Good King Wenceslas

There's an unbelievable blizzard raging outside right now and all the activities scheduled for today have been canceled.  I'm happy for this break from the holiday hustle and bustle. A blizzard is the perfect backdrop for this post about a minor obsession of mine - Saint Wenceslas. It's funny that one of my favorite Christmas carols isn't about Christmas.  At least not directly.  But before I carry on about it, here is a favorite rendition with a Celtic sound.  Go ahead, hit play while you finish reading this post!

I first heard Good King Wenceslas on some vinyl my parents had.  It was one of those Time-Life Christmas  albums by a million different popular artists, and this song was sung by a men's choir.  Later, when my oldest two were quite little, a local gas station gave away a book with each fill-up.  Books for gas.  Good King Wenceslas was one of those and it quickly became a favorite.  That book led us to looking up the words to the song...which led to singing the song...which led to memorizing it.  When LittleJack was seven, he sang all five verses acapella for the Christmas program. Why didn't I tape that? Oh, well.  Here are the words I put on a printable for you:

Good King Wenceslas Final                                                            

What we know about the real Wenceslas is sketchy but dramatic.  He ruled Bohemia from 921 to 929.  He was known for his piety and the hostility he faced from non-Christian factions.  He was murdered by his own brother on the church steps when he was only  22. J.M. Neale wrote the words to the song in 1853 and set them to a well-known 13th century Swedish tune about flowers, "Tempus adest floridum". 

So we have a war-torn country, a plotting mother, lots of good vs. evil, a jealous brother and a Christian duke trying to do the right thing.  If this isn't fodder for some great historical fiction or a great movie, I don't know what is!  But sadly, there isn't a whole lot to look at.  Here are some of my finds.
The only chapter book for students I can find.  This is a living book for ages 10-14.  It digs into all the good vs. evil/Christian vs. non-Christian elements raging around Wenceslas.  Strangely, it ends on a happy note just short of his murder.

Good King Wenceslas by Pauline Baynes (yes, the Narnia illustrator!) retells the story in this charming yet blunt picture book.
My favorite picture book about Wenceslas.  Wenceslas took his fabled goodwill mission on December 26, St. Stephen's Day.  This book tells the story through  a lonely page who is chosen to accompany him.
One Advent season we were driving through New Prague, MN which is about 2 hours from our home.  I remember looking out the window and seeing a beautiful church with the name  "St. Wenceslaus"! Well, of course - Prague, Czech Republic  is home to Wenceslas Square and Wenceslas is the patron saint of Bohemia.  I do have plans to visit someday soon. New Prague in MN, that is.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.  Thank you for all your comments and support on my blog during its inaugural year.

John 1:14,


The following list are other copies that I have.  If you have any other suggestions, books or any other ephemera, I would love to hear about them.

Good King Wenceslas, Cavendish (A Madison Mini Book) - that gas station gift
Good King Wenceslas, Wallner - picture book, illustrator influenced by German Renaissance painters
Good King Wenceslas, Henterly - picture book - gift for LittleJack after he sang
Good King Wenceslas, Manson - picture book - sturdy woodcuts and borders
Wenceslas: The Eternal Christmas Story - McCaughrean - on order!  Looking forward to reading this!


  1. Hey Nancy, Lorenna McKennitt is from Stratford, the next town over from us and where we lived for 8 years. In fact, hubby once attended a funeral where she sang.

  2. @ L: I just knew that one of my Canadian friends would know something about her! She has such an ethereal (in the celestial sense) voice. Merry Christmas to you!

  3. You always intrigue me with your posts. You look and look until you find the deeper significance in books, people, and events. That is a true virtue. I am such a skimmer. Understanding comes when a person takes a deeper look.

  4. That is really interesting, Nancy, and I had no idea King Wenceslas was so interesting. I enjoyed the beat of the Christmas song and liked singing it, but didn't look any deeper than that. It sounds like a true Shakespearean plot. Thanks for sharing! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  5. How very interesting, Nancy! Now, you've made me want to read more of the story. I have never even really thought about whether there was a real Wenceslas but I sure do get the tune stuck in my head at Christmas. Just earlier this evening we sang a song to that same tune, called, "Gentle Mary Laid Her Child," I think that's the title - it's close anyway. It's part of our Christmas program at church, but I just can't hardly sing that without thinking of King Wesceslas the whole time. HA! Thanks for another great blog post.

    Deneen W.

  6. We have a family obsession with King Wenceslas, too! When my husband did some genealogical research, he discovered that it is said that his family is descended from the Wenceslas family--that our last name is a corruption of the original over time. We do not know that this is true, but it has been fodder for the family imagination ever since. I have been meaning to find some children's books on this to add to the library, so I appreciate your list very much!

  7. Lovely blog. That Celtic singer has a CD with Luci Shaw that I want to get. Thanks for the reminder. Thomas Nelson Pub. has a new book on King Wenceslas which I too have forgotten about.
    Thanks for all these reminders that you didn't know you did! Keep warm and I'm sure you have warm comfort food in the house!

    LOVE your house in the WINTER!

  8. We love the McCaughrean book. We read it each year on St Stephen's Day. Nice.

    Love Loreena as well.

  9. All the stories behind the song...sigh....my kind of post.

  10. Thank you for sharing all of this information and your book suggestions! And, thank you for linking with TTM this week.

  11. We have that Jean Richardson book, and in fact, I read it to my girls today. Good stuff!

  12. gorgeous illustrations! I am going to look for these books!