I have dealt with a similar claim recently (up to historic Waldensians of Piedmonte, this time)and a near identical claim earlier on the Catholic vs Protestant section of my apologetics blogs:
Great Bishop of Geneva! : Between Vigilantius and the Waldensians
Great Bishop of Geneva! : Resurrection, Holy Eucharist, Holy Poverty (or, Why Was Wycliff Wrong)
The latter (earlier one) deals with Culdees as the surviving Theological homologues of today's Protestant Fundies - according to their claims. The claims of the Fundies, not of the Culdees, that is.
It was stressed that Englishmen had no such access before. However, even the words of Coverdale himself imply that at least this was not universally so:
“Why should other nations be more plenteously provided with the Scriptures in their mother-tongue than we? God has now given His church the gifts of translating and printing; we must improve them”*
Is "more plenteously than we" referring only to recent Reformation? At least for Spain this was not so. Ximénez de Cisneros died in 1517, as an Inquisitor and as a Cardinal. He had given Spain a Spanish Bible. If a Spaniard knowing no Latin and being no priest or monk or nun wanted to read it, he had to ask permission - but it was readily given if he was pious and not a scoffer. This passage brings it out a bit:
He became Bishop of Exeter, but lost this position when Queen Mary ascended the throne. Strangely however, “Bloody Mary”, never molested Coverdale except to seek sureties for his persecuted friends.
Queen Mary I of England was, as far as I recall, married to King Philip II of Spain. Sure enough:
In 1554, Mary married Philip of Spain, becoming queen consort of Habsburg Spain on his accession in 1556.
As the fourth crowned monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Mary is remembered for her restoration of Roman Catholicism after the short-lived Protestant reign of her half-brother. During her five-year reign, she had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in the Marian persecutions. Her re-establishment of Roman Catholicism was reversed after her death in 1558 by her younger half-sister and successor Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn.
Coverdale's passion for the Bible translation would certainly not have been sufficient to make him a heretic in the eyes of Her Majesty, since His Majesty of Spain could read the Spanish Bible of Jiménez de Cisneros. If she had 280 heretics burnt - against the advice of Cardinal Pole who reconciled England with Rome, and in order to respect the law of 1401 which had been established by the Parliament against the Lollards, and was still being applied by James I - a Puritan but High Church Anglican (doctrinally Puritan, ritually High Church, that is) - in 1612 against a Baptist of Anabaptist, a year after his version of the Bible came out - one must indeed have been highly qualified as a heretic to join the select few 280. Coverdale as being discreet (which the essay by Sylvia Clifford portrays him as**) was not molested, apart from being deposed from his pseudo-episcopacy. Partly of course for lacking apostolic succession as a bishop, in the eyes of Cardinal Pole who restored the Catholic Hierarchy for some time (he had Apostolic Succession on the lower level of the sacerdotium, as a presbyter). And for not getting it, if he was offered to be consecrated. And partly too perhaps because he had first dedicated his Bible translation to Henry VIII (father of Queen Mary) and his "wife" Anne Boleyn (rival of Catherine of Aragon, the true Queen of Henry VIII). Not the kind of things a son or daughter readily forgets.
Even so, he had given a bad testimony:
With this in mind however he continued to ardently preach against the veneration of images and confession, always however within the lines of Scripture, and devoid of any personal political attacks. ... Coverdale loved the Scriptures, gloried in it being translated into his native tongue and enjoyed the freedom it had brought to him. He was not hesitant at all in 1539 when he was employed by Thomas Cromwell to assist in the production of the Great Bible. He was anxious that all men should enjoy the Scriptures. He was active in the suppression of superstition and longed that all Englishmen would enjoy light rather than darkness.
The attack on veneration of images strikes an ugly note to anyone aware of how Leo III of Constantinople persecuted the venerators of images, the certainly then traditional position, even according to secular scholarship, apart from being the Apostolic one according to our faith. St Lazarus the Iconographer (can't find reference right now) had his hands burnt to stop him from painting - in Greek actually "writing" - images. From him we have an icon of the Blessed Virgin. Not sure if Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is that one or a copy of it. It is anyway a copy of a copy of an icon by St Luke the Gospeller.
