“God save the king”

For 70 years, people in the Commonwealth realms and beyond sang God save the queen. Recently, some of us have sung God save the king. I haven’t had to yet. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sang God save the queen, as it was replaced by Advance Australia fair in 1974. Being a moderate republican (note that a lowercase-r republican in Australia is very different from an uppercase-R Republican in the USA) I would probably decline to sing God save the king unless I really had to (frexample if I was in a featured choir). In fact, in fact, I struggle to remember singing Advance Australia fair since the opening ceremony of the 2000 olympic games.

Several days ago I watched a video about music in which someone talked about the use of repetition in music. He contrasted God save the king (which has no repetition) and Twinkle, twinkle, little star (which has multiple repeated phrases). But he didn’t use standard words (either God save the king or My country,  ’tis of thee, but a parody version I hadn’t heard before. I thought that was semi-interesting but wouldn’t have written a post about it. But yesterday a colleague mentioned that when he was young, he thought that one phrase was 

Santa victorious

That got me thinking about the video I’d watched, except that I couldn’t remember the exact video, but a combination of what I remembered of the presenter and the lyrics and a Google search found this video by “Dave Hurwitz, executive editor at Classics today.com” (his introduction to every video), whose lyrics (from 2.07) are

King George he stayed out late
He stayed out very late
He was the king
Queen Lizzie paced the floor
The king came home at four
She met him at the door
God save the king!

I’m not convinced by King George he, though it is possible in English, if more associated with informal styles. I think King William and Queen Mary would fit better. Wherever Dave got those words, it’s not common. Google found only two variations:

King George he stayed out late,
He had a special date.
He was the King.
Queen Mary stayed up too.
She knew just what to do

The search result gives that much, but I can’t find that or the second last line on the linked page.


King George, he had a date,
King George, he stayed out late.
He was the king.
Queen Mary, she got sore,
She waited at the door,
King George came home at four,
God save the king.

Google also shows a relevant result for Santa victorious.

“God save the king” is a rare example of the subjunctive in English. It is not “God, save the king” (imperative), or “God saves the king” (indicative).


2 thoughts on ““God save the king”

  1. I would call “God save the Queen/King” a third person imperative rather than a subjunctive. A more typical third person imperative phrasing would be “May God save the King.” Subjunctive would be more like “Would that the King be saved.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t immediately find the relevant section in the Cambridge Grammar. I’ll stick with calling it subjunctive. ‘God save the king’ and ‘May God save the king’ are obviously similar. I don’t know how I’d analyse ‘Would that the king be saved’.
      I’m pondering the similarities and differences between ‘(May) I save the king’, (May) you save the king’ and ‘(May) God save the king’, with no firm conclusions.


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