(Bishop of Exeter)

Born: 1488, near Middleham, Yorkshire, England

Died: 20 May 1565 / 19 Feb 1568

Buried: St. Bartholomew's Church, London, England

Married: Elizabeth ?

Born in Yorkshire, he studied philosophy and theology at Cambridge University, gained his doctorate at Tübingen, Germany and was ordained priest at Norwich in 1514. Thereafter, became a Religious of the Augustinian Convent at Cambridge (now occupied by the Physic Garden of its University), but releasing himself from his solemn vows, became a zealous instrument of the Reformation. Coverdale got on very well with his superior Robert Barnes, called by John Strypethe great restorer of good learning’, who was later to experience a martyr’s death under Henry for his reforming theology. Coverdale and Barnes found access to the doctrines of grace through Augustine’s works which pointed them to the Bible. Both men then gathered together students and ministers who wished to know more about true Biblical theology and Christian service. These devotees of what was called ‘the New Religion’ met in a building at Bumstead, Essex, called the White Horse but nicknamed ‘Germany’ because of the Reformation doctrines discussed there. One by one the monks and students who visited ‘Germany’, were won over to the new teaching which they found was the teaching of the New Testament church before its perversion by the papal system. Two notable visitors to these meetings were Hugh Latimer and Thomas Bilney who, though silenced by their bishops, were able to preach the gospel in Barne’s Augustine Priory.

He assisted William Tyndale in the complete version of the Bible, printed probably at Hamburgh in 1535. A second edition followed, in 1537, and was that "permitted to he set up in parish churches" by King Henry VIII. In Thomas Cromwell he found a powerful abettor: his labours in translating and editing the Bible in 1535, must place him among the leading scholars of the times; as a preacher, he was celebrated at home and abroad. Coverdale spent this portion of his life in Flanders and Germany, under the patronage of the Palgrave. He returned to England, after the death of King Henry, "when the Gospel had a free passage and did very much good in preaching of the same".

After Henry’s death, Coverdale became personal almoner to the dowager Queen Catherine Parr, then wife of Lord Thomas Seymour of Sudeley, assisting her in her endeavours to popularise Erasmus’ works. He preached her funeral sermon in Sep 1548.

He was then made chaplain to young Edward VI. In 1549 he wrote a dedication to Edward for a translation of the second volume of Erasmus's Paraphrases; and in 1550 he translated Otto Wermueller's Precious Pearl, for which Protector Somerset, who had derived spiritual comfort from the book while in the Tower, wrote a preface. He was much in request at funerals: he preached at Sir James Wilford's in Nov 1550, and at Lord Wentworth's before a great concourse in Westminster Abbey in Mar 1551. Coverdale became Bishop’s Adjunct to the diocese of Exeter. Writing on 1 Jun 1550 from Oxford, Peter Martyr wrote to tell Henry Bullinger the good news that their ‘well-acquainted’ friend was to be made a Bishop and that ‘nothing could be more convenient and conductive to the reformation of religion, than the advancement of such men to the government of the church’. A year later, Coverdale became Bishop of Exeter.

When Lord Russell was sent into Devonshire, in 1549, for the suppression of the Prayer Book rebellion there, Coverdale attended him as chaplain and preached on the field, after the skirmish at Clyst St. Mary. He received a license, with Doctors Gregory and Reynolds, from the infant King Edward VI, to declare the Word of God to the people.

The very day - 14 Aug 1551 - which witnessed the deprivation of Bishop Vesey, saw Dr. Coverdale appointed his successor, with power from the Crown to ordain and promote clerks to holy orders and priesthood. His consecration took place, according to the new form, on 30 Aug 1551, at Croydon, by Archbishop Cranmer. "The bones of his see had been so clean picked", says Heylin, p. 101, "that he could not easily leave them with less flesh than he found upon them". It is remarkable, that his Register commences on 10 Sep, the very day he obtained his dispensation from the young King, for himself and his wife, Elizabeth, "pro carnibus edendis", during Lent, and every fasting day, for the remainder of their lives. Four days after this royal indulgence, we find him at the Palace at Exeter, where, on 20 Dec that year, he ordained four deacons; one of whom, Anthony Randall, he commissioned, two days later, to expound and preach the Word of God in Latin, or English, in any church, or other decent places, throughout the diocese. Two of the other three deacons he promoted to priesthood in the chapel (sacello) of his palace. On 1 Jan 1552, he ordained, "infra domum suam", John Grosse deacon and likewise priest "in uno et eodem die". His other ordinations were conducted in his cathedral: viz., 3 Jul 1552, of two deacons; on 24 of the same month, of one deacon; and on 22 May, 1553, of two deacons: one of whom, Thomas Richards, he promoted to priesthood also "in uno et eodem die". This abuse was subsequently forbidden, viz. 1603, by the 32nd canon. His subsequent manner of life is thus described by Hooker, the historian of Exeter, who was personally acquainted with him: "He preached continually upon every holy-day and did read most commonly twice in the week in some one church or other within this city. He was, after the rate of his livings, a great keeper of hospitality, very sober in diet, godly in life, friendly to the godly, liberal to the poor, and courteous to all men. Void of pride, full of humility, abhorring covetousness and an enemy to all wickedness and wicked men, whose companies he shunned, and whom he would in no wise shroud, or have his house or company. His wife, a most sober, chaste and godly-matron. His house and household, another church in which was exercised all godliness and virtue. No one person being in his house which did not, from time to time, give an account of his faith and religion, and also did live accordingly".

