In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church dominated the thinking of people who lived their lives genuinely believing that when they died, they might go to hell. The building of monasteries, taking part in pilgrimages and the Crusades were all examples of the effect this had on people’s lives.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Britain broke free from the Roman Catholic Church. There was a period of religious conflict. Penal laws were passed that restricted what Catholics and other Non-conformists could do and the Act of Settlement (1701) made it law that the monarch had to be a Protestant.
The Victorians were generally very religious people and often appear to be very prim and proper. There were religious meetings called 'revivals' and religion inspired many of the great 19th century social reformers such as William Wilberforce and Dr Barnardo. British Protestant missionaries travelled all over the world.
At the same time, however, there were developments in science, such as Darwinism; politics, such as Marxism and theology. By the 20th century, religion had declined in importance for many people – although there have been significant political events related to religion over the last century.
Britain was a fiercely Protestant country from the Reformation until the early 20th century. Many British historians have tended to portray the medieval Catholic Church as corrupt and wicked and to suggest that 'the Reformation' was the beginning of Britain's greatness.
Gradually historians have revised these ideas. Revisionist historians have portrayed the Catholic Church as better than it was previously painted and questioned the impact that Protestantism had on people's lives and beliefs. In particular, historians have shown that behind the Victorians' veneer of respectability, there was the 'other' Victorian world of drinking, drugs, prostitution and pornography.