“Rule, Britannia”


"When Britain first at Heav'n's command Arose from out the azure main... This was the carter of the land: 'Rule, Britannia, Britannia, rule the waves: Britons never, never, never will be slaves."


Not really a traditional song, but obviously a popular one.

The irony is that, for most of its history, Britain had a weak navy, or no navy at all. (The result of this was a long series of invasions, often successful. In just the eleventh century, there was Swein Forkbeard's invasion of 1014, Canute's invasion of 1016, Harald Hardrada's invasion of 1066, and of course William the Bastard of Normandy's invasion of 1066 -- the one that earned him the name "William the Conqueror.")

It wasn't until the sixteenth century that Britain firmly established its navy -- but, of course, there has not been a successful outside invasion of Britain since.

Various claims have been made for the authorship of this piece. All that can be said with certainty is that the first publication was in "Dr. Arne's" 1740 stage works.

The original text, as noted, read "Britannia, rule the waves"; later, this was altered in some versions to "Britannia RULES the waves" -- a statement which was absolutely true only in the nineteenth century. Might be time to go back to the old form.... - RBW

"Rule Britannia," for some reason, is item CLVIII in Palgrave's _Golden Treasury_. - RBW

Same tune

  • Married to a Mermaid (File: Harl174)

Cross references


  1. Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 191-193, "Rule, Britannia" (1 tune, partial text)
  2. Fuld-WFM, p. 477, "Rule, Britannia"
  3. Roud #10790
  4. BI, ChWII191


Author: Words: David Mallett? James Thompson? / Music: Thomas Augustine Arne?
Earliest date: 1740 ("Alfred: A Masque")
Found in: Britain(England)