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Royal Wedding Hymns: a Windsor family tradition

The Windsors are rather traditional when it comes to picking wedding hymns. At recent high profile marriages, The Queen and her family have tended to choose from a small pool of favourites – perhaps giving us a hint as to which hymns Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will choose for their own ceremony on May 19th 2018 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. Among the most well used by the groom’s family is the much loved Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven which has been heard at some of the most famous ceremonies of the past century. This is a Windsor wedding hymn pick that spans the generations.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh chose it as one of the two hymns sung at their marriage at Westminster Abbey on November 20th 1947. As well as its religious meaning, it had great personal significance, too. The bride’s parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, later Queen Mother, had sung it at their own wedding at the same church on April 26th 1923. At the start of the 21st century, it was also chosen by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall for the service of blessing at St. George’s Chapel which followed their civil marriage on April 9th 2005.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven has proved so popular at Windsor weddings. It’s among the best loved hymns around – in 2013, a poll by BBC One’s Songs of Praise placed it as the 22nd most popular hymn in the UK.

But while it’s now seen as well established and rather traditional, when it was published in 1834 it was a bit of a modernizing moment. Its composer, Henry Francis Lyte, was an Anglican clergyman working in Devon – perhaps most famous now for another hymn, Abide With Me. He was passionate about bringing religion and education to as many people as possible and when he wrote Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven, it was usual for hymns based on psalms to stick closely to the established words. However, Lyte decided to paraphrase some of the best known. The result was his The Spirit of the Psalms.

Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven was one of the hymns published in that ground breaking work. It is based on Psalm 103 (attributed to King David) and the modern version of the hymn usually includes four verses although a fifth was also written by Lyte. The most famous musical setting of the words is to the tune by John Goss, the version used at all the royal weddings where this hymn has been sung.

King George VI had a high regard for the work of Henry Lyte as did his father, King George V, and that fondness has passed down through the Royal Family ever since. However, none of the Queen’s grandchildren has yet used Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven at their wedding. Will Prince Harry be the first to bring the family tradition into a new generation?

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