If it hadn’t been for Henry VIII’s crazed need to have a son, the country might very well be Catholic to this day. Henry, after all, was a devout Catholic, even writing a treatise on the religion that got him named Defender of the Faith. All he really wanted was a church that would let him get divorced easily and would feed his megalomania by allowing him to be entirely in charge of it. The version of Protestantism that developed in England under Henry could probably be referred to as “Catholicism Lite”. Priests were not permitted to marry, Protestant reformers were still prosecuted, and Catholic practices were maintained. But Henry, not the pope, was in charge and he could get his marriages annulled whenever he needed to.
The church changed considerably under Henry’s son, Edward VI, who was a pretty hard-line Protestant. Under Edward and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, a more radical reformation started in the country and was only cut short by Edward’s death when he was still a teenager. Into his place stepped his oldest half-sister, Mary, who was as Catholic as they came.
Mary came to the throne in 1553 and wasted no time dragging the country back from what she viewed as heresy. Edward’s religious laws were abolished within months of her taking the throne, married priests were kicked out of their parishes, and, as I mentioned, Parliament officially changed the country’s religion back to Catholicism. In these acts, she was supported by her Catholic husband, Philip of Spain, but it’s said even he was rather appalled by her handling of Protestant dissenters: nearly 300 of them were burned at the stake during her reign, earning her the unfortunate reputation and nickname of Bloody Mary. And, of course, after her five-year reign was over, Elizabeth, another Protestant, came to the throne and everything changed again. Musical religions, everyone!