In late 16th century England, the working and merchant class was largely Protestant, and lived mostly in the South and East of England. The Crown, Clergy and ruling classes were largely Catholic as were the peoples of the North ( Scotland ) and the Western areas. Europe was in a turmoil, the Spanish Inquisitions and the Hapsburgs ruled and the rise of the Protestants was more of a reform movement rather than an actual change of faith. The Churches had deep control of many peoples lives, financially as well as spiritually. The Catholic church was very corrupt at this time, being in the Clergy became more of who you knew, rather than how strong your faith was.
King Henry VIII, had many wives, both Catholic and Protestant. He had a falling out with the Catholic church, which was aggravated by the church not recognizing his divorces. There was also a problem of succession, young King Edward IV a Protestant, his only son and successor, ordered a reform. Edward passed away at a young age and was followed by his half sister Mary (from Henry VIII first marriage to Catherine of Aragorn), who ordered a reversal back to Catholicism. She was the first ruling Queen of England and she was more commonly referred as "Bloody Mary" as Parliament at this time was largely Protestant and she was quick to remove dissenters. She executed over 300 protestants for heresy by burning them at the stake.
Elizabeth,another daughter from Henry VIII's third marriage to Anne Boleyn, who was in self exile, succeeded Mary, as Mary's marriage to King Philip of Spain failed to produce an heir. Elizabeth was a vocal supporter of Protestant reforms: Thus the rule of Queen Elizabeth I (Good Queen Bess) began. She enhanced the power of parliament, encouraged the growth of the Anglican church reforms, while suppressing the more vocal Puritans. She helped finance the wars in Europe against Spain, and was eventually drawn into war, which ended in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Sir Francis Drake rampaged against the Spaniards, and Sir Walter Raliegh spoke of settling America (Virginia was named in her honor). England was secure, and Elizabeth continued reforms. She was extremely popular among the masses and under her the country prospered. It wasn't easy though, she had unpleasant tasks, like ordering the beheading of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (a devout Catholic). Colonization of America was put off as a direct consequence of the wars with Spain. Elizabeth never married, thus her cousin Mary Queen of Scots son, James, who then became King as he had direct lineage to Henry VII.
King James I, detested parliament, and reversed many of Elizabeth's reforms. He encouraged the colonization of America, according to some accounts, to relieve England of it's dissenters and hungry masses. Colonization also promised to provide new markets for English goods. The Jamestown Colony in 1607 was a direct result of this, it was largely a commercial venture. The bulk of the settlers were indentured servants and second and third born sons of nobility, who came looking for quick fortunes. The Virginia Colony had a rough wild west atmosphere and Tobacco became its chief cash crop. The first wave of Pilgrims (religious refugees) came by the Mayflower in 1620. The colony was financed by the Virginia Company and had the blessing of King James, again as a commercial venture. This differed though from previous ventures as it consisted mostly of Puritans who had far grander ideas than making money for the Company.
Under King James, the old practice of granting patents resumed, what this meant was basic items and foodstuffs carried patents and the merchants were required to pay royalties. The Guild's recouped their original power and was biased against the Puritans. The King tried to remain neutral in Religious debates, but did things to appease Rome and Spain, such as executing the popular Sir Walter Raliegh at their insistence. He lost a lot of respect from his people, which was further strained by his apparent interest in handsome young men. When the Mayflower party arrived in Plymouth, it landed outside the jurisdiction of the Virginia company, thus they re-incorporated. Their failure to turn profitable prevented any new colonies being financed for another 10 years.
James son, King Charles I, ascended the throne in 1624, and his rule was worse than James. He increased patents to include even such items as soap. The church had the patent, and all soap had to be approved by them, or faced it being deemed spiritually unclean. Worship was tightly regulated and people were not allowed to meet in large groups. This was intended to silence the more vocal and reform minded Puritans. Parliament was dissolved in 1629 and a period of self rule began, and civil war was eminent. A major factor in the agitation against the King was the printing press. Mass produced bibles meant each individual could read the gospel and draw ones own conclusions. Also tens of thousands of pamphlets against the King were circulated, fanning discontent. Eventually Civil War did erupt in 1642 and Charles was captured and executed in 1649. Cromwell took over rule of the country till his death in 1658. The return of a King, Charles II was followed by a terrible plague in 1665 with 70,000 people dying in London alone and in 1666 the Great Fire of London. The Colonies were all but forgotten during this time period.
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