God Save the Queen
Just as the United Kingdom doesn’t actually have a written constitution, the country is also devoid of an official national anthem. In other words, just as it has what is referred to as an unwritten constitution, the country also possesses, as termed by many, a “de facto national anthem”. And that would be the song we’re reviewing today, “God Save the Queen”.
And as far as the first verse goes, the lyrics read exactly as one would expect of a tune entitled so. Monarchies are empowered by the loyalty of their subjects. And the words of this song are definitely being relayed from someone who can be described as a loyal subject of the titular Queen.
As the title suggests, he is calling down divine favor to be visited upon her. This includes what can be considered the biggest of such favors imaginable, “long life”. That would be where part of the request to “save” her comes from.
But also kingdoms and what have you usually have their enemies. So the vocalist is also calling for his leader to be “victorious”, we can presume in battle. He likewise wishes her to be “happy and glorious”, i.e. expressing a desire for her own personal prosperity.
And also, going back to the concept of being a loyal subject, the individual who is relaying these words would be someone who actually prefers being governed by the monarchy. So on top of everything, he is also expressing a desire that her “reign over” the people will last for a “long” time.
Going back to the concept of monarchies having enemies, the initial inspiration of this song actually dates back to the Old Testament (as will be expounded on later in the article). And anyone familiar with the Bible knows that the featured rulers did in fact do a lot of fighting.
So the second verse features the type of language we tend to find in the Good Book, i.e. a request for God to ‘scatter the enemies’ of the Queen. And the passage features other such phrases, i.e. requests to “confound the politics” of the Queen’s rivals, which basically points to the concept of God actually cursing her adversaries.
Or put otherwise, the vocalist does not believe that the fortune of the kingdom lies specifically in the hands of the Queen herself. The implication is that he knows that powerful rivals will materialize along the way, including those which may be stronger than the kingdom. So this time he doesn’t conclude the verse with “God save the Queen”. Rather it’s “God save us all”, i.e. keep them safe from their opponents.
In the third and final verse, the singer turns his attention back on the Queen herself. It features more desires for her to experience personal blessings, which ideally by extension will be passed on to the people. Or stated otherwise, this time around his requests aren’t so much about prospering her as it is making her a good leader.
Or put alternatively yet again, the vocalist may be a loyal subject, but he isn’t of the blind variety. He knows that the Queen needs to provide him and his countrymen “cause to sing with heart and voice” songs such as these. So he is asking God to provide her with such also, i.e. the type of heart which loves and regards her people.
What “God Save the Queen” is all about
Indeed we know that the singer is hoping for the long life and prosperity of the Queen. But this song can perhaps most amply be named ‘God Bless the Queen’ as opposed to “God Save the Queen”. For more than anything that is what he is actually requesting God to do, to bless her. For unlike any layman, she is actually the representative of the people.
So she being blessed with strength, power and compassion will likewise mean her nation is indomitable and well catered to. And such a sentiment serves as a lesson why, at the end of the day, the world will likely always have its monarchies, i.e. people who look up to their rulers. For ideally these leaders serve as the protectors and benefactors of their subjects.
Thus people who recite “God Bless the Queen” may not be as docile as some of us think. Or let’s say that yes, they do want God’s favor to be visited upon the Queen. But that is because as envisioned, the Queen, as their leader, will likewise show them favor. And if she does actually live up to these expectations, then of course they would likewise want her to live a long time since, unlike a democracy, her reign is for life as opposed to a season.
Who wrote “God Save the Queen”?
This is a song which for the most part dates back at least the 17th century. And it is unknown who exactly authored it. In fact as such national songs which are centuries’ old tend to go, it was more than one individual who contributed to “God Save the Queen” as we know it today. In other words, it came about as the result of a number of different sources.
One individual who is commonly cited as a contributor is John Bull (1563-1628), a music composer from the aforementioned era. Also some lyrics are said to be from one Henry Purcell (1659-1695), who was active some years after Bull had already passed away.
Additionally there have been theories that a particular version of “Remember, O Thou Man”, a 17th century Scottish carol which predates “God Save the Queen”, is where this song was sourced from.
And even prior to all of that, the phrases “God Save the King! Long Live the King” were used in the coronation of British monarchs since the 10th century. That same terminology also serves as arguably the most-prominent lines to be found in “God Save the Queen”. And that wording actually comes from an even older source, that being the Book of Kings I as found in the Old Testament.
More Facts about “God Save the Queen”
Meanwhile the first time a modern version of “God Save the Queen” is known to have been published was actually in the 18th century, in 1744. And what we mean by a ‘modern version’ is that it was similar to the song as still used today in the 21st century, though not exactly the same.
A major alteration to the second verse was made circa 1946. This was fresh in the wake of World War II, i.e. around the time the United Nations was formed. At that time, the reigning monarch, King George VI (1895-1952), wanted that particular stanza to be altered to “bring it more into the spirit of the brotherhood of nations”.
But that being noted, under most circumstances it is only the first verse of this song which is recited in the UK as opposed to the piece in its entirety. Indeed there is an extended version of “God Save the Queen” which is actually five verses long.
