Forgotten Reformer: Myles Coverdale

Forgotten Reformer: Miles Coverdale

Geoffrey Main

Self-published, 2021 (ISBN: 9781916873704, 228pp)

Episcopal biographies are always an enjoyable read, not least those of bishops who are better known for their non-episcopal work. Coverdale is of course best known for his translations of scripture, with his edition of the Psalms still chanted daily in cathedrals around the world. That he spent two years as Bishop of Exeter is less well known. Though Coverdale is not, as the book’s title suggests, an entirely ‘forgotten’ reformer, he is certainly less prominent in modern memory than Cranmer, Tyndale, or Cromwell. 

Main’s book errs toward the descriptive and narrative, but enjoyably so. Coverdale’s life spanned a remarkable 81 years and encompassed both the early stirrings of English reformation in the Cambridge of the 1520s and the start of the Elizabethan Puritan party in the 1560s as well as all the dramatic events in between. Coverdale is thus not only a worthy subject of enquiry in his own right, but also a fascinating lens through whom to view the crucial phases of the reformation in England. In an effort to provide context, Main does sometimes seem to drift quite a way from his subject, but this does serve to make the book very accessible for readers unfamiliar with reformation history – an aim explicitly stated by the author. 

Substantial use has been made of original sources, including many from the Parker Society editions, while also maintaining dialogue with recent scholarship. A sensible volume of extended quotations and reproductions of extracts from a number of Coverdale’s printed works afford direct contact with the subject and those around him. Good attention is given to the personal life of Coverdale, including both his wives (the first of whom he only married at the age of 50) and children (none of whom survived infancy).

It is unfortunate that the book has not been published professionally; both the subject and execution certainly merit it, whilst the presentation and circulation would benefit. In the absence of other modern biographies of Coverdale, it can only be hoped that this one manages nonetheless to reach a wide audience. 

Edward Keene, Little Shelford