Coverdale, Miles

, the pious and learned bishop of Exeter in the reign of Edward VI. was born in Yorkshire in 1487, as appears by his age on his epitaph. He was educated at Cambridge, in the house of the Augustine friars, of which Dr. Barnes, afterwards one of the protestant martyrs, was then prior. One of his name took the degree of bachelor of law in 1530, but Lewis thinks this must have been too late for the subject of the present article; yet it is not improbable it was the same, as he appears to have been in Cambridge at that time. He afterwards, according to Godwin, who does not furnish the date, received the degree of D. D. from the university of Tubingen, and was, though late in life, admitted ad eundem at Cambridge. Being in his early years attached to the religion in which he was brought up, he became an Augustine monk. In 1514 he entered into holy orders, being ordained at Norwich; but afterwards changing his religious opinions, Bale says he was one of the first, who, together with Dr. Robert Barnes, his quondam prior, taught the purity of the gospel, and dedicated himself wholly to the service of the reformation. About this time, probably 1530, or 1531, the reformed religion began to dawn at Cambridge. Various eminent men, not only in the colleges, but monasteries, began to assemble for conference on those points which had been discussed by the reformers abroad, and their usual place of meeting was a house called the White Horse, which their enemies nicknamed Germany, in allusion to what was passing in that country; and this house being contiguous to King’s, Queen’s, and St. John’s colleges, many members of each could have | access unobserved. Among the names on record of these early converts to protestantism, we find that of Coverdale. In 1532 he appears to have been abroad, and assisted Tyndale in his translation of the Bible, and in 1535 his own translation of the Bible appeared, with a dedication by him to king Henry VIII. It formed a folio volume, printed, as Humphrey Wanley thought, from the appearance of the types, at Zurich, by Christopher Froschover. If so, Coverdale must have resided there while it passed through the press, as his attention to it was unremitting. He thus had the honour of editing the first English Bible allowed by royal authority, and the first translation of the whole Bible printed in our language. It was called a special translation, because it was different from the former English translations, as Lewis shews by comparing itwithTyndale’s; and the psalms in it are those now used in the Book of Common Prayer. In 1538 a quarto New Testament, in the Vulgate Latin, and in Coverdale’s English, though it bore the name of Hollybushe, was printed with the king’s licence, and has a dedication by Coverdale, in which he says, “he does not doubt but such ignorant bodies as, having cure of souls, are very unlearned in the Latin tongue, shall, through this small labour, be occasioned to attain unto more knowledge, or at least be constrained to say well of the thing which heretofore they have blasphemed.

About the end of this year we find Coverdale again abroad on the business of a new edition of the Bible, on which occasion an event happened which shewed the vigilance and jealousy of the Romanists with respect to vernacular translations. Grafton, the celebrated pri liter, had permission from Francis I. king of France, at the request of king Henry himself, to print a Bible at Paris, on account of the superior skill of the workmen, and the comparative goodness and cheapness of the paper. But, notwithstanding the royal licence, the inquisition interposed by an instrument dated Dec. 17, 1538. The Frenchprinters, their English employers, and our Coverdale, who was the corrector of the press, were summoned by the inquisitors; and the impression, consisting of 2500 copies, was seized and condemned-to the flames. But the avarice of the officer who superintended the burning of these “heretical books,” as they were called, induced him to sell some chests of them to a haberdasher for the purpose | of wrapping his wares, and thus some copies were preserved. The English proprietors, who fled at the alarm, returned to Paris when it-subsided; and not only recovered some of those copies which had escaped the fire, but brought with them to London the presses, types, and printers. This valuable importation enabled Grafton and Whitchurch to print in 1539, what is called Cranmer’s, or the “Great Bible,” in which Coverdale compared the translation with the Hebrew, corrected it in many places, and was the chief overseer of the work. Dr. Fulk, who was one of Coverdale’s hearers when he preached at St. Paul’s Cross, informs us that he took an opportunity in his sermon to defend his translation against some slanderous reports then raised against it, confessing-, “that he himself now saw some faults, which, if he might review the book once again, as he had twice before, he doubted not he should amend: but for any heresy, he was sure that there was none maintained in his translation.” In all these labours Coverdale found a liberal patron in Thomas lord Cromwell.

