Refugee or Pilgrim movements are always birthed through periods of instability in Faith communities; such was the case in sixteenth century England. The spark igniting change was Henry VIII’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The Catholic church to which the King belonged would not allow the annulment for fear of offending the King of Spain which angered King Henry. King Henry brought various allies around him to appeal his cause, finally finding Thomas Cranmer an ally whom he appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury. After Cranmer allowed for the annulment and performed the new marriage both he and King Henry were excommunicated.
Thomas Cranmer, who had been influenced by the reformation in Europe desired to bring changes to the church. He authorized worship in English (rather than Latin) and put together the Book of Common Prayer. Doctrines and practices in the areas of the Eucharist, clerical celibacy, the use of images in worship and veneration of the saints were also revised.
But revision came to a halt when Queen Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon repudiated the changes and imprisoned reformers including Thomas Cranmer. In these shifting tides over 250 protestants were killed, 800 others were exiled and the remaining protestants went underground. All priests who joined the Anglican movement lost their pensions and clergy were brought in from Rome and the rest of Europe.
But the reign of Bloody Mary was short-lived, lasting only five years when the queen died and her half-sister Elizabeth inherited the throne. Queen Elizabeth as the daughter of Anne Boleyn was considered illegitimate by the Catholic Church, and not qualified to serve as queen. As a result Elizabeth was forced to reinstitute the Anglican church. But she did not want the change to be so bold it would bring rebellion.
Religious discussion moved from the chambers of the castle to religious convictions and the legislature. Roman sympathizers argued with centralist Anglican ministers and a new group, the Puritans. Roman sympathizers desired to minimize changes and protect the portion of the population which still identified with the older ways. Puritans including Robert Browne, Thomas Cartwright, Robert Dudley, John Field, John Foxe, Lawrence Humphrey, Thomas Norton, Francis Russell, Thomas Sampson, Francis Walsingham, Thomas Wilcox and others desired to bring back changes made by Thomas Cranmer and also put forth other ideas, such as denouncing belief in purgatory, encouraging common citizens to read the Bible, elimination of the sign of the cross at baptism, kneeling at communion, a presbyterian rather than episcopalian church government, required dress code for the clergy, and more emphasis on preaching rather than liturgy. Anglican clergy sought middle ground even as the Puritans attempted to purify the church.
Religious turmoil surfaced during the reign of Elizabeth, and found hope for freedom from persecution as James ascended to power. But the hope was short lived as the Anglican clergy wrote the Thirty-Nine Articles defining Christian doctrines and practices which were expected to be observed in England. Parliament also passed and enforced the Religion and Uniformity Acts under which dissidents were fined for not attending Anglican churches. These acts did not quell the growth of Puritans and Separatists movements in England, including churches in Babworth, Gainsborough, Greasley, Scrooby Manor, and Norwich.
Through the reign of Elizabeth I and afterwards religious struggle continued in England. King James inherited the throne of England in 1603. He sought to be a peace-maker both allowing Catholics to take an oath of allegiance and resettle in England. King James called the Hampton Court Conference after receiving the Millenary Petition signed by over 1,000 Puritans including Deans Lancelot Andrewes, Gervase Babington, William Barlow, Richard Bancroft, Thomas Bilson, Thomas Dove, Tobias Matthew, James Montague, John Overall, Thomas Ravis, John Rainolds, Henry Robinson, Anthony Rudd, Giles Tomson, Anthony Watson. This conference resulted in the King James translation of the Bible.
Even with the gains made, England under the political theories of divine right of kings was not ready for religious freedom. In 1607, the High Court of Ecclesiastical Commission resolved to clamp down on Anglican dissenters arresting about forty members of the Gainsborough and Scrooby congregations. WIth this crackdown many puritans and separatists fled to the safety of a more tolerant Dutch Republic. Members of this group in 1620 sought refuge in the American Colonies and are remembered today as the Pilgrims.
In 1625 King James died and his son Charles became king. Charles I brought a return of Catholicism to England and a strong belief in the divine right of kings resulting in religious persecution and a series of wars which lasted through his reign and beyond. But for the Pilgrims that did not matter, they were an ocean away.