The attack on confession by Coverdale is antibiblical - even Luther after becoming a Protestant recommended confession. John chapter 20, verses 21 to 23, make very clear that Apostles were given the power to forgive sins, and this in connexion with the sending which Bishops to this day have received from Christ through Apostles and very many intermediates, but in an unbroken line. So the power is, essentially and ontologically there in any bishop, it is also conferred to any presbyter - but using it outside cases of necessity (like to dying persons) also takes jurisdiction, a juridical power. That anyone having sinned is normally obliged to have recourse to this power of absolution is clear from James V:16.***
Coverdale rejoiced in the freedom he had gained for himself, but had no qualms about suppressing what he considered "superstition" - i e certain aspects of the religion he was taught as a child and which the "superstitious" under him had also been taught as children. Sounds like a champion of religious freedom as we understand it? No. Sounds like a rebel wanting freedom for himself and none for those he doesn't like and who are loyal to the authority he rebelled against. If you want a real champion of religious freedom as understood today, secondary as it is, go to one of the men Coverdale considered "superstitious".°
As for Bible Story access conditions in England, previous to Reformation to get back to it, I know from the words of a Tyndale admirer (also English language historian or language history populariser) that Biblical History, from Creation to Last Judgement, was available in English tongue at the very least in the form of Mystery Plays.
If we get outside England into more general Latin Rite Catholic Medieval Europe, some Protestants have pretended it was decided the Bible should be in Latin so as to keep it away from the people and that this happened soon after St Jerome's Vulgate translation, even.
Suppose at April 1 AD 666 the people in France woke up talking the Latin of Cicero and decided during the day to speak French of Calvin and Beza and St Francis of Sales instead. Suppose further, this happened by a miracle like unto the confusion of tongues at Babel. Suppose that before the evening the Church same day had decided "no we stick with Latin, even though by some strange event only clergymen understand it now". That is about the kind of scenario that this Protestant myth presupposes. Even if such a miracle had happened, one could have sympathised with clergymen sticking to the language spoken there in the morning until they were really sure people had become incapable of understanding Latin.
In any given year of seventh Century, a man in Western Francia (like Paris or Tours, as opposed to Eastern Francia with Cologne, Trier and other German speaking parts), if asked what language he spoke would very likely have answered "Latin". Possibly "Romance". If asked if he spoke "French" he would no doubt admit he pronounced Latin differently from Latin speakers in Italy or Spain (if he had travelled enough to understand the question). His priests would certainly also pronounce Latin in the French way. While reading a book where the spelling was:
Sine fide autem impossibile est placere Deo. (Hebrews 11:6 a, omitting 6 b, as translated by St Jerome)
he would pronounce it as something probably like, in English spelling (rhotic pronunciation):
Sin faith out imposseebluh est ply-chair Dea-oo.
Sin faith out imposseebluh est pliech-ruh Dea-oo.
A man of the people stating same thing would have said:
Ay sence faith nuh pout omm ply-jair a Dea-oo.
Mice sence faith nuh pout omm pliedj-ruh a Dyea-oo.
Later that sound (or rather similar sounds a bit further off from Latin, since a few centuries later) came to be spelled:
Et sens feid ne pout om plaisier a Deu.
Mais sens la feid ne pout om plaisre a Dieu.
But first Alcuin of York came to change the pronunciation of ecclesiastical Latin in Gaul, so it was once again understandable to priests from anywhere else. No longer:
Sin faith out impossebluh est ply-chair Dea-oo.
Sinnay fidday outemm imposseebilay est pluh-chai-ray Dea-aw.
Seenay feeday outemm imposseebilay est pluh-chai-ray Dea-aw.
Or even "pluh-kai-ray" instead of "pluh-chai-ray" for a while after Alcuin.
The people who would still have expressed the same truth as "Ay sence faith nuh pout omm ply-jair a Dea-oos" no longer understood what had happened. Now, the problem was initiated a bit thoughlessley last decades of 8:th century. It was given a solution - if not for Epistle Text at least for the more important Gospel Text in the Synod of Tours in 813. From then on, translating the Gospel (or a fair summing up of it) to something the people could understand became a standard part of the sermon on Sundays. The problem was not a universal one between 400 and Reformation, but a local one for Francia's Romance speaking parts, and a temporal one for a few decades. Preaching in Latin did not die out, but was restricted to where audience understood Latin - like St Bernhard preaching to his monks, who had learnt Latin. If there were non-clerical attendants, the preaching had to be in Romance.