It is highly probable also that Coverdale was held in estimation for piety or talents at court, for he was almoner to queen Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII. a lady who was a favourer of the reformed religion, and as such he officiated at her funeral in Sept. 1548, in the chapel at Sudeley castle in Gloucestershire, the seat of her third husband, Thomas, lord Seymour of Sudley; and took that opportunity of declaring his sentiments on religion in the sermon he preached, which, says our manuscript authority, “was very good and godlie, and in one place thereof he toke occasion to declare unto the people howe that there shulde none there thinke, seye nor spread abrode, that the offeringe which was there don, was don anye thing to proffytt the deade, but for the poore onlye; and also the lights which were caried and stode abowte the corps, were for the honnour of the parson, and for none other entente nor purpose; and so wente thorowghe with his Sermon de, and made a godly e Prayer, &c.

In 1547 we find him preaching at St. Paul’s with such effect against certain anabaptists, that they are said to have recanted their opinions. On the 14th of August, 1551, he succeeded Dr. John Harman, or Voysey, in the see of Exeter, his collocation, with licence of entry, bearing date July of that year, and it was expressly stated that king | Edward VI. had promoted him “on account of his extraordinary knowledge in divinity, and his unblemished character.” When lord Russel was sent down to quell the rebellion in the West of England in 1549, he was attended by Coverdale to preach among them, and it was probably the influence of his preaching in composing the religious differences in that quarter, which pointed him out as a fit person to succeed Hartnan, a bigotted papist, who seldom resided, and took little care of his diocese, and to whom, some time before, Coverdale had been appointed coadjutor, an office not uncommon in those days. On his appointment to this bishopric, Coverdale was so poor as to be unable to pay the first fruits, which, therefore, the king, at the solicitation of archbishop Cranmer, excused. In the same year he was nominated one of the commissioners for compiling a new body of ecclesiastical laws, a favourite object with Cranmer, which, however, did not then take effect.

In his diocese he exerted himself to promote the reformed religion, and as he was not technically versed in civil and ecclesiastical law, which he wished to be executed with justice and equity, he applied to the university of Oxford for a competent person to be chancellor of his diocese; and Dr. Robert Weston, afterwards lord chancellor in Ireland*, being recommended, he invested him ivith full ecclesiastical jurisdiction, allowing him not only all the fees of office, but a house for him and his family, with proper attendants, and a salary of 40l. per annum. Yet, notwithstanding the integrity of his chancellor’s conduct, and his own endeavours to promote religion, by preaching constantly every Sunday and holy day, and by a divinity lecture twice a week in one or other of the churches of Exeter, and notwithstanding his hospitality, charity, and humility, the enemies of the new religion, as it was called, took every opportunity to thwart his endeavours, and to misrepresent his conduct, all which, however, during the reign of Edward VI. gave him but little disturbance.

On the accession of queen Mary, and the consequent re-establishment of popery, he was ejected from the see and thrown into prison, out of which he was released after two years confinement, at the earnest request of the king of Denmark. Coverdale and Dr. John Machabseus, chap­* Dr. Weston does not occur in Le Neve’s List of Chancellors, bu.1 there can be no doubt of the fact. | lain to that monarch, had married sisters*, and it was at his chaplain’s request that the king interposed, but was obliged to send two or three letters be Core he could accomplish his purpose. By one of these, dated April 25, 1554, it would appear that Coverdale was imprisoned in consequence of being concerned in an insurrection against the queen, but this is not laid to his charge in the queen’s answer, who only pretended that he was indebted to her concerning his bishopric. As the first fruits had been forgiven by Edward VI. this must be supposed to allude to his tenths; and Coverdale’s plea, as appears by the king of Denmark’s second letter, was, that he had not enjoyed the bishopric long enough to be enabled to pay the queen. This second letter bears date Sept. 24, 1554, and, according to Strype, the queen’s grant of his request was not given till Feb. 18, 1555. Strype, therefore, from his own evidence, is erroneous in his assertion that in 1554 Coverdale was preacher to a congregation of exiled protestants at Wesel, until he was called by the duke of Deux Fonts, to be preacher at Bergzabern .

