The early history of eminent persons is often involved in much obscurity: and this observation is remarkably verified in the instance of the illustrious subject of this memoir. Bishop Myles Coverdale is supposed to have been born in the year of our Lord 1488, in the district of Coverdale in the parish of Coverham, near Middleham, in the North Riding of Yorkshire; and it is the opinion of the learned historian of Richmondshire1, that it is an assumed, and not a family name. Whatever may be the truth in this respect, it is perhaps impossible in the present day accurately to determine it.
Of the history of his early life every thing is equally obscure. When he was of a proper age for an academical education, he was sent to the monastery of the Augustines at Cambridge, of which the celebrated Dr Robert Barnes was at that time Prior; from whom he imbibed those sound principles of learning and religion, which fitted him afterwards to take so conspicuous a lead in the events connected with the Reformation; and his name is mentioned amongst the principal persons in the University at this period who favoured these opinions, the most celebrated of whom were Bilney, Stafford, and Latimer2. He appears even at this early period to have attracted the notice of lord Crumwell; and during the time that he was an inmate of this house, we find him in correspondence with him, and enjoying the confidence of this eminent person3.
He is said by Tanner to have been admitted to Priests' Orders by John Bishop of Chalcedon at Norwich, a.d. 15144, and to have taken the degree of Bachelor of Canon Law at Cambridge, a.d. 1531. He is stated on the same authority to have been admitted to the degree of D.D. at Tubingen.
Upon the occasion of Dr Barnes being arrested in the Convocation-house and carried before Wolsey for preaching heretical doctrines, we find Coverdale accompanying him, to support him under his trials. The next intelligence that we hear of him is amongst the earlier leaders of the Reformation in the northern parts of Essex. Among the parishes in this part of the country, which are mentioned as having been favourable to the cause of the Reformation, are those of Birdbrook, Steeple-Bumpstead, and the adjoining parish of Stoke-Clare in the county of Suffolk; and this effect seems to have been produced by the circulation of portions of the New Testament, which had existed in manuscript long before the publication of Tyndale's New Testament, and had prepared the minds of men for the reception of it, when it appeared. In one of these parishes, Steeple-Bumpstead, Richard Foxe, the minister of the parish, was among the most zealous preachers of the doctrines of the Reformation in this district; and we find the name of Coverdale mentioned in a prominent manner in connexion with these transactions, and with the distribution of the scriptures at this period.
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