In Memoriam: Behind the Meaning of the Traditional Song “God Save the Queen”

There is no doubt that Queen Elizabeth II will have a few pages in the history books, and in fact, she has already been written in. In early 2022, she celebrated 70 consecutive years on the throne and effectively became the longest-serving monarch of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms. Now, after celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the world is mourning as news of her death arrives.

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So, as we keep the Queen’s family and her legacy in our thoughts, let’s take a look at the anthem often associated with her vocation: “God Save the Queen.”

The Lyrics

The author of “God Save the Queen” is unknown, but its origin likely dates back to the seventeenth century. The official lyrics that are recognized as the United Kingdom’s national anthem are as follows. (During official occasions involving the Queen, typically the first verse is the only one sung.)

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

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.

During eras that see a male monarch on the throne, the lyrics are simply changed to “God Save the King” and all feminine pronouns are replaced with their masculine counterpart.

The Meaning and Origins

As it is not difficult to guess, “God Save the Queen” is a patriotic tune that hopes for the longevity and prosperity of the monarch because she serves as a representative of the people. Further, the anthem asks for divine power for the monarch’s victory over time and enemy to long reign over us being happy and glorious.

The song, in its “God Save the King” iteration, was first publicly performed in London in 1745 after reigning monarch Prince Charles Edward Stuart defeated the army of King George II at Prestonpans (near Edinburgh). Upon hearing news of this defeat, the band leader at the Drury Lane theatre composed a rendition of “God Save the King” that was performed by the theatre’s cast. Essentially, it was a statement song against the threat of further invasion.

“The universal applause sufficiently denoted in how just an Abhorrence they (the audience) hold the Arbitrary Schemes of our invidious enemies,” the Daily Advertiser reported at the time.

“God Save the King” spread to other theatre houses across the U.K., and its legacy was quickly solidifying.

Steeped In Tradition

It wasn’t until the reign of Queen Victoria that “God Save the King/Queen” was considered a national anthem. Several other countries have since adopted “God Save the Queen” as royal anthems played in the presence of royalty like Australia, Canada, Belize, and more.

Today, the song is sung in Memorium of Queen Elizabeth II. She died on September 8, 2022. “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow,” read the announcement from The Royal Family Twitter account.

Rest in peace.

Photo by Alpha Photographic Press Agency/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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