The beginning of the Mayflower story can be considered to have its origins in the reign of King Henry VIII when he decided to split from the Roman Catholic church in order to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn. As a result Henry VIII established the Church of England, with himself as the supreme head. In the years following his death there were continual attempts to restore the Catholic Church and then reinstate the independence of the Church of England.
During this time religious, reformers were beginning to question the need for the strict rules, regulations and icons employed by the established churches. Seeking the freedom to worship in their own way, separate from the establishment. They were known as ‘Separatists’. When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne and reinstated the Church of England, the Separatist movement flourished, particularly in East Anglia and the East Midlands, and spread into the Home Counties and London. The majority of these Separatists, were brought together between 1586 and 1605 by their shared religious beliefs, promoted by Richard Clyfton, a preacher in Babworth, Nottinghamshire. Like many religious scholars across the east of England, he had studied at Cambridge and been taught by scholars who had left England during the reign of Queen Mary to escape persecution.
However, Acts of parliament passed by Queen Elizabeth I, to reinstate the independence of the Church of England made it compulsory to attend services held by the Church of England. Penalties for disobedience included imprisonment, with larger fines for conducting unofficial services. While, primarily intended to target the Catholic population, members of the Separatist movement were also caught by the provisions of the Act.
On the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 she was succeeded King James I. As James had a Catholic mother the Separatists had hoped that religious laws would be relaxed and that both Catholics and Separatists would be allowed allow independence to worship in freedom. But this did not happen and the Separatists would need to find a solution.