God Save the Queen

"God Save the Queen", or "God Save the King", is an anthem used in a number of Commonwealth realms. It is the national anthem of the United Kingdom, one of the two national anthems of the Cayman Islands and New Zealand (since 1977) and the royal anthem of Canada (since 1980), Australia (since 1984), the Isle of Man, Belize, Jamaica, and Tuvalu. In countries not previously part of the British Empire the tune of "God Save the Queen" has also been used as the basis for different patriotic songs, though still generally connected with royal ceremony. The authorship of the song is unknown, and beyond its first verse, which is consistent, it has many historic and extant versions: Since its first publication, different verses have been added and taken away and, even today, different publications include various selections of verses in various orders. In general only one, or sometimes two verses are sung, but on rare occasions three. One or two bars may also form a part of the Vice Regal Salute in Commonwealth realms outside the United Kingdom. The words of the song, like its title, are adapted to the gender of monarch, with "King" replacing "Queen", "he" replacing "she", and so forth, when a king reigns. In the United Kingdom, the last line of the third verse is also changed (see below).


The origin of the tune is surrounded by uncertainty, myth and speculation. In The Oxford Companion to Music, Percy Scholes devotes about four pages to this subject, pointing out the similarities to an early plainsong melody, although the rhythm is very distinctly that of a galliard, and he gives examples of several such dance tunes that bear a striking resemblance to "God Save the King/Queen". Scholes quotes a keyboard piece by Dr. John Bull (1619) which has some strong similarities to the modern tune, depending on the placing of accidentals which at that time were unwritten in certain cases and left to the discretion of the player (see musica ficta). He also points to several pieces by Henry Purcell, one of which includes the opening notes of the modern tune, set to the words "God Save The King". Nineteenth century scholars and commentators mention the widespread belief that an old Scots carol, "Remember O Thou Man" was the source of the tune.

The first definitive published version of the present tune appeared in 1744 in Thesaurus Musicus, as a setting of the familiar first verse, and the song was popularised in Scotland and England the following year, with the landing of Charles Edward Stuart. It was recorded as being sung in London theatres in 1745, with, for example, Thomas Arne writing a setting of the tune for the Drury Lane Theatre.

Scholes' analysis includes mention of "untenable" and "doubtful" claims, as well as "an American misattribution". Some of these are:

  • A tale, widely believed in France, that the tune Grand Dieu Sauve Le Roi, was written by Jean-Baptiste Lully to celebrate the healing of Louis XIV's anal fistula. Lully set words by the Duchess of Brinon to music, and the tune was plagiarised by Händel. Translated in Latin under the name Domine, Salvum Fac Regem, it became the French anthem until 1792. After the Battle of Culloden, the Hanover dynasty would have adopted this melody as the British anthem. Scholes points out gross errors of date which render these claims untenable, and they have been ascribed to a 19th-century forgery, the Souvenirs of the Marquise de Créquy.
  • James Oswald: He is a possible author of the Thesaurus Musicus, so may have played a part in the history of the song, but is not a strong enough candidate to be cited as the composer of the tune.
  • Dr. Henry Carey: Scholes refutes this attribution, firstly, on the grounds that Carey himself never made such a claim. Secondly, when the claim was made by Carey's son (as late as 1795), it was accompanied by a request for a pension from the British Government on that score. Thirdly, the younger Carey claimed that his father had written parts of it in 1745, even though the older Carey had died in 1743. It has also been claimed that the work was first publicly performed by Carey during a dinner in 1740 in honour of Admiral Edward "Grog" Vernon, who had captured the Spanish harbour of Porto Bello (then in Colombia, now Panama) during the War of Jenkins' Ear.

Scholes recommends the attribution "traditional" or "traditional; earliest known version by John Bull (1562–1628)". The English Hymnal (musical editor Ralph Vaughan Williams) gives no attribution, stating merely "17th or 18th cent.

