As a royalist, I feel having a national anthem about our Queen is a fantastic thing. Republicans argue (they always do) that God Save The Queen shouldn’t be Britain’s anthem because it’s ‘all about The Queen’ – we’ll come onto why that’s not the case in just a minute, though I thought I’d take this opportunity to go back a few centuries to see how the song (and then anthem) came into existence.
In 1745, the patriotic song God Save The King was performed in London for the first time. The lyrics, rather different to what we know as God Save The Queen these days, but the tune – unmistakably that of the anthem.
The song was actually written as a rallying cry around the King after the defeat of his army at Prestopans by that of the ‘Young Pretender’ – Charles Edward Stuart, now more commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Starting in a theatre in London, before spreading to others across the country, the practice of playing God Save The King at the end of performances became de rigueur and eventually the tune was adopted as the official national anthem of Great Britain and to this day, the tune remains the anthem of the United Kingdom and also of some of the other realms with Her Majesty as Head of State.
The tune to God Save The King even forms the basis to some other countries’ national songs including America’s My Country is of Thee, The Norwegian Royal Anthem and even the national anthem of Liechtenstein!
The anthem has moved with the times and in 1952, (as in 1837) was modified from God Save The King to God Save The Queen, on Her Majesty’s accession to the throne – ever since she has doubtless heard it thousands of times, yet the only one she was apparently genuinely moved by was Benjamin Britten’s rendition of the anthem, first played in the 1960s and played annually at Last Night of the Proms (below).
Nowadays, despite no official record of the anthem’s current verses existing, through tradition and persistence of use, 6 verses have been ‘adopted’ as the de facto official anthem (see below). Typically, only the first verse is sung though on occasion a second verse may be sung (when two verses are sung, it’s verses 1 and 3) and on rare occasions, all of the first three verses may be used. Almost never are any of the other 3 verses used.
In fact, most Britons know the first verse and part of the second verse, though as a general rule that’s enough to get by on most occasions – the anthem is quite slow in comparison to other nations’ anthems, so typically just the first verse is used because of this. Two verses are used in the presence of Her Majesty usually.
Verse 6 holds a special place with the national anthem in that it can never be used. References to ‘crushing Scots’ are to blame for the neglect of this verse.
As I mentioned earlier, republicans bleat on about how the anthem focuses too much on The Queen and neglects to mention the people. The answer to this is obvious though. The Queen embodies Britain as its head of state – whereas some countries tie their national identity up in a flag, Britain is unique in that ours is represented by a living, breathing Queen – so in that respect God Save The Queen is just as much about the people!
And who can say they are not at least slightly moved by this rendition of the anthem?
As far as national songs go, I believe God Save The Queen is the best one for the United Kingdom. In modern Britain the 4 countries that make up the UK have adopted their own anthems (for example, Scotland uses Flower of Scotland) but God Save The Queen will I hope remain Britain’s anthem for many years to come. God Save The Queen.
photo credit: Defence Images via photopin cc
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