This song, as originally put together, was rather termed “God Save the King”. And the particular King who was in power at that time was George II (1683-1760). He ruled Great Britain from 1727-1760.
In the days of Western European colonialism, which were most pronounced during late-19th to mid-20th century, the United Kingdom was of course amongst the foremost imperialistic nations in the world. At its peak, circa 1913, nearly a quarter of the world’s population was under British rule.
So at a time, “God Save the Queen” was also the official national anthem of a number of African, Asian and other countries which fell under this classification.
Will “God Save the Queen” be changed to “God Save the King” when Queen Elizabeth II dies?
Yes. Prior to Elizabeth II being coronated on 6 February 1952, her father, George VI ruled. When he was in power, the lyrics were altered to reflect his kingship.
So for instance, now that Elizabeth II’s son Charles has taken over the monarchy as her successor, then the lyrics would again be changed back to “God Save the King“, as they were at first.
Widespread Usage of Song
As it stands in more modern times, this tune still enjoys a widespread usage. That is to say that it is still used to honor the British monarchy, not only in the United Kingdom but also in the commonwealth countries, most notably, in an unofficial capacity, Canada.
And still as at 2021 a couple of commonwealth territories – New Zealand as well as Australia’s Norfolk Islands – actually use it as their own national anthem, as does the UK itself.
Additionally Switzerland once used this song as their own national anthem. And as at the writing of this post another nation unassociated with the UK, Liechtenstein (a part of Germany) does the same. And a derivative of “God Save the Queen” known as Kongesangen is also utilized as the Norwegian national anthem.
Did the Queen ever sing “God Save the Queen”?
The Queen herself never sang “God Save the Queen” during her reign. As with any other national anthem, the lyrics can’t be modified on the fly like that. Or put differently since she herself was the Queen, then exactly which Queen would she be singing to?
That being said this is the de facto national anthem of Britain, which is basically like saying it is their national anthem. Indeed even you readers who are not citizens of the United Kingdom in one way or another are by all means familiar with this tune.
And when it is played in the Queen’s presence, apparently she is obliged to stand for it, as with everyone else. And this happens quite often considering that, as noted above, it is more or less compulsory, i.e. tradition that whatever event she does attend in just about any part of the world she may travel to, this song is played. So the Queen did get a lot of love, or honor if you will.
However, considering that she was in fact the Queen – the one and only at that – then it’s not like she was compelled to go about honoring herself.
More Interesting Facts about “God Save the Queen”
History has shown that the lyrics of this song have been altered numerous times by different authors. In some cases it was done to reflect specific agendas or historical instances. A good example was in the aftermath of the attempt on King George III’s life in 1800 (1738-1820).
However, the standard we know today, both musical and lyrically, was adopted during the reign of George V (1865-1936).
Previously this song was also used as the anthem of the Commonwealth Games, an Olympic-style, quadrennial event which is between the Commonwealth of Nations, i.e. the former British colonies. But since 2003 another old-school, likeminded song popular in the UK, “Jerusalem” by William Blake (1757-1827), has taken its place.
In fact there are also those who have been advocating replacing “God Bless the Queen” with “Jerusalem” as the British national anthem.
Also concerning the United Kingdom, it is specifically England and Northern Ireland which rely on this tune to serve as their national anthem. For this purpose, Wales rather relies on another song called “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”, while the Scottish utilize “Scotland the Brave” (and prior to that “Flower of Scotland”).
In fact even as recently as 2007 British Parliament entertained a proposal to make “God Bless the Queen” the anthem of England only, not the entirety of the United Kingdom. FYI, the entirety of UK consists of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland in addition to England.
God Save the Queen also holds the distinction of being the first song to ever actually be played and subsequently recorded on a computer. This occurred long before the days of MP3s, back in the mid-20th century at the University of Manchester.
Death of Queen Elizabeth II
Hours after Queen Elizabeth II’s ill health was announced on September 8th, 2022, a massive crowd gathered outside the Buckingham Palace waiting for updates about the Queen’s health. And upon hearing that she had died, the crowd instantly burst out singing “God Save the Queen” in a very touching farewell tribute to the Queen.
Popular Interpolations and Covers
As far as cover and interpolations of “God Save the Queen” go, a number of the greatest classical musicians in history have made use of this song. That list includes:
- Beethoven (1770-1827)
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1735-1782)
- Franz Liszt (1811-1866)
And in terms of 20th century musicians, likewise some of the greatest have put their hands at the tune. For instance in 1975 Queen, one of the most-successful rock bands in British history, dropped an instrumental version (as featured on “A Night at the Opera”, their fourth album). Additionally they commonly featured it to close out their live sets.
Then in 1977 another well-known British band, the Sex Pistols, came out with a song actually entitled “God Save the Queen”. However they used the occasion to negatively criticize the British monarchy instead of biggin’ them up (resulting in the song being banned by the BBC, etc.).
Also in 1970 legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), an artist known for putting his own unique spin on national anthems, played an improvised version of this song in England.