During his confinement he was one of the prisoners, who, with Ferrar, bi shop of St. David’s, Taylor, Philpot, Bradford, Hooper, and others, martyrs, drew up and signed a confession of their faith, dated May 8, 1554. This is another proof of —Strype’s error noticed in the text.

On his release, which was on the condition of banishing himself, he repaired to the court of Denmark, where the king would fain have detained him, but as he was not so well acquainted with the language as to preach in Danish, he preferred going to the places above mentioned, where he could preach with facility in Dutch; and there and at Geneva he passed his time, partly in teaching and partly in preaching. He also, while here, joined some other English exiles, Goodman, Gilby, Whittingham, Sampson, Cole, &c. in that translation of the Bible usually called the “Geneva translation;” part of which, the New Testament, was printed at Geneva, by Conrad Badius, in 1557, and again in 1560, in which last year the whole Bible was printed in the same place by Rowland Harte. Of this translation, which had explanatory notes, and therefore was much used in private families, there were above thirty editions in folio, quarto, and octavo, mostly printed in England by the king’s and queen’s printers, from the year 1560 to 1616. On the
*

This circumstance seems to have given rise io the assertion in some histories, that Coverdale was a Dane. Bui-net, who ought to have known better, says he was a foreigner.

| accession of queen Elizabeth, he returned from his exile, but, unfortunately for the church, had imbibed the principles of the Geneva reformers, as far as respected the ecclesiastical habits and ceremonies. In 1559, however, we find him taking his turn as preacher at St. Paul’s Cross, and he assisted also at the consecration of archbishop Parker, in which ceremony, although he performed the functions of a bishop, he wore only a long black cloth gown. This avowed non-compliance with the habits and ceremonies prevented his resuming his bishopric, or any preferment being for some time offered to him. In 1563 bishop Grindal recommended him to the bishopric of Llandaff; and in 1564, Coverdale had the honour to admit that prelate to his doctor’s degree, by a mandate from the vicechancellor of Cambridge, a proof that he was still in high estimation. Grindal, particularly, had a great regard for him, and was very uneasy at his want of preferment. On one occasion he exclaimed, “I cannot excuse us bishops.” He also applied to the secretary of state, “telling him, that surely it was not well that father Coverdale,” as he styled him, “qui ante nos omnes fuit in Christo,” “who was in Christ before us all,” should be now in his age without stay of living.“It was on this occasion that Grindal recommended him to the bishopric of Llandaff, as already noticed, but it is supposed Coverdale’s age and infirmities, and the remains of the plague, from which he had just recovered, made him decline so great a charge. In lieu of it, however, the bishop collated him to the rectory of St. Magnus, London Bridge; and here again the good man’s poverty presented an obstruction, as appears from some affecting letters he wrote to be excused from the first fruits, amounting to 60l. which he was utterly incapable of paying: one of these letters, in which he mentions his age, and the probability of not enjoying the preferment long, he concludes with these words:” If poor old Miles might be thus provided for, he should think this enough to be as good as a feast." His request being granted, he entered upon his charge, and preached about two years; but resigned it in 1566, a little before his death. He was very much admired by the puritans, who flocked to him in great numbers while he officiated at St. Magnus’s church, which he did without the habits, and when he had resigned it, for it does not appear that he was deprived of it, as Neal asserts, his followers were obliged | to send to his house on Saturdays, to know where they might hear him the next day, which he declined answering lest he should give offence to government. Yet, according to Strype, he had little to fear; for, Fox, Humphrey, Sampson, and others of the same way of thinking, were not only connived at, but allowed to hold preferments. He died, according to Richardson in his edition of Godwin, May 20, 1565 and according to Neal in his History of the Puritans, May 20, 1567 but both are wrong. The parish register proves that he was buried Feb. 19, 1568, in the chancel of the church of St. Bartholomew, Exchange, with the following inscription on his tombstone, which was destroyed at the great fire along with the church.

