Miles Coverdale

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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

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). □

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Translator of the Bible; b. probably York, 1487 or 1488; d. London, Jan. 20, 1569. He took Holy Orders at Norwich in 1514 and joined the Augustinians at Cambridge, imbibing there the ideas of the prior, R. Barnes, who was tried for heresy in 1526. With T. Cromwell as patron, Coverdale preached against the Mass, auricular confession, and prayer before statues. Such views forced him into seven years' exile on the Continent, and at Antwerp he completed a translation of the Bible into English in 153435 with the financial aid of the merchant J. van Meteren. J. Mozley convincingly argues that E. Cervicorn and J. Soter printed this Bible at Cologne, and that Coverdale used five sources, W. Tyndale, M. Luther, the Vulgate, S. Pagninus, and the 1531 Zurich Bible. Coverdale produced at least five editions of the 1535 Bible, helped R. Grafton with the 1529 Great Bible, and translated minor works by D. Erasmus and Luther. From 1543 to 1547, and again as a Marian exile, Coverdale served Lutheran congregations at Bergzabern and elsewhere, returning to England in 1559. His reputation as a celebrated preacher grew during his term as bishop of Exeter (155153) and, after the Act of uniformity (1559) deprived him of a benefice, during his career as an itinerant preacher in London. His puritan ideas grew stronger from middle to later life, when he led the Puritan faction.

Bibliography: j. f. mozley, Coverdale and His Bibles (London 1953). h. guppy, "Miles Coverdale and the English Bible," The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 19 (1935) 300328. j. and j. a. venn, eds. Alumni Cantabrigienses, 4 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 192227) 1:406. h. r. tedder, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 18851900; repr. with corrections, 21 v., 190809, 192122, 1938; suppl. 1901) 4:128997.

[m. j. havran]

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Coverdale, Miles (1488–1568). Augustinian friar turned secular priest, popular preacher, and early reformer, Coverdale spent most of the time between 1528 and 1548 in exile, producing the first complete translation of the Bible into English, whilst abroad, in 1535. Prior to this, he may have worked with William Tyndale, upon whose New Testament translation he relied. Five years earlier, Henry VIII deemed an English translation unnecessary, but Thomas Cromwell obtained royal approval for publication of Coverdale's Bible in England, which encouraged John Rogers's Matthew Bible in 1537. Meanwhile, Cromwell initiated an official translation for use in every parish church, entrusting the revision to Coverdale. The ‘Great Bible’ was published in 1539. Coverdale was appointed bishop of Exeter in Edward VI's reign, deprived, but escaped persecution under Mary Tudor. Christian III of Denmark's intercession enabled him to go abroad again until the more favourable climate of Elizabeth's reign. But he was not restored to his diocese, presumably because his views were too radical.

Audrey MacDonald

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Coverdale, Miles (1488–1568). Translator of the Bible. The English Bible of 1539, known as the ‘Great Bible’, was his work, based mainly on earlier translations rather than on the Heb. and Gk. The Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer derive from this version.

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Coverdale, Miles (1488–1569) English cleric who issued the first printed English Bible (1535) and the ‘Great Bible’ (1539). Influenced by the Reformation, he helped William Tyndale on his Bible translation.