Countries & Cultures - National Anthems

Countries & Cultures


To list every national anthem in the world would be a huge task and beyond the remit of Scouting Resources. Perhaps it would be better to provide a couple of links that provide a wealth of information, see the above Useful Links.

Origins of National Anthems

How is a National Anthem created? Is it decreed by government order and given birth to in a cabinet room? Should a referendum "sense" people's opinion, and a competition call for suggestions? Should a country adopt a popular song, so that the National Anthem truly arises out of the people, as Australians unofficially seemed to have done with "Waltzing Matilda"?

National Anthems - at least in their text if not the music - differ from country to country. And rightly so. After all, they are meant to express the character of a nation and to stir its soul.

The British pray for their monarch. Germans used to praise their country "above everything in the world," whilst Americans visualize their Star-spangled Banner.

Few anthems have been specially written or were the result of a poet laureate's appointed task. Most of them were born out of some particular event of war or revolution. Written then, on the spur of the moment, for that one occasion, they have survived ever since. And it was the people themselves who made them their own, whilst governments only (sometimes after years) acknowledged tune and words as the authoritative National Anthem.

As most anthems go far back in nations' histories, the origin is often difficult to trace

God Save The Queen

There is no authorised version of the National Anthem as the words are a matter of tradition. Additional verses have been added down the years, but these are rarely used. The words used are those sung in 1745, substituting 'Queen' for 'King' where appropriate.

On official occasions, only the first verse is usually sung, as follows:

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.

An additional verse is occasionally sung:

Thy choicest gifts in store

On her be pleased to pour,

Long may she reign.

May she defend our laws,

And give us ever cause,

To sing with heart and voice,

God save the Queen.

Other verses exist (see notes below)...

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!

O lord God arise,

Scatter our enemies,

And make them fall!

Confound their knavish tricks,

Confuse their politics,

On you our hopes we fix,

God save the Queen!

Not in this land alone,

But be God's mercies known,

From shore to shore!

Lord make the nations see,

That men should brothers be,

And form one family,

The wide world ov'er

From every latent foe,

From the assasins blow,

God save the Queen!

O'er her thine arm extend,

For Britain's sake defend,

Our mother, prince, and friend,

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!

One realm of races four,

Blest ever more and more,

God save our land!

Home of the brave and free,

Set in the silver sea,

True nurse of chivalry,

God save our land!

Of many a race and birth,

One Empire, wide as earth,

As ocean wide,

Brothers in war and peace,

Brothers that war may cease;

God, who hath given increase,

Still guard and guide.

W.E.Hickson 1803-70:

God bless our native land,

May heaven's protecting hand

Still guard our shore;

May peace her power extend,

Foe be transformed to friend,

And Britain's rights depend

On war no more.

May just and righteous laws

Uphold the public cause,

And bless our isle.

Home of the brave and free,

The land of liberty,

We pray that still on thee

Kind heaven may smile.

Nor on this land alone-

But be God's mercies known

From shore to shore.

Lord, make the nations see

That men should brothers be,

And form one family

The wide world o'er.

David Beattie - Gravesend, UK

Q: I wondered how many verses there are to the National Anthem? I had always thought there were 3 until recently I found a 6 verse version on the internet!

A: There is no authorised version of the National Anthem, the words being a matter of tradition rather than official decree. Different versions have been produced by a number of people including, in 1819, the poet Shelley. But none supplanted those used at the first public performance on 28 September 1745 in London, when three verses were sung after a performance of Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist. (The performance is thought to have been prompted by the Jacobite 'threat' perceived after the defeat of George II's army by the 'Young Pretender' Charles Stuart at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh.) Nowadays however it is the usual practice on official occasions to sing the first verse only.

Taken from

It would seem that there are a variety of verses that have existed throughout the last few hundred years, some of which seem to have been constructed (and used) for specific occasions, others have had their words and structure changed subtly over the course of a few centuries.

Most national occasions only utilize some 1, 2 or 3 verses (mainly the first and last verse of the top set above)...