Use in the United Kingdom

"God Save the Queen" is the national anthem of the United Kingdom. Like many aspects of British constitutional life, its official status derives from custom and use, not from Royal Proclamation or Act of Parliament. In general only one or two verses are sung, but on rare occasions three. The variation in the United Kingdom of the lyrics to "God Save the Queen" is the oldest amongst those currently used, and forms the basis on which all other versions used throughout the Commonwealth are formed; though, again, the words have varied throughout the years.

When only England, rather than all four nations of the United Kingdom, is represented (usually at a team sporting event) "God Save the Queen" is still treated as the English national anthem, though there are exceptions to this rule. Scotland and Wales have their own anthems for political and national events and for use at international Rugby, Football and other sports in which those nations compete independently. On all occasions Wales' national anthem is "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" (Land of my Fathers) whilst Scotland's anthem changes according to circumstance, "Flower of Scotland" being used the majority of the time, whilst "Scotland the Brave" is occasionally substituted. In Northern Ireland, "God Save the Queen" is still used as the official anthem.

Since 2003, God Save the Queen, considered an all inclusive Anthem for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as other countries within the Commonwealth, has been dropped from the Commonwealth Games. Northern Irish athletes receive their gold medals to the tune of the "Londonderry Air", popularly known as "Danny Boy", whilst English winners hear Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March Number 1, usually known as Land of Hope and Glory. In sports in which England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as one nation, most notably in the Olympic Games "God Save the Queen" is used to represent anyone or any team that comes from the United Kingdom.

Lyrics in the United Kingdom

The phrase "God Save the King" is much older than the song, appearing, for instance, several times in the King James Bible. Scholes says that as early as 1545 "God Save the King" was a watchword of the Royal Navy, with the response being "Long to reign over us". He also notes that the prayer read in churches on anniversaries of the Gunpowder Plot includes words which might have formed part of the basis for the second verse "Scatter our enemies... assuage their malice and confound their devices".

In 1745, The Gentleman's Magazine published "God save our lord the king: A new song set for two voices", describing it as "As sung at both Playhouses" (the Theatres Royal at Drury Lane and Covent Garden).

Traditionally, the first performance was thought to have been in 1745, when it was sung in support of King George II, after his defeat at the Battle of Prestonpans by the army of the Charles Edward Stuart, son of James Francis Edward Stuart, the Jacobite claimant to the British throne, whose forces were mostly Scottish Catholics.

It is sometimes claimed that, ironically, the song was originally sung in support of the Jacobite cause: the word "send" in the line "Send him victorious" could imply that the king was absent. Also there are examples of early eighteenth century Jacobean drinking glasses which are inscribed with a version of the words and were apparently intended for drinking the health of King James II.

Scholes acknowledges these possibilities but argues that the same words were probably being used by both Jacobite and Hanoverian supporters and directed at their respective kings.

Standard version in the United Kingdom

God Save the Queen (standard version)

God save our gracious Queen,1
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

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.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.*

* When the monarch of the time is male, beyond the other alterations mentioned above, the last line of the third verse is changed to "with heart and voice to sing/ God Save the King".

There is no definitive version of the lyrics. However, the version consisting of the following three verses has the best claim to be regarded as the 'standard' UK version, appearing not only in the 1745 Gentleman's Magazine, but also in publications such as The Book of English Songs: From the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (1851), National Hymns: How They are Written and how They are Not Written (1861), Household Book of Poetry (1882), and Hymns Ancient and Modern, revised version (1982). The same version with verse two omitted appears in publications including Scouting for boys (1908), and on the U.K. Government's "Monarchy Today" website. At the Queen's Golden Jubilee Party at the Palace concert, Prince Charles referred in his speech to the "politically incorrect second verse" of the National Anthem.

In the United Kingdom, the first verse is the only verse typically sung, even at official occasions, although the third verse is sung in addition on rare occasions, and usually at the Last Night of the Proms. At the Closing Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the fourth verse of the William Hixton alternative lyrics was sung instead of the third verse.

