Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia and Svatý Václav. According to the carol, he went out into the snow giving alms to peasants. As night closed in,the Duke/King's page was losing the will to continue:
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 thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly.This religious self-sacrifice (and the Page's miraculous survival) inspired a cult of Wenceslas - who was only twenty-two. He was beatified and declared a martyr by the Church. Wenceslas was not a king - it was the Pope posthumously promoted the Duke to King - the rank he holds in the carol.
Interestingly, Stephen is widely acknowledged as the first Christian martyr - his death was witnessed and recorded by Paul. His 'feast' is the Second Day of Christmas (26 December) but this is now more commonly known as Boxing Day in most of the English-speaking world (though not the USA)
The carol was written by the great Anglican hymn-writer John Mason Neale in 1853. This Irish Rovers version is rather more upbeat than the good reverend would have anticipated:
Listen to podcast on Wenceslas from Stuff you missed in History Class
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