Posted by: AJtheIrishLass | June 18, 2007

Was the Anglican Church Started Because Henry VIII Wanted a Divorce? How Did It Come to the United States?

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Did Henry the VIII Start the Anglican Church to Get Divorced? How Did Anglicanism Come to the U.S.?

This is a very common belief, although a closer look at history and politics of the Church of England throughout history would prove otherwise. Below, I’ve included a brief history of the Anglican Church’s origins and how it came to America.

The Church of England, or Anglican Church, began as a Celtic church before the fourth century. Later, missionaries from Europe brought Roman Christianity to England in an attempt to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons and the English church came under the authority of Rome, replacing the pre-existing Celtic church.

As early as the seventh century, resistance to papal authority began. During medieval times, abuses came into the worship and doctrines of the Catholic Church. In the 16th century, Henry VIII was becoming annoyed with increasing papal power, as well as seeking a stable succession and his own wealth. In 1533, Parliament declared England an empire and independent of foreign powers, including the Bishop of Rome. One year later, Henry was recognized as Supreme Head in earth of the Church of England. No authority other than the King’s Majesty was recognized from then on.

Between 1547 and 1553, a major reformation of worship and teaching took place under Henry’s son, Edward VI. Two English prayer books replaced the Latin service. This would make the services more accessible to the people. Edward died in 1553 and his sister, Mary I, became Queen. Mary, a Roman Catholic, restored the Latin Mass and the authority of the Bishop of Rome in England. After Mary’s death in 1558, Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, became Queen and brought back the reforms made to the Anglican Church. In 1559, Parliament declared Elizabeth Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Several changes were made to the Book of Common Prayer to resolve the differences between members of the Church. This is what’s known as the Elizabethan Settlement.

The Anglican Church came to America with the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia, in 1607. The Anglican Church became very powerful in many of the colonies, mainly in the South. However, the Church in the American colonies had no bishops, and bishops were required to confirm people and to ordination priests. Men being ordained had to be sent to England for their ordinations and often didn’t survive the trip. Plans were made during the 17th and 18th centuries to have an American episcopate. However, there was much opposition to this plan, as the northern colonies tended to be more loyal to the King and the southern ones more in favor of American independence.

Many Anglican clergy were loyalists because of the oaths taken at ordination, which required allegiance to the King. They were also required to read public services without changing the wording, and the Book of Common Prayer used at the time included prayers for the King, the Royal Family, and the English Parliament. Rather than break their vows, many clergy chose to leave for England, even before the American Revolution started. Many Episcopalians began to change the prayers in the Prayer Book after the start of the war to suit the American cause. Patriotic clergy often held services at churches left without clergy when loyalist clergy fled for England.

After the war, in 1783, the Anglican Church in America was in serious trouble. The clergy lost after fleeing to England, financial problems caused by the Anglican Church no longer being the established Church, and services ceasing in many areas contributed to a major downfall.

By 1789, the Anglican Church had started to come back to life. Known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, it now had a representative government independent of the Church of England, a constitution, its own Book of Common Prayer, and newly ordained clergy. The Episcopal Church’s first bishop, Samuel Seabury, had been consecrated in 1783 in Scotland. In 1787, Bishops Provoost and White were consecrated with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York participating. These consecrations allowed the Episcopal Church to continue her Apostolic Succession.

The Episcopal Church is a part of the Church founded by Christ and His apostles, and in full communion with the Church of England, while having her own unique heritage.

©2001. Written on March 10, 2000*. May not be reproduced without the author’s permission.

*Some minor revisions made April 1, 2002.


  1. like

  2. I love the anglican church and am ready to serve the church after my studies at kyambogo universty


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