Old Coppernose

On 22nd April, 1509 Henry VIII was proclaimed King of England to great and widespread rejoicing – particularly, I suspect, on the part of those citizens for whom the closing years of his father’s reign had been little less than a Reign of Terror.  Young, healthy, handsome, intelligent and well-educated, Henry looked every inch (and at 6’ 2" tall there were a lot of inches) a king.  The contrast with his father could hardly have been greater.  One thing his parsimonious father had done for him, however, was to leave him a fortune, estimated at £375million at today’s values.

The perfect ruler of those days was expected to be splendid and generous, lavishing large sums of money on clothes, palaces, entertainments and lifestyle, and to practise open-handed hospitality.  Henry achieved this magnificently, not only looking but acting like a king.

All of that cost money, of course.  And then there were the costs of warfare.  By 1526, at war with both Scotland and France, Henry was in desperate need of money.  His Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, decided to debase the coinage, using less of the precious metals such as silver, and more of the cheaper ones such as copper.  In this way more coins could be produced for the same cost in terms of precious metals.  The Tudor version of quantitative easing, I suppose.  The ‘silver’ coins thus produced were in fact copper with a thin layer of silver.  Once in circulation, the silver tended to wear off on the raised parts of Henry’s image, particularly on his nose – and so some of his less respectful subjects nicknamed him ‘Old Coppernose’.  What happened to Henry VIII’s debased coins, you might wonder?  They were, I understand, removed from circulation during the reign of Elizabeth I and melted down.

Copper coins, wearing a mask of silver.  Hypocrites, one might say.  ‘The sin of hypocrisy,’ says Alexander Cruden, ‘is difficultly cured, in that it is not easily discovered by men.  Men cannot dive into the hearts of others, and cannot discern between the paint of hypocrisy and the life of holiness.  The effectual means to cure it, is a steadfast belief of the pure and all-seeing eye of God; who sees sin wherever it is and will bring it into judgement.’

Let us then heed the words of the Lord Jesus: Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness!’  Matthew 7:21-2. 

May we be like the wise man building on the rock; not hearers only, but doers of the word. 

Thou Judge of quick and dead,

Before whose bar severe,

With holy joy, or guilty dread,

We all shall soon appear;

Our cautioned souls prepare

For that tremendous day,

And fill us now with watchful care,

And stir us up to pray -


To pray, and wait the hour,

That aweful hour unknown,

When, robed in majesty and power,

Thou shalt from heaven come down,

The immortal Son of Man,

To judge the human race,

With all Thy Father’s dazzling train,

With all Thy glorious grace.


O may we thus be found

Obedient to His Word,

Attentive to the trumpet’s sound,

And looking for our Lord!

O may we thus ensure

A lot among the blest;

And watch a moment to secure

An everlasting rest!

                        Charles Wesley