"Hie tandem requiemque ferens, finemque laborum,

Ossa Coverdali mortua tunibus habet: Exoniae qui praesul erat dignissimus olim,

Insignis vitse vir probitate suae. Octoginta annos grandaevus vixit et unum,

Indignum passus saepius exilium. Sic demum variis jaetatus casibus ista

Excipit gremio, terra bemgna, suo."

Coverdale was the author of several tracts calculated to promote the doctrines of the reformation, and of several translations from the writings of the foreign reformers. All these are now of such rare occurrence, that it is very difficult to make out a correct list. That in Bale, and in the meagre account of him in the Biographia Britannica, is both defective and indistinct. The following, which probably is also imperfect, may, in some measure, assist the collectors of curiosities, and has been taken principally from Ames and Herbert: 1. “A faithful and true Prognostication upon the Year 1548, &c.” translated from the German, 8vo, 1536, 1548, and often reprinted. 2. Translation of “Luther’s Exposition of the 23d Psalm,1537, 16mo. 3. “How and whither a Chryten man ought to fly the horryble Plague and Pestilence,” a sermon, from the German, to which is added, “A comfort concerning them that be dead, and howe wyfe, chyldren, and other frendes shal be comforted, the husband being dead,1537, 8vo. 4. “The Olde Faithe,1541 and 1547, 16mo. 5. A translation of Bullinger’s “Christen State of Matrimony,1541, 8vo, and 1543, one of the books prohibited by proclamation of Henry VIII. but reprinted twice in 1552. 6. “A Confutacion of that Treatise, which one John Standish | made against the Protestacion of D. Barnes, in the year 1540,” 1541, 8vo. 7. Translation of “The Actes of the Disputation in the cowncell of the empyre, holden at Regenspurg 1” 8vo, about 1542. 8. Translation from the German of “The Defence of a certayne poore Christen Man who als shuld have beene condemned by the Popes Lawe,” Nuremberg, 1545, 16mo. 9. “An Abridgment of Erasmus’s Enchiridion militis Christiani,1545, 12mo. 10. A translation of the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, in “The second volume of the Paraphrase ef Erasmus on the New Testament,1549, fol. 11. Translation of “A godly Treatise, wherein is proved the true Justification of a Christian Man to come freely to the Mercie of God,1579, 16mo. 12. Translation of “The Hope of the Faithfull, &c.1579, 16mo, and of 13. “The Booke of Death, or how a Christian Man ought to behave himself in the danger of Death, &c.1579, 16mo. 14. Translation of “A spiritual and most precious pearle, teaching all men to love and embrace the Cross,” from the German of Otho Wermylierus, or Wermulerus, no date, but printed by Singleton about 1588. 15. ,“Fruitful Lessons upon the passion, buriall, resurrection, ascension, and of the sending of the Holy Ghost,1593, 4to. 16. Translation of “The Supplication of the nobles and commons of Ostericke made unto king Ferdinandus, in the cause of Christian Religion, &c.” 8vo, no date. 17. “Declaration of the Order that the churches in Denmark, and many other places in Germany, do use, not only at the Holy Supper, but also at Baptisme,” printed beyond sea; no date, 16mo. No manuscripts of bishop Coverdale exist in any of our public libraries, except a short letter in the Harleian collection, lately printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine. 1

1

Bale and Tanner. —Strype’s Life of Cranmer, p. 59, 82, 138, 266, 271, 274,310,314, 444. —Strype’s Parker, p.G 7,54, 56 58,148, 241 3. —Strype’s Grindal, p. 27,91,95, 116. —Strype’s Memorials, vol. II. p. 90, 277,464; vol. 111. p. 152. —Strype’s Annals, vol. 1. p. 3i6; vol. II. Appendix, book I. No. 22. Clark’s Lives at the end of his Martyrology. Polwhele’s Hist, of Devonshire. —Gent. Mag. vol. LXI. A ms. in the College of Arms, I. 15, F. 93, a part of which was communicated to the editors of the last edition of the Biog. Brit, and is the only article of the least consequence in that very imperfect accouut, which concludes with a gross misrepresentation by Neal, Lewis aud archbishop Newcombe’s Hist, of the Translations of the Bible.