Myles Coverdale

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Myles Coverdale
Bishop of Exeter
Myles Coverdale.jpg
See Exeter
Installed 1551
Term ended 1553
Predecessor John Vesey
Successor John Vesey
Personal details
Born c. 1488
Yorkshire, England
Died 20 January 1569
London, England
Denomination English Church - acknowledging authority of Pope in Rome; subsequently early Anglican reformer

Myles Coverdale (also spelt Miles Coverdale; 1488 – 20 January 1569) was an English reformer chiefly known as a Bible translator, preacher and, briefly, Bishop of Exeter.[1] Regarding his probable birth county, Daniell cites Bale, author of a sixteenth century scriptorium, giving it as Yorkshire.[1][note 1] Having studied philosophy and theology in Cambridge, Coverdale became an Augustinian friar and went to the house of his order, also in Cambridge. In 1514 John Underwood, a suffragan bishop and archdeacon of Norfolk, ordained him priest in Norwich. He was at the house of the Augustinians when in about 1520,[1] Robert Barnes returned from Louvain to become its prior. Coverdale produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.[2] He served as Bishop of Exeter from 1551 to 1553.

Life to end of 1528[edit]

Coverdale studied at Cambridge (bachelor of canon law 1513), became a priest in Norwich in 1514 and entered the house of the Augustinian friars in Cambridge, where Robert Barnes had returned from Louvain to become its prior. This is thought to have been about 1520 - 1525.[1][3] Barnes read aloud to his students from St. Paul's epistles in translation and taught from classical authors.[1] This undoubtedly influenced them towards Reform. In February 1526, Coverdale was part of a group of friars that travelled from Cambridge to London to present the defence of their superior, after Barnes was summoned before Cardinal Wolsey.[1][3] Barnes had been arrested as a heretic after preaching Lutheran views in St Edward's Church, Cambridge on Christmas Eve. On the 10 June 1539, Parliament passed the Act of Six Articles, marking a turning point in the progress of radical protestantism.[4](pp423 - 424) Barnes was burned at the stake on 30 July 1540, at Smithfield, along with two other reformers. Also executed that day were three Roman Catholics, who were hanged, drawn and quartered. [3]

Coverdale probably met Thomas Cromwell some time before 1527. A letter survives showing that later, in 1531, he wrote to Cromwell, requesting his guidance on his behaviour and preaching; also stating his need for books.[1] By Lent 1528, he had left the Augustinians and, wearing simple garments, was preaching in Essex against transubstantiation, the worship of images, and the traditional form of confession. At that date, such views were very dangerous, for the future course of the religious revolution that took place during the reign of Henry VIII was as yet very uncertain. Reforms, both of the type proposed by the Lollards, and those preached by Luther, were being pursued by a vigorous campaign against heresy.[4](pp379 - 380) Consequently, towards the end of 1528, Coverdale fled from England to the Continent of Europe.[1]

First exile: 1528[edit]

From 1528 to 1535, Coverdale spent most of his time on continental Europe, mainly in Antwerp. Convinced of the need for a vernacular English Bible, he began work on what became the first complete English Bible in print, named the Coverdale Bible. Not yet proficient in Hebrew or Greek, he used Latin, English and German sources and the works of William Tyndale who had been arrested in spring 1535 by Imperial Inquisitors. Tyndale languished in prison throughout 1535 and was strangled and burned at the stake in October 1536.

Coverdale's Bible, 1535[edit]

In 1534 Canterbury Convocation petitioned Henry VIII that the whole Bible might be translated into English, and in 1535 Coverdale published this complete Bible dedicated to the King.[5] He based his rendering in part on Tyndale's translation of the New Testament (following Tyndale's November 1534 Antwerp edition) and of those books which were translated by Tyndale: the Pentateuch, and the book of Jonah. Other Old Testament Books he translated from the German of Luther and others. His Psalter has remained in use in the Book of Common Prayer version of the Psalms. The publication appeared in Antwerp and was partly financed by Jacobus van Meteren.

Further translations, 1937 - 1939[edit]

In 1537 the Matthew Bible was printed in Antwerp, then to receive the authorization of Henry VIII and to appear in later editions in London.[5] This consisted of Tyndale's Pentateuch, a version of Joshua 2 and Chronicles made from the Hebrew, probably by Tyndale and not previously published, Tyndale's New Testament of 1535, and the rest in Coverdale's version.

In 1538, at the direction of Thomas Cromwell, Coverdale was in Paris, superintending the printing of the "Great Bible," and the same year were published, both in London and Paris, editions of a Latin and an English New Testament, the latter being by Coverdale. A coalition of certain English Bishops arranged interference with these operations in Paris and the Pope issued an edict that the English Bibles be burned and the presses stopped. The 1538 Bible was a diglot (dual-language) Bible, in which Coverdale compared the Latin Vulgate with his own English translation. He also edited the Great Bible (1540). The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, prefaced the Great Bible commending widespread use for all Churchmen. Under the second relevant Injunction of Cromwell, a major event occurred. Henry VIII ordered a Coverdale Bible to be placed in every English Church.[6] In February 1539, Coverdale was living in Newbury, employing John Winchcombe to communicate with Thomas Cromwell.[7] At this time, the printing of the London edition of the Great Bible was in progress.[1] Also from Newbury, he reported to Cromwell about breaches in the king's laws against papism, sought out churches in the district where the sanctity of Becket was still maintained, and arranged to burn primers and other church books which had not been altered to match the king's proceedings. But Cromwell was executed on 28 July 1540.[8] He had protected Coverdale since at least 1527 and the latter was again forced to seek refuge.

