Brit History: The Story of “God Save the Queen” – Understanding Britain’s National Anthem

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The national anthem of the United Kingdom and New Zealand has a rich and mysterious history. It may be one of the most recognizable patriotic songs in the world, but it has been sadly neglected by many native Brits. According to a study performed by the Sun,  37% of Brits don’t know the first line of “God Save the Queen.”

A true Anglophile should not only revere Britain’s national anthem, but should certainly know a bit of the story behind it!

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Hidden Beginnings

You would think that a song this well-known would have an obvious origin, but strangely enough we don’t know who wrote the words. Some attribute authorship to John Bull, others to Thomas Ravenscroft or Henry Purcell.

We’re not even sure when the song was written. The phrase “God Save the King” dates back as far as a coronation anthem used for King Edgar in 973, modeled after 1 Kings 1:38–40:

…And all the people rejoic’d, and said:

God save the King! Long live the King!

May the King live for ever,

Amen, Allelujah.

The full lyrics first appear in a 1745 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine, and have been sung ever since, becoming the national anthem around the 1780s.

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The Lyrics You’ve Never Heard

There is actually no standard version of “God Save the Queen.” The feminine title and pronouns change when a king is in power, but besides that there have been quite a few verses created over the years to suit political agendas—sometimes of opposite sides.

In the days of the Jacobite Risings, loyal Britons sang:

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,

May by thy mighty aid,

Victory bring.

May he sedition hush,

and like a torrent rush,

Rebellious Scots to crush,

God save the King.

In retaliation the Jacobites made up their own verse:

God bless the prince, I pray,

God bless the prince, I pray,

Charlie I mean;

That Scotland we may see

Freed from vile Presbyt’ry,

Both George and his Feckie,

Ever so, Amen.

The standard version of “God Save the Queen” includes three verses, but the second is hardly ever sung. Some consider it to be politically incorrect for its militant tone:

O Lord our God arise,

Scatter her enemies,

And make them fall:

Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks,

On Thee our hopes we fix:

God save us all.

To hear the standard two-verse version, watch the moving video below (and feel free to sing along!).

Hopefully this post has helped you become a better Anglophile. Here’s a question for the comments: are you one of the 37%, or can you come up with the first line of “God Save the Queen” without Googling?

This guest post was written by Abigail Rogers, a Britophile who blogs at PictureBritain.com.

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Comments

  1. avatar says

    Is it strange for me to have stood during this entire video! Old habits die hard – and yes, I certainly know both the first and second verses. That’s, of course, because I’m a woman of a certain age!!!

  2. avatarFrancisca Esteva says

    How I enjoyed it! I must admit I only knew the first verse..It never fails to put a lump in my throat.Thank you so much!

  3. avatar says

    God bless the prince, I pray,
    God bless the prince, I pray,
    Charlie I mean;
    That Scotland we may see
    Freed from vile Presbyt’ry,
    Both George and his Feckie,
    Ever so, Amen.

    Politics and art often make strange bed fellows. This is wretched.

  4. avatarMinerva says

    The problem of taking statistics from ‘The Sun’ is of course based upon the responses from ITS readership…………..not the most educated or intelligent of the Nation’s subjects.

    I suspect that if stats were garnered from readers of ‘The Times’, ‘The Guardian’ or ‘The Independent’…..the percentages may well be very different.

    ‘The Sun’ is generally regarded by anyone with a spare couple of brain cells to rub together, as a prime example of the ‘gutter press’.

  5. avatartitch says

    I’m shocked many people don’t know their own national anthem. Maybe it could have something to do with the fact that this government and especially the last government tried their best to put a stop to people feeling any pride or patriotism.
    I know the first two verses. But then, my parents drummed it in to me as a kid to be proud to be English and British. God save the Queen!

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