Rue Britannia


The BBC is dropping sung versions of “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory,” the flag-waving anthems that have been among the most memorable parts of the Last Night of the Proms, one of the world’s most popular musical events.

The network has announced that this year’s Last Night will feature “Rule, Britannia!” played instrumentally as part of Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs,” along with arrangements of Hubert Parry’s “Jerusalem” and Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1, the latter without “Land of Hope and Glory” sung in its trio section, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Carousel.”

Social activists and others have denounced “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory” because of what BBC Music Magazine critic Richard Morrison calls “crudely jingoistic texts.”

“The lyrics [of ‘Rule, Britannia!’] are just so offensive, talking about the ‘haughty tyrants’ – people that we are invading on their land and calling them haughty tyrants – and Britons shall never be slaves, which implies that it’s OK for others to be slaves but not us,” Chi-chi Nwanoku, founder of the majority black orchestra Chineke! told The Guardian’s Caroline Davies:

The dangers of crowded events during the coronavirus pandemic already was likely to alter the format of the Proms finale, to be staged on Sept. 12. The concert normally is played to a packed house at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which has a capacity of more than 5,200, and to even larger outdoor crowds throughout Britain.

Davies notes in her article that a more subdued Last Night was staged following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, possibly setting a precedent for this year’s event.

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“Rule, Britannia!” by James Thomson, set to music by Thomas Arne in his 1740 masque “Alfred,” is presented in Proms concerts with a soloist singing the verses and the audience joining in the refrain. Here’s the text:

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:
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will 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! rule the waves:
“Britons never will 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! rule the waves:
“Britons never will 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! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crown’d,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

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The lyrics of the chorus of “Land of Hope and Glory,” written in 1901 by A.C. Benson, typically performed at the Proms as an audience sing-along during Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1:

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

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Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog runs the BBC statement:

Timid BBC retreats from Rule Britannia

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson weighs in: “I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture . . . . ”