Rule Britannia First Performed
That most patriotic of songs, Rule Britannia, a fixture at the Last Night of the Proms and 20 times more stirring than the dirge we claim as our national anthem, was first performed at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, the country home of Frederick Prince of Wales, on August 1 1740. Its origins were not as a stand-alone song, but as part of a masque about Alfred the Great – German-born Frederick was keen on seeming as British as possible to bring him closer to both the British public and his father George II who had just acceded to the throne. But there was also a more domestic reason for the performance – it was part of the celebrations for his daughter’s third birthday.
The words to the song were by Scottish poet James Thomson , who worked on the masque with another Scot, playwright David Mallet ; and the music was by Thomas Arne. It is not unreasonable to see behind such a parentage for the wider work and the most notable song in it Frederick’s desire to build bridges to various sections of British society: the two Scots and the Catholic Arne. Rule Britannia was not known to the wider world, however, until 1745 when it was performed to great acclaim in London .
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