When 18th century British composer Thomas Arne included his song Rule, Britannia! in a masque based on the life of Alfred the Great that was presented at Cliveden, the country home of Frederick, Prince of Wales, he could not have imagined that more than two hundred seventy years later his ditty would be known throughout the British Isles and beyond. Rule, Britannia! is widely used in the Royal Navy and British Army and is featured each year at the Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall as a national sing-along.
At the time of writing, the Dutch actually ‘ruled the waves,’ so this song was more an exhortation than a status report. The lyrics were also a statement of civil liberty. Since Cromwell’s time, Britain had had a standing army which could be turned against the native population. A standing navy, however, existed solely to protect the nation from invaders, protecting a free populace.
Rule, Britannia! has been quoted extensively by other composers, among them Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss, and Arthur Sullivan. Thomas Arne also penned a version of God Save The King which came to be the British national anthem.