New research from Oxford University has claimed that ‘Rule Britannia’ is a song opposing the monarchy.
The song, which was co-written by James Thomson and David Mallet, was first performed in 1740 at Cliveden, a country home of the royal family, in 1740.
At first glance, it seems highly patriotic, with lyrics stating that “Britons shall never be slaves” and they will forever “rule the waves”. However Oliver Cox, a historian at the University of Oxford has unearthed letters which imply that Rule Britannia was actually a rallying cry for the supporters of the king’s son, Frederick, Prince of Wales.
The letters include one from Martin Madan (an equerry to Prince Frederick) to his wife, in which he states that he believes “the whole [song] is a noble lesson & proper to be exhibited to a Prince that durst hear truth”.
Another, written by a Welsh aristocrat his friend, Lord Guildford mentions that ‘Methinks I saw you stretching your Melodious Throat in the Greatest Extasy, pronouncing Those Delightful Words; Britons Never Will Be Slaves.’
Mr Cox stated that the song was “an opposition call to arms by politicians who had pinned their loyalty to Frederick, the Prince of Wales” and that “it is looking forward to a new era of kingship”.
He added that Britain at the time was in crisis as “two of the most important members of this group of princes, peers, politicians and poets had recently died, and with them any chance of creating a coherent opposition group in the House of Commons” and Rule Britannia was “commissioned by the Prince of Wales who opposed his father’s policies to unite the warring factions and present them with a vision of a new type of king.”
Frederick, who eventually predeceased George II, often opposed the policies of his father and his new Prime Minister Robert Walpole.
Students at the University have reacted with surprise, with one commenting that “it’s hard to think of anything more patriotic than Rule Britannia. No song is more effective at making you lie back and think of England”.
Oliver Cox’s findings will be presenting his finding at a conference in Kensington Palace in June.