"God Save the Queen" (alternatively "God Save the King") is an anthem used in a number of Commonwealth realms. It is the national anthem of the United Kingdom and its territories and dependencies, Norfolk Island, one of the two national anthems of the Cayman Islands and New Zealand (since 1977) and the royal anthem of Australia (since 1984), Canada (since 1980), Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Jamaica, and Tuvalu. In countries not previously part of the British Empire, the tune of "God Save the Queen" has also been used as the basis for different patriotic songs, though still generally connected with royal ceremony.
The authorship of the song is unknown, and beyond its first verse, which is consistent, it has many historic and extant versions: Since its first publication, different verses have been added and taken away and, even today, different publications include various selections of verses in various orders. In general only one, or sometimes two verses are sung, but on rare occasions three.
The sovereign and his or her consort are saluted with the entire anthem, while other members of the royal family who are entitled to royal salute (such as the Prince of Wales) receive just the first six bars. The first six bars also form all or part of the Vice Regal Salute in some Commonwealth realms outside the UK (e.g., in Canada, governors general and lieutenant governors are at official events saluted with the first six bars of "God Save the Queen" followed by the first four and last four bars of " O Canada"), as well as the salute given to governors of British overseas territories. The words of the song, like its title, are adapted to the gender of monarch, with "King" replacing "Queen", "he" replacing "she", and so forth, when a king reigns.
God Save the Queen" (or "God Save the King", depending on the gender of the ruling monarch) was a patriotic song first publicly performed in London in 1745 after the king, George II defeated the Jacobite claimant to the throne, "Bonnie Prince Charlie". The song came to be referred to as the national anthem from the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The words and tune are anonymous, and may date back to the seventeenth century. There are various claimants to authorship of both the words and tune, the words can be found as early as 1545, when the watchword at night was "God save the King", the reply was "Long to reign over us." The authorship of the melody has been claimed by many, including John Bull (the author of the earliest piece of music that resembles the work), Henry Carey, Henry Purcell, and Joseph Haydn (although he probably borrowed the tune upon hearing it in London), Marc-Antoine Charpentier, J.B. Lully, and James Oswald.
There is no authorized version of the National Anthem as the words are a matter of tradition. The anthem has also never been officially declared as the national anthem of the country, the royal anthem (as this technically is) is used as the national anthem as a matter of tradition, but this is also due to the unique constitutional situation in the United Kingdom, as the nation doesn't have a formal constitution. The words used are those sung in 1745, substituting 'Queen' for 'King' (and female pronouns with male ones) where appropriate. On official (and most other) occasions, the first verse only is sung, on a small number of occasions, the third verse is heard as well; very rarely is the second verse heard due to its militaristic nature. There exist many other verses, some dating as far back as the first three verses, but the first three are what can best be represented as the "standard" British national anthem.
The British tune has since become one of the world's most recognizable anthems, and has has been used in other countries - as European visitors to Britain in the eighteenth century noticed the advantage of a country possessing such a recognized musical symbol - including Germany, Russia, Switzerland, the United States (where use of the tune continued after independence as a patriotic song and one of several unofficial anthems before 1931), and even today by Liechtenstein and as the royal anthem of Norway. (One might say that because of this fact, that the United Kingdom was the creator of the concept of a "national anthem".) Some 140 composers, including Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms, have used the tune in their compositions.
"God Save the Queen" also serves as the royal anthem for most Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and Canada. (Governor-generals of Commonwealth countries usually have bits and pieces of the national anthem strung together played as their anthem.)
The stamps above features some of the "claimants" to the anthem authorship- Haydn, Purcell and Lully. Below is a first day cover issued in February 6 1992, on the 40th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne. A postmark of "God Save the Queen" is seen.