Around 1745, the anti-Jacobite sentiment was captured in a fourth verse, with a prayer for the success of George Wade's army then assembling at Newcastle. These words attained some short-term popularity, although they did not appear in the published version in Gentleman's Magazine:

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.

This verse was abandoned soon after, and certainly before the song became accepted as the UK national anthem in the 1780s and 1790s.

Equally, Jacobite beliefs were demonstrated in an alternative verse used on the opposing side:

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.

Various other attempts were made during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to add verses to commemorate particular royal or national events. For example, according to Fitzroy Maclean, when Jacobite forces bypassed Wade's force and reached Derby, but then retreated and when their garrison at Carlisle surrendered to a second government army led by King George's son, the Duke of Cumberland, another verse was added. Other short-lived verses were notably anti-French. However, none of these survived into the twentieth century.

Standard version of the Music

The standard version of the melody is still that of the original, and in the same key of G, though the start of the anthem is often signalled by an introductory side-drum roll of two bars length. The bass line of the standard version differs little from the second voice part shown in the original, and there is a standard version in four-part harmony for choirs. The first three lines (six bars of music) are soft, ending with a short crescendo into "Send her victorious", and then is another crescendo at "over us:" into the final words "God save the Queen".

In the early part of the twentieth century there existed a Military Band version in the higher key of B, because it was easier for the brass instruments to play in tune in that key, though it had the disadvantage of being more difficult to sing: however now most Bands play it in the correct key of G.

Alternative UK versions

There have been several attempts to improve the song by rewriting the words. In the nineteenth century there was some lively debate about the national anthem and, even then, verse two was considered to be slightly offensive. Notably, the question arose over the phrase "scatter her enemies." Some thought it placed better emphasis on the respective power of Parliament and the Crown to change "her" to "our"; others pointed out that the theology was somewhat dubious and substituted "thine" instead. Sydney G. R. Coles wrote a completely new version, as did Canon F. K. Harford. In 1836, William Edward Hickson wrote four alternative verses. The first, third, and fourth of these verses are appended to the National Anthem in the English Hymnal (which only includes verses one and three of the original lyrics).
William Hixton's alternative version
William Hixton's alternative (1836) version includes the following verses, of which the first, third, and fourth have some currency as they are appended to the National Anthem in the English Hymnal. The fourth verse was sung after the traditional first verse during the raising of the Union Jack during the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Official peace version
A less militaristic version of the song, entitled "Official peace version, 1919", was first published in the hymn book Songs of Praise in 1925. This was "official" in the sense that it was approved by the British Privy Council in 1919. However, despite being reproduced in some other hymn books, it is largely unknown today.

Performance in the United Kingdom

The style most commonly heard in official performances was proposed as the "proper interpretation" by King George V, who considered himself something of an expert (in view of the number of times he had heard it). An Army Order was duly issued in 1933, which laid down regulations for tempo, dynamics and orchestration. This included instructions such as that the opening "six bars will be played quietly by the reed band with horns and basses in a single phrase. Cornets and side-drum are to be added at the little scale-passage leading into the second half of the tune, and the full brass enters for the last eight bars". The official tempo for the opening section is a metronome setting of 60, with the second part played in a broader manner, at a metronome setting of 52. In recent years the prescribed sombre-paced introduction is often played at a faster and livelier tempo.

Until the latter part of the 20th century, theatre and concert goers were expected to stand to attention while the anthem was played after the conclusion of a show. In cinemas this brought a tendency for audiences to rush out while the end credits played to avoid this formality.

The anthem continues to be played at traditional formal events, particularly those with a royal connection, such as Wimbledon, Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta and The Proms.

