In 1509 Henry VIII
married Catherine of Aragon
, his first wife. Unfortunately for her, despite six pregnancies, she failed to produce a male heir
, and so Henry - who was in any case becoming smitten with Anne Boleyn
- sought a divorce. This was tricky, however, as Catherine's nephew was Charles V
, the Holy Roman Emperor
, who was not minded to grant the divorce. Henry had taken a dim view of Rome
's influence over England and this was the penultimate straw.
Matters came to a head when Boleyn became pregnant in 1533; in a bind, Henry came upon an elegant solution to his problem - by splitting England from the Roman church and forming a brand-new Church of England with him in charge, he could divorce himself. Thus, in 1535, the C. of E. was formed, with Henry VIII as its Supreme Head on Earth. With the divorce granted Henry was free to marry Anne Boleyn, although had she known what was in store for her she might have demurred. Catherine was made 'Princess Dowager of Wales', and died the following year, her womb having soured relations between England and the rest of Europe. Thereafter followed many centuries of on-and-off war between the Church of England and the Papists the most famous battle of which involved the Spanish Armada. God died sometime during the Industrial Revolution, by which time Europe's conflicts had ceased to be on religious grounds.
The people of England were not consulted in this matter and many revolted, much to their cost. In 1536 came the 'Dissolution', a period in which Henry effectively laid off thousands of clergy and had their monasteries sold. Over the next century or so new prayerbooks were written and new churches were built. Although the Church was initially Catholic it became more and more Protestant, despite a Catholic blip during the reign of Queen Mary.
Nowadays, the Church of England (also known as the Anglican church, although the Anglican church predates the C. of E.) is quite liberal, almost to the point of not existing; many priests no longer believe that God is a 'being', rather that he is a human creation, a handy name for a collection of moral ideas (the most famous exponents of this theory being Don Cupitt and Antony Freeman, and the 'Sea of Faith' group). There is also a popular stereotype of the 'trendy vicar', a pot-smoking ecclisiast who plays rock guitar. Even the Roman Catholic church in England is relatively lax , and because of this the UK has something of a spiritual vacuum, one unlikely to be filled by rational humanists given that the country's educational system is in meltdown. There is no British equivalent of the American Bible Belt or the ChildCare Action Project people, for example, whilst the idea of the Prime Minister encouraging his cabinet to attend prayer meetings is absurd. Perhaps for that we will go to hell, if indeed hell is not just a human creation.