In Shakespeare’s Henry V the soldier Williams confronts the king by saying that “few die well that die in a battle” and that “a heavy reckoning” awaits the king that led them to it (1598)
Found in: The Life of King Henry the Fifth
Shakespeare writes on the eve of battle, King Henry V goes secretly amongst his own soldiers and is challenged by two of them about the morality of going to war:
Literature & Music
King Henry: I dare say you love him not so ill to wish him here alone, howsoever you speak this to feel other men’s minds. Methinks I could not die any where so contented as in the king’s company, his cause being just and his quarrel honourable. William: That’s more than we know. Bates: Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough if we know we are the king’s subjects. If his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us. William: But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make; when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry all, ‘We died at such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it, whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.