The anthem was traditionally played at closedown on the BBC and with the introduction of commercial television to the UK this practice was adopted by some ITV regions. BBC Two never played the anthem at closedown, and ITV dropped the practice in the late 1980s, but it continued on BBC One until 8 November 1997 (thereafter BBC1 began to simulcast with BBC News 24 after end of programmes). The tradition is carried on, however, by BBC Radio 4, which usually plays the anthem as a transition piece between the end of the Radio Four broadcasting and the move to BBC World Service. Radio 4 and Radio 2 also play the National Anthem at 0700 and 0800 on the actual and official birthdays of the Queen and the birthdays of senior members of the Royal Family.

The anthem usually prefaces the The Queen's Christmas Message (although in 2007 it appeared at the end, taken from a recording of the 1957 television broadcast), and important royal announcements, such as of royal deaths, when it is played in a slower, sombre arrangement.

Other United Kingdom anthems

Frequently, when an anthem is needed for one of the constituent countries of the UK at an international sporting event, for instance an alternative song is used:

* At international test cricket matches, England has, since 2004, used "Jerusalem" as the anthem.
* At international rugby league matches, England has used "Land of Hope and Glory", but in the 2005 internationals changed to "God Save the Queen".
* At international rugby union matches, England uses "God Save the Queen"
* At the Commonwealth Games "Land of Hope and Glory" is used

* In international rugby union, Ireland (a team representing both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) uses "Ireland's Call", a song which attempts to unite the two traditions on the island. The song is sung at Ireland's home and away games. In addition, Amhrán na bhFiann is played at home matches in the Republic.

  • Isle of Man uses God Save the Queen and "O Land of Our Birth""Arrane Ashoonagh dy Vannin"
  • "The Song of the Western Men" (otherwise known as Trelawny) has popularly been considered to be the Cornish anthem, and is sung at Cornish rugby matches and events such as Saint Piran's day and other Cornish gatherings. However some Cornish nationalists argue that Bro Goth Agan Tasow, which is in Cornish rather than English, should be adopted. This is the anthem used by the Gorsedh Kernow for the last 75 plus years ("The Land of My Fathers", but literally, "Old Country of my Fathers"), and has a similar tune to the Welsh National anthem and the Breton anthem. Bro Goth Agan Tasow is not heard as often due to it being sung in Cornish. Those who prefer an anthem in English also sometimes use "Hail to the Homeland".
  • Recently the British and Irish Lions rugby union tour used the song "The Power of Four", but this anthem was especially designed for the tour.
  • In April 2007 there was an Early Day Motion, number 1319, to the UK Parliament to propose that there should be a separate England anthem: "That this House ... believes that all English sporting associations should adopt an appropriate song that English sportsmen and women, and the English public, would favour when competing as England". An amendment (EDM 1319A3) was proposed by Evan Harris that the song "should have a bit more oomph than God Save the Queen and should also not involve God.

Use in other Commonwealth countries

"God Save the King/Queen" was exported around the world via the expansion of the British Empire, serving as each country's national anthem. Throughout the Empire's evolution into the Commonwealth of Nations, the song declined in use in most states which became independent. In some countries it remains as one of the official national anthems, such as in New Zealand, or as an official royal anthem, as is the case in Canada, Australia, Jamaica and the Isle of Man, Tuvalu, to be played during formal ceremonies involving national royalty or vice-royalty; in Australia, the song has standing through a Royal Proclamation issued by Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen on 19 April 1984. Two or three bars form a part of the Vice Regal Salute played either for Governors-General, Governors, or Lieutenant-Governors.

The National Anthem of the United Kingdom is also used in Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena and Dependencies and Turks & Caicos Islands: but it is noted that the Cayman Islands have their own National Song.

Use in Canada

In Canada "God Save the Queen" has not been adopted as the Royal Anthem by statute or proclamation, however it has come to be used as such through convention, and is sometimes sung together with "O Canada" at public events. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces regulates that "God Save the Queen" be played as a salute to the monarch and other members of the Canadian Royal Family, though it may also be used as a hymn, or prayer. The words are not to be sung when the song is played as a military salute.

