For centuries, Ireland has struggled to gain its independence from the United Kingdom, which is ruled by the king or queen of England. At an early point in history, this conflict began to take on a religious pitch. Though temperatures have cooled slightly between the two countries, the bloody history of the Protestant Revolution in England can be linked directly to the modern-day conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
The Early Power Struggle
Prior to 1167, Ireland was ruled by a system of small kingdoms. In this year, however, King Henry II of England invaded and took control of the island. The Irish staged several revolts and fought for their independence over the course of many centuries. At this point in time, both countries were Catholic, so the conflict was more directly related to power, rather than religion.
The Tudors Take Control
In the early 14th century, King Henry VIII - seeking divorce from his wife, Queen Catharine of Aragon - broke with the Roman Catholic Church and established the Church of England. This religious organization was based on the Protestant teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, with the king in power over the Pope. Henry VIII was also named King of Ireland by Irish Parliament in 1541 after crushing a rebellion led by Thomas Lord Offaly who had attempted to organize a Catholic crusade against the newly Protestant king.
The Catholic / Protestant Conflict
From Henry VIII's rule onward, the struggle in England (which included Ireland at this time) was one of religious context. Though he was succeeded by both Catholic and Protestant monarchs, each one - regardless of religious affiliation - persecuted "heretics" with burning, hanging, imprisonment and various grisly methods of torture. This prompted many to leave England in search of new land where they could practice their religion without the fear of oppression.
Ireland's Contemporary Concerns
In 1921, England signed a treaty with Southern Ireland to make it an "Irish Free State." Though this did not grant the country complete independence, it did release tension and gave some measure of governing power back to the Irish. Northern Ireland, which is home to many former British Protestants, remained "loyal" to the crown. However, Northern Ireland is also home to many Catholics. Today, the larger religious conflict lies not between England and Ireland, but rather the two factions living together in Northern Ireland.
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