Sunday, December 26, 2021

Good King Wenceslaus' Bad Brother

Today being the Feast of St Stephen, a big traditional holiday in Ireland, I figured I'd discuss the man who is second only to St Stephen in his connection to this date... Good King Wenceslaus, who was not a king, though his goodness isn't necessarily up for debate.

More properly known as Václav, Duke of Bohemia, Wenceslaus was responsible for the expansion of Christianity in Bohemia, though his mother was a pagan.  He built churches and invited priests into his duchy, but he also agreed to pay tribute to a Frankish king.  He was probably 24 years old, when his brother, Boleslaus, known as 'the Cruel', either had Wenceslaus assassinated, or provided an opportunity for others to murder his brother.

The topic came up in a discussion thread on Wonkette, when commenter MRK asked:

Why do I now think there was a King/Duke after him who was in charge of Bohemia for decades, kept things safe and prosperous (for the era), and was always annoyed when people went on about the 'good King' who got himself killed playing with lances?

Apparently, though he was dubbed 'the Cruel', Boleslaus Got Shit Done.  According to teh Wiki, which never lies: 

He is notorious for the murder of his elder brother Wenceslaus, through which he became duke. Despite his complicity in this fratricide, Boleslaus is generally respected by Czech historians as an energetic ruler who significantly strengthened the Bohemian state and expanded its territory. His accomplishments include significant economic development due to an expansion in trade, the introduction of silver mining and the minting of the first local coinage, the Prague denarius. 

Now, reading this, I immediately thought of Scottish matters, and pondered why that rat Shakespeare couldn't have written a play about Boleslaus the Bad, rather than writing a scurrilous hit piece on Good King Macbeth and his Gentle Lady, Gruoch.  Then I realized that nasty Bill wasn't sucking up to Czech royalty.  The carol Good King Wenceslas was written by John Mason Neale, who used the duke, now given kingly brevet rank, as an exemplar of moral rectitude.  While it was apparently poorly received by the intelligentsia of Neale's day, it's a banger.  

Here's Judas Priest lead singer and Heavy Metal God Rob Halford, who I think should run for congress in Arizona, belting the carol out as only Halford can:


Ohhhh yeah, now that is a good addition to the Heavy Metal Christmas canon!  Maybe Halford could write a secular heavy metal ode to Bad Ol' Boleslaus now.

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