on the other hand, left England. Thus, while the king was theologically conservative, his bishops and members of his administration became increasingly Protestant. And those charged with educating his son, Prince Edward, were Calvinists. These were extreme Protestants who belived that the theology and ceremonies of Catholics were wrong and anti-Christian. In the 17th Century they would have been called Puritans.
So, when Henry VIII died, he was succeeded by Edward VI, who was an extreme Protestant, and only nine years old. His advisors, who ran the country, were also Protestant. Naturally, during this reign, the church in England became extremely Protestant, abolishing Catholic ceremony and priestly vestments. But Edward died in 1553, and was succeeded by Mary, Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon.
Mary I, or Bloody Mary, was loyal to her mother, and her mother's Spanish family. Naturally, she was a devout Catholic. Immediately, she began to overturn the religious settlements of the past 20 years, in an attempt to return England to Catholicism. Her methods were brutal and harsh (thus her nickname), but she might well have succeeded, had she not died five years later, in 1558.
After Mary came Elizabeth I, another of Henry's daughters, this one by Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth was a Protestant, but she also understood that the country was deeply divided between Catholic supporters of Mary's policies and extreme Protestants who wanted to do away with every hint of Catholicism (i.e. theology, ceremony, vestments, hierarchy). Elizabeth was somehow able to strike a compromise, often called the via media, that kept many of the Catholic ceremonies, as well as the hierarchy of bishops and archbishops, but was also theologically soundly Calvinist.
Elizabeth's church settlments during her reign formed the foundation for the modern Anglican Church, which is known as the Episcopalian Church in the United States.
In summary, what began as a singly political spat in 1527 ended up changing the entire religious landscape of a country.
This work is mine, and mine alone (thus, no citations). I'm a history major, and I've done extensive work on this topic. I've probably messed some stuff up, or left stuff out, though.