Miles Coverdale

The English Puritan Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) was the first to translate the complete Bible into English.

Miles Coverdale was a Yorkshireman of whose early education nothing is known. He joined the Augustinian friars at their great Barnwell Priory at Cambridge and became a priest, probably in 1514. He was very much influenced by his prior, Robert Barnes, an early and very active Lutheran, who was ultimately put to death under Henry VIII for his heretical opinions. Coverdale's increasingly heretical views caused him first to abandon his religious profession and then to leave England. By 1529 he had settled at Hamburg, Germany, and was engaged in assisting William Tyndale with his English translation of various parts of the Holy Scriptures.

By 1534 Coverdale was in Antwerp, where a merchant commissioned him to render the whole Bible in English. The printing of Coverdale's translation was completed by October 1535. This Bible, although allowed to circulate in England, lacked official approval because of its heretical tendentiousness and its inadequacy as a translation. Accordingly, Thomas Cromwell engaged Coverdale to work in England on a new version, using a revised edition of Tyndale's work known as Matthew's Bible. Coverdale's renewed efforts resulted in the publication in 1539 of the widely accepted Great Bible.

Meanwhile, Coverdale had taken a Scottish wife and with her went to Strassburg in 1540, when Henry VIII's approval of various executions made a longer stay in England dangerous. He returned to England, however, after Henry's death in 1547; he won favor, especially as a preacher, from the Privy Council and was rewarded with the bishopric of Exeter in 1551. As bishop, he earned a good reputation both from the fine example of his life and from his pastoral solicitude. But Coverdale was deposed soon after Mary I's accession to the throne in 1553. He would probably have been executed for heresy had not the king of Denmark successfully pleaded with Mary to allow him to depart for Copenhagen in 1555.

During his 4-year sojourn on the Continent, Coverdale visited various cities and worked on the Puritan version of the Bible, which appeared at Geneva in 1560. Then he returned to England. He was never restored to Exeter, probably because of his Puritanism, but he continued to preach and was warmly esteemed by his Puritan associates. He died in London on Jan. 20, 1569. His second wife, whom he married after his first wife's death in 1565, administered his estate. Of the two children by his first marriage, nothing seems to be known.


Further Reading on Miles Coverdale

The most recent study of Coverdale is James F. Mozley, Coverdale and His Bibles (1953), which outlines his life in the first chapter and has useful bibliographical appendices. An earlier study is Henry Guppy, Miles Coverdale and the English Bible, 1488-1568 (1935).