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He is said to have been born in the year 1488, and to have been a native of the district of Coverdale in Richmondshire, from which district it is probable that his family took their name. He received his education in the Priory of the Augustines at Cambridge, of which the celebrated Dr.
Barnes was the head. It is probable, that from this eminent man he derived those principles which led him to take so great a lead in the Reformation, and especially to devote himself with so much energy to the great work of presenting the scriptures to his countrymen in their native tongue. Bishop Coverdale subsequently showed his gratitude to his instructor by composing one of his ablest treatises in his defense. The situation of Coverdale having become unsafe from the conspicuous part which he had taken in defense of the new doctrines, he left England for a few years in the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII, during which time he was in the Netherlands, Denmark, and the north of Germany. During the period of this absence, besides assisting Tindal in his translation of the New Testament, he completed the translation of the Bible, which was published October 4th, 1535, besides other works calculated to advance the cause of the Reformation. On the accession of Edward VI in 1547, he returned to England, and was appointed chaplain to the Queen Dowager. In 1548, he accompanied the expedition of lord Russell for the suppression of the rebels in Devonshire. He was subsequently appointed coadjutor to Veysy, bishop of Exeter, and finally, in 1551, consecrated bishop of that see on the resignation of Veysy. On the accession of Mary, in 1553, he was deprived of his bishopric; but at the intercession of the king of Denmark he was allowed to leave the kingdom, from whence he went to Denmark, and was at length appointed to the parochial charge of Bergzabern in the dutchy of Deux-Ponts; where he remained till he went to Geneva, at which place he appears to have lived till the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1558, when he returned to England; and on the 17th of December 1559, he officiated at the consecration of Archbishop Parker. He was collated on the third of March 1563 to the living of St. Magnus, London Bridge, by Bishop Grindal, which in the course of the year 1566 he resigned. He died in February 1569 at the advanced age of eighty-one years, and was buried on the 19th of that month in St. Bartholomew’s Church, behind the Exchange. Although he was not restored to the bishopric of Exeter after his return from exile, nor promoted to any other bishopric, it is evident that he never relinquished his episcopal character, (as some have asserted that he did,) as he always signs himself — “Myles Coverdale, quondam Exoniensis.”
With regard to the works of Bishop Coverdale, much uncertainty has existed respecting them, from the circumstance that so few of them have been reprinted since the close of the century in which they were first published: one of them however, The Old Faith, was reprinted with a different title in 1624, and another, The Spiritual Pearl, twice in the present century. They are to be found almost entirely in the libraries of public bodies, or in the collections of private individuals. Even of those works which are best known, few copies are to be met with; while of others the numbers are reduced to two or three copies, and in more than one instance, so far as is yet ascertained, to a single copy. With regard also to the different editions of his works, much uncertainty exists, the earlier editions apparently having in many instances entirely disappeared.
These considerations, at the same time that they enhance the interest attaching to the writings of this eminent man, proportionably increase the difficulty of presenting them to the world in as complete a state as could be wished.
The works of Bishop Coverdale are partly original, and partly translated, chiefly consisting of the latter; it being a remarkable characteristic of this great man, that he did not disdain to employ the labors of others, when he thought them likely to be more effective than his own. It has been considered that any collection of his writings, which did not include these, would be incomplete. Even in these works he has shown the hand of a master; and in his original works, for instance his defense of his friend and preceptor Dr. Barnes, he has brought to his subject considerable powers both of learning and argument. It does not appear that any of his works were printed before the completion of his Bible in 1535; and they probably appeared, for the most part, between that period and the time of his elevation to the bishopric of Exeter.
The following is given as the most complete list which at present can be made out of his writings. 1. The Old Faith; an evident probation that the Christian Faith hath endured since the beginning of the world. (Translation from H.
Bullinger.) 1547. 2. A Spiritual and Most Precious Pearl. A translation from Otho Wermullerus. 1550. 3. *Treatise on Justification. From the same. 4. The Book of Death. From the same. 5. The Hope of the Faithful. From the same. 6. Fruitful Lessons upon the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Savior, and the giving of the Holy Ghost. 1540-47. 7. Abridgment of Erasmus’s Enchiridion. 8. A Confutation of that Treatise which one John Standish made against the Protestation of Dr. Barnes in the year 1540. 9. Christian State of Matrimony. 10. Faithful and true Prognostication on the years 1536-48-49. 11. Translation of Luther’s Exposition of the Twenty-third Psalm. 1537. 12. *How and whither a Christian ought to flee the horrible plague of the Pestilence. Translated from Osiander. 1537. 13 . Acts of the Disputation in the Council of the Empire holden at Ravenspurg, set forth by Bucer and Melancthon. Translated by M. C. 14. (1) The Christian Rule and state of all the world. (2) A Christian Exhortation unto customable Swearers. (3) The Manner of saying Grace or giving thanks to God. 15. Defense of a certain poor Christian man, who else should have been condemned by the Pope’s law. Translated from the German. 16. Ghostly Psalms and Spiritual Songs drawn out of the Holy Scripture. 17. (1) Exposition of the Magnificat. (2) The Original and Spring of all Sects. 18. (1) *A Christian Catechism. (2) Cantus usuales Witeburgensium. (3) The Apology of the Germans against the Council of Mantua. 19. A faithful and most godly Treatise concerning the most sacred Sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, translated from Calvin; whereunto the order that the church and congregation of Christ in Denmark doth use at the receiving of Baptism, the Supper of the Lord, and Wedlock, is added. 20. *The Supplication that the Nobles and Commons of Osterick made unto King Ferdinand. Translated by M. C. 21 . The Testimony and Report, which Eccius gave and sent in to the Council of those Princes, which name themselves Catholic. 1542.
Prefaces, Letters, etc.
Some other works have been attributed to Coverdale; but the evidence is not sufficient to warrant our ascribing them absolutely to him. Those works which have as yet escaped the researches of the Editor are marked with an asterisk. In conclusion, the Editor begs to express his thanks to those persons who have allowed their scarce copies of Coverdale to be transcribed for the press; of which due acknowledgment will be made in the proper place. November, 1844.