Queen Elizabeth II stipulated that the arrangement in G major by Lieutenant Colonel Basil H. Brown be used in Canada. The authorised version to be played by pipe bands is Mallorca.

Canadian lyrics

As "God Save the Queen" is the Royal Anthem of Canada, the first verse has been translated into French for use in that country, as shown below.

Dieu protège notre Reine !
Notre gracieuse, noble Reine !
Vive la reine !
Qu’elle soit victorieuse
Heureuse et glorieuse
Que Dieu protège notre Reine
Vive la Reine !

Tes cadeaux si choisis
Qu'il te plaît donne à lui
Vive la Reine !
Qu'elle défende nos lois
Que nous ayions raison
Chanter avec nos cœurs et voix
Dieu protège la Reine !

One of two bilingual versions are typically sung in Canada on Remembrance Day:

Either -

Dieu protège notre reine,
Notre gracieuse, noble reine,
Vive la reine !
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God Save the Queen!

Or -

God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Qu'elle soit victorieuse
Heureuse et glorieuse
Que Dieu protège notre Reine
Vive la Reine !

There is a special Canadian verse in English which was once commonly sung as a second verse in place of the original second verse:

Our loved Dominion bless
With peace and happiness
From shore to shore;
And let our Empire be
Loyal, united, free
True to herself and Thee
God save the Queen.

Modernly, however, on the rare occasion that two verses of the royal anthem are sung, it is almost invariably sung in Canada the same as it is sung in UK - with the actual second verse ("O Lord, our God, arise", etc.) replaced by the third verse ("Thy choicest gifts in store", etc.) sung as a second verse. But even in UK, a second verse is rarely sung

Use in New Zealand

The New Zealand national anthems are "God Save The Queen" and "God Defend New Zealand"; however, "God save the Queen" is generally only played when the Sovereign, Governor-General or other member of the Royal Family is present, or on certain occasions such as Anzac Day.

In New Zealand, the second more militaristic verse is replaced with Hixtons verse "Nor in this land alone..." (often sung as Not in this land alone"), otherwise known as a "Commonwealth verse". However, that verse is primarily used only when the anthem is played past the first verse.

Use elsewhere

"God Save the King" was the first song to be used as a national anthem, although the Netherlands' national anthem, Het Wilhelmus, is older. Its success prompted a number of imitations, notably in France and, later, Germany. Both commissioned their own songs to help construct a concrete national(ist) identity. The first German national anthem used the melody of "God Save the King" with the words changed to Heil dir im Siegerkranz, and sung to the same tune as the UK version. The tune was either used or officially adopted as the national anthem for several other countries, including those of Russia (until 1833) and Switzerland (Rufst Du, mein Vaterland or O monts indépendants, until 1961). Molitva russkikh, considered to be the first Russian anthem, was also sung to the same music.

It is also the melody to the United States patriotic hymn "America" (also known by its first line, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee"), and was played during the Presidential Inauguration parade of President George W. Bush on 20 January, 2001. In Iceland it is sung to the poem of Eldgamla Ísafold. The tune is also used as Norway's royal anthem entitled Kongesangen, and was used for the Swedish royal anthem between 1805 and 1893, entitled Bevare gud vår kung.

The tune is still used as the national anthem of Liechtenstein, Oben am jungen Rhein. When England played Liechtenstein in a Euro 2004 qualifier, the same tune was therefore played twice, causing some minor confusion.

The melody of "God Save the King" has been, and continues to be, used as a hymn tune by Christian churches in various countries. The United Methodists of the southern United States, Mexico, and Latin America, among other denominations (usually Protestant), play the same melody as a hymn. The Christian hymn " Glory to God on High" is frequently sung to the same tune, as well as an alternative tune that fits both lyrics.

Musical adaptations

Classical composers

In total, about 140 composers, including Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms, have used the tune in their compositions.

Johann Christian Bach composed a set of variations on "God Save the King" for the finale to his sixth keyboard concerto (Op. 1) written c. 1763.

