In 1620, the Pilgrims landed in America at Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts. They sought their religious freedom when they sailed on the Mayflower to establish Plymouth Colony. Seems hard to believe that their landing connected with the six wives of King Henry VIII, but it did.
The English Reformation period started with the reign of King Henry VIII. Henry was King from 1509 to his death in 1547. His first wife was Catherine of Aragon who after many years was unable to give birth to a male heir to the throne. Henry became determined to divorce her and marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. As a devout Catholic he asked the Pope to grant him a divorce which was denied because it is against the church rules as marriage is for life. Henry asked that the Pope grant him a Papal Dispensation which basically meant that since he was the King he could get divorced. The pope obviously denied this request. If Henry divorced his wife anyway, he would be excommunicated, or kicked out, of the Catholic church, and would never go to heaven.
There was a discontent among the populace against the laws of the powerful Catholic church and its demands for monies from its church members. The time was right for King Henry to change from the Catholic church. By 1540 he had closed all the Catholic monasteries in England in a movement called the Dissolution. The valuables of the monasteries went to the King and the Crown; while the rest of the buildings were available to the people to have or take from. Even bricks were taken by some of the populace for their own buildings. Most of the monks were placed on pensions by the King, from the gold and valuables taken from the monasteries. During all of this, Henry got his divorce by ordering the Archbishop of Canterbury to grant it. To remain in favor with the King, the archbishop signed the divorce. The King ultimately declared himself the “Pope” of the new Anglican Church of England, which dramatically changed religion forever in England.
When he became King, the Roman Catholic Church was extremely powerful. The bible was in Latin, the services in Latin, prayers were in Latin, and the church power was in Rome, home of the Catholic Church.
When he died as King, the English Reformation period changed religion. The Church of England was separated from the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church of England was established with an English bible, services in English, and the English worded “Lord’s Prayer” was the norm. So, the religion in England had changed, reformed. However, when Henry died, religious problems still abounded. With the bible now in English and its teachings available to the common man, many no longer wanted the religious ruling hierarchy of a King as Pope.
By the time of the pilgrimage to America on the Mayflower, citizens were required to attend the Church of England, pay taxes to support that church, or face confinement in jails. The Pilgrims were called non-conformists and then Separatists in England because they wanted to separate from the Church of England. In 1620 the first of the pilgrims sailed to the new land of America aboard the Mayflower and landed in America for religious freedom. These colonists established a democratic government based on the Mayflower Compact. John Alden, one of my ancestors, was a cooper on the Mayflower, decided to stay in Plymouth, and joined the pilgrims in their great endeavor. John Alden signed the Mayflower Compact and eventually married my maternal ancestor, Priscilla Mullins who had journeyed to America as a pilgrim on board the Mayflower.
By 1630 the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by the Puritans who were also non-conformists and similarly persecuted in England as Separatists. The Puritans strived to establish a perfect religious community while still having some loyalty to England. The Pilgrims did not have this great loyalty to England, but instead were loyal to their religion and the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Puritans were a theocracy, or a government led by religious leaders, but they were quite intolerant of the religious practices of others.
Despite all the intolerance, religious freedom began in the New World, America, as a result of King Henry the VIII wanting to divorce, breaking from the Roman Catholic Church, and bringing the common language bible to the common people.
And because of King Henry creating great religious changes followed by Separatist Movement, my ancestors came to America, for which I feel blessed. I love America and religious freedom.