Second exile: 1540 - 1547[edit]

Coverdale lived for a time in Tübingen, where he received the Doctorate of Divinity and, from 1543 to 1547, was a pastor and schoolmaster in Bergzabern (now Bad Bergzabern) in the Electorate of the Palatinate. During this period he opposed Luther's attack on the Reformed view of the Lord's Supper. He also began to learn Hebrew, becoming competent in the language, as Tyndale had been.

Return to England; Bishop of Exeter[edit]

In March 1548, Coverdale wrote to fellow reformer John Calvin that he was returning to England by invitation after eight years of exile for his faith. He was well received at the court of the new monarch, Edward VI. He was made king's chaplain and almoner to the queen dowager, Catherine Parr. He became Bishop of Exeter in 1551, replacing the 86-year old Vesey. He spent Easter 1551 with the Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli at Magdalen College, Oxford. He attended Vermigli's lectures on Romans. Martyr's called Coverdale a "good and active preacher".[citation needed] Coverdale was in high demand but, however, was deposed in 1553 after the succession of Queen Mary. The reasons were his heresies and involvements with known reformers. Seeing his vulnerabilities, he went to Denmark (where his brother-in-law was chaplain to the king), then to Wesel, and finally back to Bergzabern. In 1559, he was again in England, but was not reinstated to his bishopric, perhaps because of Puritan scruples about vestments, although he was consecrated in Croydon wearing a surplice and cope. Having suffered long and from afar for so many years, he was not a handy or easy tool in the new settlement. From 1564 to 1566, he was rector of St Magnus's near London Bridge. On 20 January 1569, Coverdale died in London and was buried at St Bartholomew's by the Exchange; when that church was demolished in 1840 to make way for the new Royal Exchange, his remains were moved to St Magnus's.


Coverdale's legacy has been far-reaching, especially that of his first complete English Bible of 1535. For the 400th anniversary of the Authorised King James Bible, in 2011, the Church of England issued a resolution, which was endorsed by the General Synod.[9] Starting with the Coverdale Bible, the text included a brief description of the continuing significance of the Authorised King James Bible (1611) and its immediate antecedents:

  • The Coverdale Bible (1535)
  • Matthew’s Bible (1537)
  • The Great Bible (1539)
  • The Geneva Bible (1557 – New Testament, 1560 – whole Bible)
  • The Bishops’ Bible (1568)
  • The Rheims-Douai Bible (1582 – New Testament, 1609-1610 - whole Bible)
  • The Authorised King James Bible (1611)

He was also involved with revisions and the production of the Great Bible, retaining much of Tyndale's original work: the entire Tyndalian New Testament, Pentateuch and historical works were essentially retained; he reworked his translations of the poets and prophets. He left his translation of the Psalter alone and this is still used in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, being the most familiar translation of the psalms for many Anglicans all over the world, particularly in the Collegiate and Cathedral Churches. Hence many musical settings of the psalms also make use of the Coverdale translation. His translation of the Roman Canon is still used in some Anglican and Anglican Use Roman Catholic churches.

Miles Coverdale was a man who was loved all his life for that ‘singular uprightness’ recorded on his tomb. He was always in demand as a preacher of the gospel. He was an assiduous bishop. He pressed forward with great work in the face of the complexities and adversities produced by official policies. His gift to posterity has been from his scholarship as a translator; from his steadily developing sense of English rhythms, spoken and sung; and from his incalculable shaping of the nation's moral and religious sense through the reading aloud in every parish from his ‘bible of the largest size’.

David Daniell, ‘Coverdale, Miles (1488–1569)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, October 2009 accessed 15 February 2015.

Coverdale is honoured, together with William Tyndale, with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on 6 October. His extensive contacts with English and Continental Reformers was integral to the development of successive versions of the bible in the English language.

See also[edit]

Timeline of the English Reformation


  1. ^ According to a bronze plaque on the wall of the former York Minster library, he was believed to have been born in York circa 1488. Anon. "Bronze commemorative plaque on wall of former York Minster Library.". Retrieved 15 February 2015.  However, the exact birth location of York does not appear to be corroborated. An older source (Berkshire History - based on Article of 1903) even suggests his birthplace as Coverdale, a hamlet in North Yorkshire, but neither is this elsewhere substantiated. Daniell says that no details are known of his parentage or early education, so simply Yorkshire is the safest conclusion.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Daniell, David (2004). "Coverdale, Miles (1488-1569)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Anon. "Early Printed Bibles - in English - 1535-1610". British Library – Help for Researchers - Coverdale Bible. The British Library Board. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Trueman, Carl R. (2004). "Barnes, Robert (c.1495–1540)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Duffy, Eamon. (1992). The Stripping of the Altars. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05342-8. 
  5. ^ a b Livingstone ed., E.A. (2006). Article title: Bible, English versions The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd rev. ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198614425. 
  6. ^ Rex, Richard, "the Crisis of Obedience: God’s Word and Henry’s Reformation," The Historical Journal, V. 39, no. 4, December 1996, p. 893-4.
  7. ^ King, Richard John. "Berkshire History: Biographies: Miles Coverdale (1488 - 1569)". Berkshire History. David Nash Ford. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Leithead, Howard. "Oxford DNB Article: Cromwell,Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Anon. "Diocesan Synod Motion - Confidence in The Bible - 11/04/2011". Church of England. Church of England General Synod. Retrieved 28 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

Religious titles
Preceded by
John Vesey
Bishop of Exeter
Succeeded by
John Vesey