Rule Britannia! What are the lyrics to the anthem and why are they controversial?

BBC is receiving a backlash as it was revealed a non-singing version of the anthem will be performed this year, due to the lack of an audience at the Proms

Roisin O'Connor@Roisin_OConnor
Sunday 13 September 2020 10:22
Last Night of the Proms: Fans raise flags during rousing concert

Rule, Britannia!” will be performed at the Last Night of the Proms, the BBC has confirmed, following speculation the traditional song would be dropped from the setlist.

Early reports suggested the BBC was concerned about the song’s links to colonialism and slavery in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

However, the song will be part of the event, albeit without lyrics due to the lack of audience amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Amid a backlash over the BBC’s decision to do a non-singing rendition of the anthem, what exactly are the lyrics, and where did the song come from?

Written in 1740, “Rule, Britannia!” originates from James Thomson’s poem, “Rule, Britannia” and was set to music by Thomas Arne.

At the time, the Royal Navy did not hold dominance over the oceans – which it achieved by the 19th century – and so the lyrics only took on a more patriotic significance by the late 1800s.

Here are the lyrics:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!

Britons never, never, never will 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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!

Britons never, never, never will be slaves.

In a statement confirming the songs would be performed, the BBC’s condemned “unjustified personal attacks” against this year’s conductor for the Proms.

Dalia Stasevska, who was reportedly was among those eager to update the programme, has received abuse on social media following Sunday’s reports.

The BBC said: “We very much regret the unjustified personal attacks on Dalia Stasevska, BBC Symphony Orchestra principal guest conductor, made on social media and elsewhere.

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“As ever, decisions about the Proms are made by the BBC, in consultation with all artists involved.”

The Last Night of the Proms takes place on 12 September.