God Save the King

Anonymous, c. 1745

What does this song suggest about what it means to be “British”? What national values does it express? Why did the colonists in America identify with being British? Why were they proud of their British heritage?

When did the colonists begin to disagree with Great Britain? Stamp Act, 1773. What parts of this song do you think first bothered colonists after the Stamp Act? At what point would they probably quit singing this song altogether? What would have bothered them most about the song?

What type of song does this sound like? Church hymn. What reminds you of a hymn? Tempo, verse structure, meter, appeal to God. Is it a hymn? Yes. Why? It is a prayer to God to bless the King.

What other song uses this tune? “America (My Country ’Tis of Thee),” 1832. How appropriate is this tune for an American song?

“God Save the King” identifies the United Kingdom almost completely with what institution? Monarchy. What role does the monarchy now play in British politics? How is the United Kingdom governed? Parliament, prime minister. How well suited is this song to being the British national anthem today?

"God Save the King" performed by John Potter on English National Songs, Saydisc Records [CD-SDC-400], © 1993. Available on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.

This rendition includes a practice called "lining out," usually found in a religious setting, wherein the lead singer sings the text and the congregation repeats it. In a non-religious setting, like a theater, the song probably would have been sung in its entirety.

View the music and lyrics for "God Save the King."

View the original publication.

Charles iby John Michael Wright  c. 1660–1665

Charles the First by John Michael Wright c. 1660–1665

Although historians disagree about the origin of this tune, it was popular in England from at least 1745. It was first performed publicly that year shortly after the defeat of King George II by the “Young Pretender,” Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in Scotland. When news reached London of King George’s defeat, the band leader at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, arranged this song for a performance after the play. This began a tradition of playing it at the beginning of each performance, in honor of the royal monarch. The song was first published in 1745 in The Gentleman’s Magazine beginning with the words “God save great George our King.”

The colonists, who considered themselves good British citizens until 1776, adopted the tune and fit many different texts to it, most of them patriotic. After 1776, choosing such a popular and patriotic British tune for their own nationalistic texts was likely intended to mock and anger the British. Eventually the texts became less provocative.

By tradition, not law, it is the royal national anthem of the United Kingdom. On official occasions, only the first verse—and less often the third—is usually sung.

Compare this song to other songs using this tune:

"Rights of a Woman" (Unit 2)

"America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)" (Unit 3)

"The New America" (Unit 5).

Think about some of the other patriotic songs you know. What themes do they use for lyrics? The land, the people, ideals, historical events. What kinds of music do they use? Hymns, marches, battle songs, etc.

If you had to advise the United Kingdom on a new national anthem, what would you suggest they emphasize? What kind of music should they use?

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