The most important ecclesiastical offices in England were the Archbishoprics of Canterbury and York, and, in Scotland, the Archbishops of St Andrews and Glasgow. Appointment to the offices was often fraught with difficulty as the Crown, the monks of the associated cathedrals, and the Pope each sought to have their own preferred candidate installed.

At the beginning of the period, the Archbishops also wielded significant temporal power, but this waned over the century as politics became more secular.

The coming of the Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century changed the role of the church and its leaders, who were now completely under the control of the Crown, rather than owing allegiance to the Pope.