Coverdale was not, however, popular in the west, the general feeling of which was still strongly Romanist. "Notwithstanding this good man, now a blameless Bishop, lived most godly and virtuously, yet the common people, whose old bottles would receive no new wine, could not brook or digest him, for no other cause but because he was a preacher of the Gospel, an enemy to Papistry and a married man. Many devices were attempted against him for his confusion, sometimes by false suggestions, sometimes by open railings and false libels, sometimes by secret back-bitings; and in the end, practised his death by empoisoning: but by the providence of God, the snares were broken and he delivered!"

We regret that the venerable man should have consented to sit as a judge to try Von Parris, the Dutch surgeon of London, who was committed to the flames in Apr 1551, for maintaining Socinian opinions.

It must have been painful to the Bishop's feelings, if he entertained any interest in the credit of his cathedral, to have been joined in the King's commission with Sir Peter Carew and Sir Thomas Denys, knights, William Hurst, the mayor of Exeter, and John Hydwynter, one of its aldermen, to summon peremptorily his Dean and Chapter to appear before them in his palace on 30 Sep 1552, "then and there to answer all demands and questions concerning the jewells, plate and other ornaments of your cathedrall churche". The summons is dated on the previous 29 Aug.

At Queen Mary's accession, he was deprived of his see and imprisoned, but by a proper Act of Council was permitted to go to Denmark "with two of his servants, his bagges and baggage, without any unlawfull lette or serche" ('Archæolog.? vol. xviii. p. 183), at the earnest request of King Christian III of Denmark. Bishop Veysey was restored to the See of Exeter, on the accession of Mary, and held it till his death in 1555.

He declined Christian's offer of a living in Denmark, and preferred to preach at Wesel to the numerous English refugees there, until he was invited by Duke Wolfgang to resume his labours at Bergzabern. He was at Geneva in Dec 1558, and is said to have participated in the preparation of the Geneva version of the Bible. During his absence from England, we imagine that he translated into English the treatise on the Eucharist "Compiled by John Calvine, a man of no less learnyng and literature than godly studye and example of lyvyng; wher unto is added the Order that the churche of Christe in Denmarke, and in many places, countries, and cities of Germany doth use, not onelye at the Holye Supper of the Lorde, but also at the ministration of the blessed Sacramente of Baptisme and Holy Wedlocke", - octavo, black letter, without place, printer's name, or date.

After Mary's death he returned to England, and might have been restored to his bishopric; but he preferred to lead a private life. Queen Elizabeth asked Coverdale to take part in consecrating the preacher-scholar Matthew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury and assist in spreading the Reformed faith throughout the churches with such men as Jewel and Grindal. Dr. Grindal, Bishop of London, collated him to the Rectory of St. Magnus, London Bridge, but he was too poor to pay the first-fruits, 60l. 16s. 10d., and at length, says Strype ('Hist. Reform.' p. 367), Queen Elizabeth was induced to forgive him that debt.

He died, it is said, on 20 May 1565, but perhaps on 19 Feb 1568, aged 81, and was buried in the chancel of St. Bartholomew's Church, behind the Exchange, London. "His funeral was graced with the presence of the Duchess of Suffolk, the Earl of Bedford, and many honourable and worshipful persons", says Hoker, who probably wrote his epitaph. For a list of his works we refer the reader to Chalmers' 'Biographical Dictionary,' and Cooper's 'Athenas Cantabrigienses,' vol. i., but of the 'Spiritual Perle,' he was merely the translator, from the German of Otho Wormulerus, in 1550, reprinted in 1812.

to Bios Page

to Home Page