Not many things that have been in constant use since the 18th century can still catch people by surprise.
The piano produces the same notes it always has, carbonated water still has its bubbles and a flushed toilet – when working – carries out the desired effect.
However, England’s national anthem caught many people out after the lyrics were tweaked following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022. For the first time in seven decades, England’s patriots would have to pray for the saviour of the King, rather than the Queen.
England and Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount was not alone in overlooking this detail during the World Cup two months later. So, to make sure everyone is on the same page, here’s everything you need to know about England’s national anthem, ‘God Save the *checks notes* King’.
God save our gracious King!
Long live our noble King!
God save the King!
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the King.
Thy choicest gifts in store
On him be pleased to pour,
Long may he reign.
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the King.
Unlike some of the unofficial national anthems performed by other members of the United Kingdom, ‘God Save the King’ is not laced with subtlety. The first verse, which is almost always the only section of the song performed before sporting events, is unambiguously in favour of England’s ruling monarch.
Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, it was obviously ‘God save the Queen’ but since her eldest son Charles became England’s first King since George VI in 1952, the lyrics have been amended.
Intriguingly, the origins of the words and music are completely unknown and could date back as far as the 17th century. The anthem, in its recognisable guise, was first performed in 1745, when George II was on the throne.
Originally, the opening line read: “God save great George our King” but was soon changed to “God save our gracious King” when it was decided that William didn’t scan as well.
According to the official history of the national anthem, the chant was belted out as an act of defiant patriotism after the English army, led by Sir John Cope, was defeated by Jacobite forces at the Battle of Prestonpans.
The conflict in East Lothian, won by the exiled Charles Edward Stuart, supposedly lasted less than half an hour. Yet the anthem, which the leader of the band at the Theatre Royal arranged, has been consistently bellowed over the subsequent two-and-a-half centuries.