The Church of England was formally established with the installation of a bishop at Canterbury, in the sixth century, but Christianity had existed in England for centuries before, brought by Roman invaders and European visitors.
So when the history of Anglicanism begins under Henry VIII, it happens in the context of a thriving church of great antiquity. The historical Christian faith was rooted firmly among people whose ancestors had heard the early church's gospel and taken it for their own. (Some traditions hold that Christianity established itself in England in the 1st or 2nd century. That is not certain, but it was provably thriving there by the early 3rd century.)
What everyone remembers, of course, is Henry VIII, king from 1509 to 1547. King Henry was something of a mess. He wanted a male heir if he had to marry every woman in the realm to get one. He had gotten Rome to annul one of his marriages, he wanted another done. Rome declined the request; Henry rebelled.
Many were the horrors and shameful deeds of Henry's rule. Two of his wives he executed; another died confined to her castle, and various of his counselors, officials and some who believed themselves his friends met unhappy ends. It was almost safer to be this king's enemy.
But God is ever turning evil works to good purposes. One result of Henry's ungodly tyranny (some say this result was providential) was that Henry declared England off limits to papal authority. At the same time, he held no Protestant enthusiasms. All he wanted was a church that would cooperate with his demands. Henry acted for Henry.
English Christians were released from the traces and trammels of Continental European Christianity. They could take a deep breath and think for themselves for once. Some English were staunch Catholics; others were much influenced by Reformation ideas coming from the Continent. What emerged as English Christianity (after a long time, much strife and a couple changes of monarchs) was a sensible accommodation that allowed traditionalists and the reform-minded to worship together. An ancient virtue of Christians reemerged: We would rather love one another than be superior to each other, work and pray together rather than burn each other at the stake. As the world was going mad with religious strife, Anglicanism largely succeeded, within its own ranks at least, in keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. It was not fully successful, for there would always be dissenting Protestants, and Catholics too, who did not feel their beliefs got enough special treatment, but all in all, and for its time, the accord was a tremendous idea.
Traditional Anglicanism is today a worldwide spiritual movement with strong African, Indian and South American churches, as well as churches in our traditional environs, and charity outreaches everywhere. We do, however, distance ourselves from churches, even those with Anglican roots, including English ones, that have distanced themselves from our basic idea, which is that the true gospel must survive any political or spiritual obstacles the devil puts in its way. We fight to preserve the gospel. It's our heritage, what we do.
Flash! Get the beta test ACNA Catechism here. All comments will be carefully considered. As it stands it is a pretty good index of what the church believes, but note that it is a work in progress.