Joseph Haydn was impressed by the use of "God Save the King" as a national anthem during his visit to London in 1794, and on his return to Austria wrote a tune to the national anthem, the Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser ("God Save Emperor Franz"), for the birthday of the Emperor Franz of Austria. The tune of "God Save the King" was later adopted for the Prussian national anthem Heil Dir im Siegerkranz.

Siegfried August Mahlmann in the early 19th century wrote alternate lyrics to adapt the hymn for the Kingdom of Saxony, as "Gott segne Sachsenland" ("God Save Saxony").

Gaetano Donizetti used this anthem in his opera "Roberto Devereux".

Gioachino Rossini used this anthem in the last scene of his "Il viaggio a Reims", when all the characters, coming from many different European countries, sing a song which recalls their own homeland. Lord Sidney, bass, sings "Della real pianta" on the notes of "God save the King". Samuel Ramey used to interpolate a spectacular virtuoso cadenza at the end of the song.

Ludwig van Beethoven composed a set of seven piano variations in the key of C major to the theme of "God Save the King", catalogued as WoO.78 (1802–1803). However, he also quotes it in his "battle symphony" Wellington's Victory.

Muzio Clementi, another composer who used the theme to "God Save the King", placed this theme into his Symphony No. 3 in B major. This work is dubbed the "Great National" and is catalogued as WoO. 34.

Franz Liszt wrote a piano paraphrase on the anthem.

Johann Strauss I quoted God Save the Queen in full at the end of his waltz Huldigung der Königin Victoria von Grossbritannien (Homage to Queen Victoria of Great Britain) Op. 103, where he also quoted Rule, Britannia! in full at the beginning of the piece.

Arthur Sullivan quotes the anthem at the end of his ballet Victoria and Merrie England.

Claude Debussy opens with a brief introduction of God Save the King in one of his preludes, Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. The piece draws its inspiration from the main character of the Charles Dickens novel The Pickwick Papers.

Niccolò Paganini wrote a set of highly virtuosic variations on "God Save the King" as his Opus 9.

Max Reger wrote "Variations and Fugue on 'Heil dir im Siegerkranz' (God Save the King)" for organ in 1901 after the death of Queen Victoria. It does not have an opus number.

Sir Edward Elgar wrote his own orchestration of the National Anthem, performed with choir and symphony orchestra in 1927, for the occasion of the mayoral procession at the opening of the Hereford Music Festival on September 4 of that year.

Rock adaptations

Jimi Hendrix of the The Jimi Hendrix Experience played an impromptu version of "God Save the Queen" to open his set at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. Just before walking onto the stage, he can be seen (on the DVD) and heard to ask "How does it go again?" in reference to the said UK national anthem. He was able just to hear it mimicked by voice and then perform it. His relatively accurate lead-guitar rendition of "God Save the Queen' can be viewed in stark contrast to his performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Woodstock Festival, 1969. Sex Pistols recorded a song entitled God Save The Queen in open reference of the National Anthem.

Queen - A Night at the Opera
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
(Track 11)
"God Save the Queen"
(Track 12)
(end of album)
The rock band Queen recorded an instrumental version of "God Save the Queen" on their 1975 album A Night at the Opera. It was arranged by guitarist Brian May and features his distinctive layers of overdubbed electric guitars. A tape of this version would be played at the end of almost every concert, with Freddie Mercury walking around the stage wearing a crown and a cloak on their Magic Tour in 1986. The band played "God Save the Queen" at the end of all of their concerts. On 3 June 2002, during the Queen's Golden Jubilee, Brian May performed the anthem on his Red Special electric guitar for Party at the Palace, performing from the roof of Buckingham Palace.

A version of "God Save the Queen" by Madness features the melody of the song played on kazoos. It was included on the compilation album The Business.

Nickelodeon's The Ren and Stimpy Show parodied the song as The Royal Anthem of the Canadian Kilted Yaksmen.


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