Rule Britannia

From Academic Kids

Rule Britannia is a song, originating from the poem Rule Britannia by James Thomson, and put to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. The song was included in a masque, Alfred, co-written by Thomson and David Mallet and first performed at Cliveden, country home of Frederick, Prince of Wales, to celebrate the accession of George I and the birthday of the Princess Augusta. This most popular of all English national airs was first heard in London in 1745 and achieved instant popularity. So well known was it that Handel even quoted it in his Occasional Oratorio in the following year when it was sung to the words, 'War shall cease, welcome peace!' Predictably 'Rule, Britannia!' was seized upon by the Jacobites and James Thomson's words were altered.

At the time it appeared, the song was not a celebration of the existing state of naval affairs as Britain did not "rule the waves". However, over the next two centuries the Royal Navy became a dominant force on the oceans and protected Britain and her burgeoning Empire from a number of "haughty tyrants" and "foreign strokes". The jesting lyrics of the mid 1700s had assumed a material and patriotic significance by the end of the 19th century.

When Britain first at Heav'n's command
Arose from out (sic) the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain;
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.
The nations not so blest as thee,
Shall in their turns to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never shall be slaves.
Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never shall be slaves.
Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame,
All their attempts to bend thee down
Will but arouse thy generous flame;
But work their woe, and thy renown.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never shall be slaves.
To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine;
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never shall be slaves.
The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crowned,
And manly hearts to guide the fair.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never shall be slaves.

The melody was the theme for a set of variations for piano by Ludwig van Beethoven (WoO 79) and also used in Wellington's Victory (Wellington's Sieg, opus 91) by the same composer.

Rule Britannia is traditionally performed at the BBC's Last Night of the Proms, normally with a guest soloist (past performers have included Bryn Terfel, Thomas Hampton and Felicity Lott). However, in recent years the inclusion of the song and other patriotic tunes has been much criticised — notably by Leonard Slatkin — and the presentation has been amended.

See also: UK topics


Rule Britannia is also a novel by Daphne du Maurier.

External links

de:Rule Britannia nl:Rule Britannia sv:Rule, Britannia

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