England's Christian history dates back to missionary zeal from both from Irish and Roman sources - Patrick's successors colonizing the north and Augustine reaching Kent. The Synod of Whitby of 664 united all of England with Roman-based practices that brought the island in union with Continental Europe. The Norman Conquest of 1066 intensified this. French speaking rulers gradually replaced the church hierarchy with Norman bishops who brought French-influenced imagery and building traditions. The great monastic movements, the Benedictines beginning in the 8th century, the Cistercian monks and Augustinian canons in the 12th, later the preaching orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans in the 13th all came to England. Thus just before the Reformation, English practices expressed commonly held European beliefs and traditions, a situation that allowed a pilgrim like Margery Kempe to travel to Germany, Spain, Italy, or Switzerland and be able to integrate herself into worship. Time has altered this landscape of piety; in England change came abruptly. 

Although the antipathy of Puritan England to imagery is most memorable, England's religious art was subject to a series of hostilities. The Reformation and Henry VIII's break with the Roman Church entailed the dissolution of England's monasteries (1536-41). Some of the monasteries, Canterbury the best known example, ceased their connections with the Benedictine Order and became exclusively cathedrals linked to the Church of England. All others, including the Carmelite, Franciscan, and Dominican Orders that Kempe mentions so often were disbanded and their churches most commonly stripped for their materials. Some of the abbeys were reconfigured as farms or manor houses, for example the Franciscan Abbey of Denny that Kempe visited just north of Cambridge. 

With the ascent of Henry's son Edward VI in 1547, iconoclastic reformers became more influential in official policies towards the visual appearance of the old religion. Royal injunctions were issued, one explicitly mandating reformers to destroy all shrines. . . pictures, painting and all other monuments of feigned miracles. . . so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glass-windows, or elsewhere within their church or houses. Places that Margery Kempe had visited are among those for which we have explicit records of destruction. Norwich was particularly flush, since the destruction of windows meant the expense of new glazing: the accounts mentioned the replacement of windows of "feigned stories" with clear glass in many churches. During the reign of Elizabeth, moderation seemed to be in charge. Outright destruction was discouraged. Windows were permitted to remain intact because of the expense of replacement. When repair was essential, however, the windows could then be replaced with clear class. Thus, the more crucial issue, that of progressive decay, was recognized as an efficient means of removing imagery. 

Nonetheless during the influence of Cromwell (1640's-1660), vigorous elimination of imagery was accomplished. With the armed conflict of the Civil War, Cromwell's troops often engaged in random acts of destruction. The taking of Peterborough resulted in the almost complete destruction of the windows of the cloister and the church of the cathedral. Later, possibly exaggerated, accounts speak of Cromwell himself getting a ladder and breaking down a little image of the crucifixion he saw left over high up in the church loft. York was fortunate. When it was taken by Puritan troops under Sir Thomas Fairfax in July 1644, the Minster and parish churches were protected from destruction. Yet, more systematic campaigns were prevalent elsewhere. In 1643 laws mandated the destruction of superstitious imagery, including crucifixes and pictures of the Virgin, the Holy Trinity and the saints. William Dowsing left a journal of his vigorous breaking of windows and other forbidden items such as the inscriptions of sepulchral monuments of "pray for us" 

In Norfolk, at a parish church in Gorleston near Yarmouth (from which Margery Kempe left for two overseas voyages) a vivid account remains from Francis Jessup, Dowsing's deputy.

In the chancel, as it is called, we took up twenty brazen superstitious inscriptions, Ora pro nobis &c.; broke twelve apostles, carved in wood, an cherubims and a lamb with a cross, and took up four superstitious inscriptions in brass, in the north chancel, Jesu filii Dei miserere mei, &c. broke in pieces the rails, and broke down twenty-two popish pictures of angels and saints. We did deface the font and a cross on the font; and took up the brass inscription there, with Cujus animae propitietus Deus, and "pray for the soul," &c. in English. We took up thirteen superstitious brasses. Ordered Moses with his rod and Aaron with his mitre, to be taken down. Ordered eighteen angels off the roof, and cherubims to be taken down and nineteen pictures in the window. The organ I brake and we brake seven popish pictures in the chancel window, - one of Christ, another of St. Andrew, another of St. James, &c. We ordered the steps [before the altar] to be leveled by the parson of the town; and brake the popish inscription, My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. I gave orders to break the carved work, which I have seen done. There were six superstitious pictures, one crucifix, and the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus in her arms, and Christ lying in a manger, and the three kings coming to Christ with presents, and three bishops with their mitres and crosier staffs, and eighteen Jesuses written in capital letters, which we gave orders to do out. A picture of St. George, and many others which I remember not, with divers pictures in the windows, which we could not reach, neither would they help us to raise ladders; so we left a warrant with the constable to do it in fourteen days. We brake down a pot of holy water, St. Andrew with his cross, and St. Catherine with her wheel; and we took down the cover of the font, and the four evangelists, and a triangle for the Trinity, a superstitious picture of St. Peter and his keys, an eagle, and a lion with wings. In Bacon's aisle was a friar with a shaven crown, praying to God in these words, Miserere mei Deus, - which we brake down. We brake a holy water font in the chancel. We rent to pieces a hood and surplices. In the chancel was Peter pictured in the windows, with his heels upwards, and John the Baptist, and twenty more superstitious pictures, which we brake: and IHS the Jesuit's badge in the chancel window. In Bacon's aisle, twelve superstition of angels and crosses and a holy water font, and brasses with superstitious inscriptions. And in the cross alley we took up brazen figures and inscriptions, Ora pro nobis. We brake down a cross on the steeple, and three stone crosses in the chancel, and a stone cross in the porch. Quoted by M. Aston, England's Iconoclasts. Vol. 1 Laws Against Images, Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1988: 78-9. (Journal of William Dowsing, p. 244)  St. Margaret's in King's Lynn, for example, has been radically altered from the time of Margery Kempe - the entire nave now dates from the 18th century, the transepts have been shortened, the altar redesigned, subsidiary chapels suppressed, and the cloisters and chapter house destroyed. In the process, all furnishings and imagery carried by the wall paintings, stained glass, altarpieces, mass vestments and altar hangings, have been lost. Only the carved choir stalls and screens and several unusually large brasses retain the church's medieval imagery. Thus we turn to sites visited by Kempe, both in Europe and England, to give us an understanding of what might have been the richness of her vision. 

See for an authoritative yet concise overview, see Richard Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, Toronto University Press: Toronto, 1993, chapter "The Reformation and After" 229-246.

Margaret Aston, England's Iconoclasts. Vol. 1 Laws Against Images, Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1988. 

C. H. Evelyn White The Journal of William Dowsing. Ipswich, 1885.