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The Interesting Story of "God Save the King/Queen"

George III's madness is well known but historians believe there that is a more accurate prognosis than the previously accepted porpyhria.

A music sheet from 1745, the year God Save the King/Queen arrived in Britain.

A music sheet from 1745, the year God Save the King/Queen arrived in Britain.

The Stuart Dynasty Versus the House of Hanover

God Save the King (Queen) was an anthem written during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 in Britain when the catholic Stuart dynasty was trying to reclaim the throne of Britain from the protestant House of Hanover’s King George II. It was their first attempt since 1715 when George I had suppressed the rebellion led by James Stuart, "The Old Pretender."

The Stuarts vacated the throne in 1688 as King James II of England and VII of Scotland fell under the weight of his subjects' disapproval by being openly catholic. Since the 1605 failed Gunpowder Plot in which the parliament building, James I and his ministers were not destroyed and assassinated as Catesby, Fawkes and their fellow rebels intended, the anti-catholic sentiments in the country had not waned. James never officially abdicated because he was too busy fleeing the country in late 1688.

Bonnie Prince Charlie, son of James the Old Pretender and grandson of deposed King James II/VII.

Bonnie Prince Charlie, son of James the Old Pretender and grandson of deposed King James II/VII.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

His continued absence was taken as a sign by parliament that he was no longer offering his services as ruler which suited their plans because they'd already asked James' protestant daughter and her husband William of Orange to rule instead. Mary II and William III claimed the throne and the bloodless Glorious Revolution became a note in history.

"The Old Pretender's" eldest son Charles Edward Stuart was also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender and the Young Chevalier. He was in command of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Would he fare any better than his ancestors?

A cairn erected as a memorial to the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans near Edinburgh.

A cairn erected as a memorial to the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans near Edinburgh.

The Army Marching Song "God Grant Thee Marshal Wade"

As the British army marched to meet their Jacobite foe in battle they sang a patriotic song set to the music which we now associate with God Save the Queen/King. The music’s exact origins are unknown but it was already being used in various countries./ For instance, in France it was the melody for a love song. In later centuries Beethoven, Brahms and around one hundred and thirty other composers used the score either completely or partly in their works.

In the army song’s lyrics, the subject was Field Marshal George Wade (1673-1748) Commander in Chief of the Forces.

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 Queen" Performed Live

God Save the King at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt was, at first, proving more fruitful than the last Stuart coup in 1715. When news reached London of the British Army’s defeat at Prestonpans near Edinburgh on the 21st September 1745 an anonymous figure altered the lyrics to:

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God save great George our king
Long live our noble king
God save great George our king
Send him victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the King.

The band leader of the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane, London arranged these words with the music for the Marshal Wade song and the rest is history. God Save the King was performed that night as a signal of support for the king who was sitting in the audience and he acknowledged the patriotism. As the days passed the song became popular and part of the performance in several theatres.

The Battle of Culloden Signals the End

The Jacobites also used the anthem but when they sang about the king they meant Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father James Stuart, waiting expectantly in exile for good news. Unfortunately for the Stuarts and their supporters, Bonnie Prince Charlie failed to secure the throne.

Defeat at the April 1746 Battle of Culloden as George II's son William, Duke of Cumberland lead the protestant king's army, spelled the end of the Stuart campaign. In England, the Duke of Cumberland had the Sweet William flower named in his honour. In Scotland, ancestral home to the Stuarts, they named a weed "Stinking Billy." He was also awarded the sobriquet of Butcher Cumberland.

A demoralised Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to France with a little help from a woman named Flora MacDonald who disguised him as her maid “Betty Burke”. The remaining Jacobites in England, Scotland and Wales didn’t dare to challenge the rule of the House of Hanover again.

William, Duke of Cumberland's victory at the Battle of Culloden sealed the Stuarts fate.

William, Duke of Cumberland's victory at the Battle of Culloden sealed the Stuarts fate.

The Stuarts Fade Into History

The relationship between the two pretenders broke down after the 1745 rebellion. Bonnie Prince Charlie lost direction in his life and he turned to mistresses to soothe his woes. His marriage ended in separation and he had no legitimate heirs. When his brother Henry took holy orders with James' approval and without consulting Charlie, this made any further pursuit of the throne pointless in his mind.

There was a brief resurgence of hope in 1759 when rumours reached the Stuart men's ears that France wanted to place James Stuart on the throne of Ireland and invade England but these possibilities failed to materialise into actions. The French lost interest in the Stuarts. James survived until New Years Day 1766, succumbing to a long illness in his 77th year.

After Bonnie Prince Charlie's death in 1788, Henry was approached for his view on the succession. He showed no interest in challenging the Hanoverian succession that Anne had outlined in 1701 and he felt no compulsion to renounce his religious lifestyle.

The British National Anthem Is the Oldest in the World

The anthem used in a time of crisis for George II lived on in Britain and although it was first called the national anthem during George IVs reign "God Save the King/Queen" has never officially been made the national anthem in law, it's an assumed position. Most people believe it is an official anthem.

The current full lyrics can be read here: God Save the Queen | Britannica

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle

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