For other languages than French and Provençal (both Romance languages of Francia's Western Parts, which were to become kingdom of France and - South East corner - Duchy of Savoy within Holy Roman Empire) I am less familiar with the transition and the solutions, but standard practise was like to the one initiated for very early French-as-distinct-from-Latin or Provençal-as-distinct-from-Latin by 813. For marginal countries, like Sweden, the practise of Tours 813 was extended unproblematically: priest every Sunday read the Gospel in Latin and every sermon after Gospel gave a fair translation into the then and there variety of Swedish.
Probably this had already been the case from start in marginal countries earlier than Alcuin of York - like the England he came from, once Anglo-Saxon invaders had been Christened.°° Or like the Ireland of St Patrick.
I am pretty sensitive on when Protestants distort this story. Obviously, CMI are very far from the worst offenders. Here I get to one really incompetent Craig A. Lampe, who is, alas for Academia, a PhD, a Philosophiae Doctor:
Great Bishop of Geneva! : Answers about "The Forbidden Book"
So, CMI, I really do appreciate the work on Flood Geology, Cell Biology, Baraminology, refutations of erroneous and half erratic dating methods, but when it comes to Church History, no, frankly, I was just sending the link to Stephanie A. Mann for a more detailed refutation specifically of English conditions than I could give here.
If she answers, I will link, possibly to an essay of hers, possibly to our correspondence.
Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre University Library
St John Capistran
Day of Sts Zacharias and Elisabeth, parents of St John the Precursor
5 - XI - 2014
I do very much not support Mormon Accounts of Creation, if they are as given here:
CMI : The Mormon Creation according to Joseph Smith
However, they are about twice as good as Albigensians. Those would have argued that Lucifer (or "Satanael" - making a Hebrew name without understanding its connotation in Hebrew, I presume) took a unique initiative in creating the matter of our world. Even Waldensians seem not to have consistently believed the bodies of the blessed resurrected will be as similar to each Christian's body in life, as the body of the Risen Christ to the body of Christ previous to Crucifixion, but Albigensians, like Hindoos, wanted no bodies or resurrection at all. It is a bit marvellous how Creationists can - fairly enough - attack Mormons, but not, even when enumerating Mormons among other cultists separate from the Bible, enumerate Albigensians among them. Some Fundamentalist Christians even count Albigensians and their earlier counterparts like Bogumils as very early Albigensians, very early Protestants - very early after Primitive Christianity, that is. But the communion from which they have most of the tenets they rightly cherish about God as a Creator is in fact the Catholic Church:
Trento - Philaret (Catechisms) : Filioque far older than III Council of Toledo
Apart from including "filioque" in the lifetime of St Martin of Tours, or close on, it also includes a very good doctrine of Creation./HGL
* CMI : Coverdale
By Sylvia Clifford
** Relevant quote:
The politics of power radically affected Coverdale’s view of the priesthood. With the fall of his master Barnes, Coverdale withdrew from the monastery and became a secular priest. From that time on Coverdale was an example of prudence. He stuck to the simple Gospel, to the biblical text in his preaching. It appears he reasoned that if then he were to be arrested, it should be only for a noble cause, instead of the foolishness of practising politics.
*** Challoner comments:
 Confess therefore your sins one to another: That is, to the priests of the church, whom (ver. 14) he had ordered to be called for, and brought in to the sick; moreover, to confess to persons who had no power to forgive sins, would be useless. Hence the precept here means, that we must confess to men whom God hath appointed, and who, by their ordination and jurisdiction, have received the power of remitting sins in his name.
Epistle of St James, chapter V
Douay-Rheims version (Challoner revision) with Challoner comments
° George Calvert of Baltimore is treated at some length here, since his Maryland was where John Punch was looking for freedom:
Φιλολoγικά/Philologica : Angola, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania - a further answer to Dr Carl Wieland
As I said religious freedom as we understand it is secondary (and not a universally binding human right attached to human person whatever religion he might choose, as some would), here is my take on the Spanish Inquisition and why it shouldn't try Fundies in US:
Triviū, Quadriviū, 7 cætera : I do not agree with religious liberty in all cases for all religions
°° Thanks to Pope St Gregory the Great and to Bishop St Augustine of Canterbury:
En lengua romance en Antimodernism y de mis caminaciones : And His Word Went Marching On