The following book is reviewed by Prof. Douglas Kuiper, professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and member of Trinity PRC in Hudsonville, Michigan.

Forgotten Reformer: Myles Coverdale and the First Forty Years of the English Reformation, by G. F. Main. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2023. Pp xii + 201. Hardcover. $35.00.

The Middle Ages are known, among other things, for ignorance of the Bible. Few lay-people knew the Bible; most priests did not even read or know it! The official Bible version was the Latin Vulgate, which laypeople could not read. John Wyclif’s translation of the Vulgate into English in 1382 meant that, for the first time in centuries, the people of England could read the Bible in their own language. The next two men to take up the work were William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale. This biography treats the life and work of Coverdale (1488-1569).

G.F. Main’s title is apt: Coverdale is a “forgotten reformer.” Few book-length biographies of Coverdale exist. Yet how God used him for the progress of the reformation in England is a good story. Main writes the story in an interesting way that high-schoolers, even advanced junior-high readers, can understand.

I will not summarize the book; I will just give several reasons why I highly recommend the book.

It explains how Coverdale’s work of Bible translation built on the work of William Tyndale, how Coverdale contributed both to the Great Bible and the Genevan Bible, and how all this paved the way for the King James Version.

It relates how Coverdale suffered for his work. Since 1408, the English church considered translating the Holy Scripture into English to be a heresy. Heretics, when caught, were imprisoned and often burned at the stake. So Coverdale had to leave England three different times. Once he was imprisoned with eleven other ministers. Some were killed, others recanted. Coverdale was the only one to leave prison without recanting! (Read the book!)

It shows that Coverdale contributed to the Reformation in England in other ways too. In his concluding chapter, Main summarizes eight ways that Coverdale contributed, including as a preacher; a translator of metrical psalms and hymns; and a translator of writings of other Reformers, including Luther and Calvin.

It puts Coverdale in his historical context. Here the book excels, for its attention to Coverdale’s context. The book is as much a short survey of the Reformation in England, as it is a biography of Coverdale. Remember, these are the days of Henry VIII (increasingly bad times for those interested in doctrinal reformation), Edward VI (very good times), Bloody Mary (the absolute worst of times), and Elizabeth I. The days of Elizabeth I were the days when nonconformists made themselves known. Elizabeth wanted all to follow the same form of worship, including using the same prayer book. Some courageous men would not use that book, in part because they understood that the monarch was dictating how the church should worship, and in part because they wanted a purer and more thorough reformation. Coverdale was one of the latter. Consequences followed. (Read the book!)

Did I mention that Coverdale was chaplain to Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife and only widow? Or that he personally knew Christian III, King of Denmark? The book is full of intrigue! No surprise there; history is always full of intrigue. God sovereignly directs it, suddenly turns it in a new direction by the death of a monarch, again redirects it by the decisions of Parliaments and church bodies, and in the end preserves His church and saints through many perils! This book bears witness to all of that.