Miles Coverdale was born in 1488 near Middleham, Yorkshire, England. He studied philosophy and theology at Cambridge University, where he graduated bachelor of canon law. Coverdale was ordained into the priesthood in 1514, and shortly thereafter entered the convent of Augustinian Friars, where he was most likely influenced in favor of Protestantism by Robert Barnes, and early follower of the teachings of Martin Luther. When Barnes was later tried for heresy in 1526, Coverdale went to London to assist in preparing his defense. Not long after the trial, Coverdale left the convent and committed himself entirely to the ministry of preaching. His public preaching against the religious practices of his day, including transubstantiation, sacramental confession, and the worship of images, forced Coverdale to flee to Europe. During his exile, Miles Coverdale worked with William Tyndale on his translation of the whole Bible. By that time, at least 50,000 of Tyndale’s New Testaments had been distributed throughout England, despite condemnation by King Henry VIII. After Tyndale was martyred, Coverdale, along with John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers and several other translators, continued and accelerated Tyndale’s work.
From 1528 to 1535, Coverdale labored to finish his compilation of the Old Testament, which was then published by Jacobus van Meteren. In the same year, the Coverdale Bible, the first complete printed English Bible, was published. The previous year, Coverdale had published Dulichius’ Vom alten und newen Gott and his own Paraphrase upon the Psalms. In 1535, Coverdale published Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songes Drawen out of the Holy Scripture, the first English hymnbook. Many of Coverdale’s translations were also published in 1537 as part of the Matthews Bible. In 1538, Coverdale moved to Paris, where he supervised the printing of the Great Bible, a dual-language Bible in which he compared the Latin Vulgate with his English translation. Coverdale’s English New Testament was published in London and Paris, and he proceeded to translate Cranmer’s Bible in 1540. He returned to England in 1539, but with the execution of his close friend and protector Thomas Cromwell, was compelled to go into exile once again.
From 1540-1547 Coverdale lived at Tubingen, where he earned his doctorate, and worked as a pastor and schoolmaster at Bergzabern. During that time, Coverdale translated several tracts, published an English New Testament, and edited Cranmer’s Bible of 1540. After the death of King Henry VIII, Coverdale returned to England, where he enjoyed much favor under King Edward VI, spending most of his time at Windsor Castle as the King’s chaplain. In 1551, Coverdale became Bishop of Exeter, but after the succession of Queen Mary, best known as “Bloody Mary” in 1553, he was deprived of that position and imprisoned. During his imprisonment, the King of Denmark, who Coverdale had become acquainted with during his time in Germany, pleaded his cause to Queen Mary and arranged for Coverdale’s safe transfer out of England. Coverdale was released and quickly left for Denmark, before moving on to Wesel, and finally back to Bergzabern. After the reign of Queen Mary had ended, Coverdale made his final trip back to England, where he served as rector of St. Magnus’ near London Bridge until 1566. He died shortly thereafter, in 1568.
Coverdale was one of the most effective preachers of his day, helping to lead the progress of the Reformation. His excellent knowledge of German and Latin, as well as his understanding of Greek, Hebrew, and French greatly aided Coverdale in his translation work, and provided many opportunities for him. As a result, Coverdale had a part in the publication of more editions of English Bibles in the 1500’s than any other man.