What are the lyrics to 'Rule Britannia' – and who composed it?

8 September 2018, 22:50 | Updated: 8 September 2018, 23:01

King George V on his yacht, Britannia
King George V on his yacht, Britannia. Picture: Getty

‘Rule Britannia’ is a popular choice in many British classical concerts – but what are the lyrics to the song, and who composed it?

‘Rule, Britannia!’ is a patriotic British song, written in 1740. The song originates from the poem ‘Rule, Britannia’ by James Thomson, and was set to music by Thomas Arne.

It is strongly associated with the Royal Navy – yet at the time, the song was not a celebration of the success of naval affairs, but a cry for help.

Britain did not yet ‘rule the waves’, and the Royal Navy didn’t yet have the dominant power on the oceans that it would have by the 19th century – and it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the lyrics acquired a patriotic significance.

Which composers have quoted the song?

Several composers have quoted Arne’s melody, including Beethoven, who used it in ‘Wellington’s Victory’, as well as for a set of variations for piano.

In 1837, Richard Wagner wrote a concert overture based on the theme, while Johann Strauss I quoted the entire song in his 1838 waltz ‘Huldigung der Königin Victoria von Grossbritannien’ (Homage to Queen Victoria of Great Britain). He also uses the British national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ at the end of the piece.

What are the lyrics to 'Rule Britannia'?

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

When Britain first, at heaven's command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And Guardian Angels sang this strain:

(Chorus)

The nations not so blest as thee
Must, in their turn, to tyrants fall,
While thou shalt flourish great and free:
The dread and envy of them all.

(Chorus)

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.

(Chorus)

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.

(Chorus)

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.

(Chorus)

The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coasts repair.
Blest isle! with matchless beauty crowned,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.

(Chorus)

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.