In addition there is some strong feeling among certain areas of the population over a 'National Anthem' that is essentially an 'English Anthem'

God Save The Queen - Origins

Mystery and romance surround Britain's National Anthem. It was never written or composed as such. It just grew out of the people. It is first mentioned in the 16th century. But its text (first in Latin) has frequently been changed and added to.

Britons express loyalty to their country not with an exciting marching song or a martial hymn, but a humble prayer for the health, long life and prosperity of their King or Queen. No wonder that the National Anthem's most essential words stem from the Bible. Three times in Holy Scripture occurs the phrase "God save the King."

Nobody is certain who composed the anthem and wrote its final words. By 1545, "God save the King" had become a watchword of the British navy, to be responded to by "Long to reign over us." However, an old prayer, appointed by the Church for the anniversary of the Gun Powder Plot (November 5th, 1605), may well be the original source of part of its second verse. This ancient supplication contains the lines: "Scatter our enemies... assuage their malice and confound their devices."

No doubt, the anthem is a combination of such loyal phrases brought together at a moment of grave national crisis-though which is still a matter of controversy. Obviously, for the people to ask God to save their king implied that his life was endangered. That is why one tradition ascribes the origin of the hymn to 1688, "when the Prince of Orange was hovering over the coast," threatening the ruling dynasty. This claim says it was written as a Latin Chorus for the private Catholic Chapel of James II. Concerned with their monarch's fate, soon people sang it in London's playhouses and the streets.

Various composers have been credited with its original tune. It belonged to a Christmas carol, for instance, first published in 1611. Best-known (and least likely) claim to authorship of the British anthem is that of the man who wrote the original "Sally in our Alley," Henry Carey, son of the Marquis of Halifax. This unfortunate man, who ended his life by his own hand, is said to have written and sung it first at a London tavern dinner-party he gave in 1740 to celebrate Admiral Vernon's victory at Portobello the year before. Others attribute both words and music to a Dr John Bull, once a choirboy at the Chapel Royal of Elizabeth I and later its organist. Indeed, his tune, still preserved in the early manuscript of a copyist dating back to 1619, is similar to our present "God save the Queen." It certainly would be a pleasing coincidence if a man whose name was to become a symbol of Britain would be the author of the nation's anthem.

It seems we owe the modern "God save the Queen" to no one man or composer. Its music is the development of airs extant long before the actual song. It had become a popular folk tune by the 17th century. Our first concrete record of its actual use belongs to the stage and 1745, when it was sung at two concerts in London's Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters. Again it was in a national crisis. Scotland had risen in favor of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Marshal Wade was in the North to put down the rebellion. "God save the King," appropriately expressed the English people's fervor, imploring divine help for their reigning monarch. A special verse, added and later discarded, went:

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 King.

Thanks to Mrs Ann Wade for a correction on the above verse (hush instead of crush)

From this emergency on, the anthem became the nation's most patriotic song, whose simplicity and sincerity took it to people's hearts. Soon it was sung on all patriotic occasions.

It did not take long for other nations to appropriate the tune. This typical and original English air was used, at some time or other, by at least 12 other countries, including the United States and Germany. It is certainly the world's best-known melody.

The story is told that when, during World War I on the Western front, English Tommies, on the spur of the moment, sang the anthem, American and German soldiers came out of their trenches and joined in with their own words. Each group recognized in it a hymn of their own: hailing the Kaiser in his "garland of victory" or "America." Composers, too, admired the tune enough to incorporate it in their own works - in Haydn's "Emperor's Hymn" and Brahms' "Triumphal Song." Beethoven was so deeply moved by it that he published seven variations on its theme and wrote in his diary: "I must show the English what a blessing they have in "JGod save the King."

The song's cosmopolitan character led to some confusion at a concert at a European resort attended by many English visitors. In Weber's "Jubilee Overture," they recognized the National Anthem, and many immediately stood up - to the bewilderment of their continental hosts. As the tune wove in and out they bobbed up and sat down, puzzled and unsure of what to think and to do. The mechanical reproduction of music, so popular in the later years of the 19th century, led to all kinds of peculiar gadgets. Queen Victoria was delighted, when, it is said, on her Jubilee in 1887, an ingenious inventor presented her with a bustle. It contained an automatic music box which played the National Anthem whenever the wearer sat down!