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Good King Wenceslas

[ Roud 24754 ; Ballad Index FSWB382 ; John M. Neale (1818-1866)]

Good King Wenceslas first appeared in Carols for Christmas Tide (1853) by John M. Neale and Thomas Helmore, where it is set to the fourteenth-century tune of Tempus adest floridum from the Piae Cantiones (1582). Steeleye do it much rockier, though.

According to the New Oxford Book of Carols, the historical Wenceslas (Václav the Good) was Duke of Bohemia from 922 to 929. He wasn’t know for any Christian virtues, but was an ardent Catholic proselytiser and was canonized for political reasons after his murder by followers of his brother. The latter transferred his remains to St Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague where he became a cult figure, a resort of pilgrims, and finally Bohemia’s (and the modern Czech Republic’s) patron saint.

Diverse choirs and groups sang Good King Wenceslas in 1957 on a live Christmas Day broadcast on BBC Radio. This programme was published in 2000 on the Rounder CD Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year.

Martyn Wyndham-Read and Martin Carthy sang Good King Wenceslas in 1986 on the Greenwich Village Records album Yuletracks.

Maddy Prior sang Good King Wenceslas on Steeleye Span’s 2004 CD, Winter.

GreenMatthews sang Good King Wenceslas on their 2011 CD A Victorian Christmas.

This video shows David Gibb and Elly Lucas singing Good King Wenceslas in 2012:

A Winter Union sang Good King Wenceslas on their eponymous 2016 CD A Winter Union.


Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me,
If you know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps good, my page,
Tread now in them boldly,
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze your blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.