God Save the Queen…Through Her Husband

When I was a kid bored in sacrament meeting, finished with doodling on the program and desperate for entertainment, the hymnbook was my saving grace. (I know that’s supposed to be Jesus, but the hymnbook was much closer and more tactile.) After I’d finished the game of mentally adding naughty phrases to the hymn titles (“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me Under the Covers” still makes me giggle), I’d usually end up either trying to memorize the lyrics of “I’m a Pilgrim, I’m a Stranger,” which were oddly and inexplicably fascinating to me despite–still!–never having sung the song, or leafing through the national songs and wondering first, why there aren’t more countries represented, and second, why the national song for the UK and Commonwealth countries is captured as “God Save the King.”

Gina Colvin reminded me of this recently, but seriously: why? The green hymnbook was published in 1985, at which point the UK had had a queen as its ruling monarch for 33 years and–not that anyone could have known this at the time–would have one for at least another 31 years. Is it that the (likely American) editors of the hymnbook regarded “king” as the default version of the song and didn’t think about it hard enough to even leave a footnote mentioning that singers should fill in “queen” and “her” where appropriate? (Two minutes on Wikipedia tells me that “queen” has been correct in 47% of years since the song’s earliest publication date, but I guess they didn’t have Wikipedia then, and apparently had no one on staff who knew about Queen Victoria.)

Did the hymnbook editors consider the state of things, gamble that Queen Elizabeth II would inherit her father’s longevity rather than her mother’s, and opt for a hymnbook that would be inaccurate at publication rather than one that might become outdated shortly after publication? (Didn’t they know the prophets discourage gambling? At least add a footnote!)

Is it that the national songs in the hymn are really included as religious metaphors and so we have to sing about God the king since the first rule of Heavenly Mother is that we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother? (Now my mind is wandering into speculation about the religiously metaphorical meaning of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and, oops, I just added “Under the Covers.”)

Is this just that the editors, steeped in Mormon theology, felt uncomfortable with a vision of a woman in power, and couldn’t figure out how to make “God save the queen and priestess unto her husband” scan? (Scansion certainly didn’t bother them with “For All the Saints.”)

Speculate with me, dear readers. Under the covers.


  1. I don’t know, but a few years ago we sang that as the closing song in sacrament meeting. I don’t think I had ever sung it at church before. My guess is it was a mistake, but no matter, we dutifully sang the song. (As I recall, most people just substituted Queen on their own.)

    After we finished, this one woman stood up in the congregation and loudly insisted that we follow that song with My Country Tis of Thee. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do such a thing before. But it worked, and we sang the American version of the song before closing the meeting.

    It was one of the more entertaining sacrament meetings in recent memory.

  2. God save the King appeared in the blue 1948 hymnal (the first time it was included in an LDS songbook), four years before Queen Elizabeth began her reign. I would guess that continuity played at least some part in keeping it as ‘King’ in the 85 hymnal.

  3. I suspect that the editors were simply trafficking in the legal fiction that enabled Elizabeth I to say at Tilbury that even though she had the weak and frail body of a woman, she had the heart of a king.

    Okay, actually I don’t suspect that at all. Mostly, I just want to picture the 1985 editors puzzling their way through Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic The King’s Two Bodies (under the covers) and saying things like “holy fisc” while contemplating their responsibility to maintain continuity with the previous editors so as to keep alive in the minds of the people the notion of a sempiternal corpus mysticum at work in the production of the Church’s hymnals.

    (This is probably the dorkiest comment I’ve ever made in the Bloggernacle, which is saying something.)

  4. Only the poms sing God save the Queen, in Australia we sing Advance Australia Fair which is also due for an upgrade or replacement, and Canadians sing Oh Canada.

    We have a page we stick in the hymn book. Last Australia day we had to send a message up to the Bishop ecause there had been no talks on how much better it is to live here than any where else, and the national anthem was not even going to be sung. It was.

    As an aside, how many of you stand for the intermediate hymn?

  5. Back when I was music chair I tried to reintroduce standing for the intermediate hymn (we always stood when I was a child), it only lasted a couple of weeks though before the Bishop decided it was too cumbersome, since going on his interpretation of the handbook the congregation had to be invited to stand by a member of the Bishopric, or the presiding officer; the chorister wasn’t permitted to indicate to the congregation without that invitation being formally issued each and every service, and what if they forgot (which they had in the second week)? The chorister would be overstepping her bounds and the congregation getting confused…. Aargh!
    So now we only stand for ‘I Vow to Thee my Country’ on Remembrance Sunday, which last November was the closing hymn.
    And yeah, what to make of ‘God Save the King’? We noticed that here as soon as the book came out back in ’85. When it is sung (last time for the HM’s Diamond Jubilee, and yes we did stand) Queen and Her are substituted. But really folks, so not diplomatic to be gambling on the HM’s death! Changes can always be made to a later print run as evidenced in the later print runs of the Children’s songbook – additional presidents added to Latterday Prophets and genealogy replaced with family history. Current editions of Anglican hymnbooks in my possession all say Queen.

  6. It’s “under the sheets.” C’mon, people!

    Anyhow, no, I don’t think the editors of the 1985 Hymnal chose “God Save the King” because they were specifically afraid of mentioning female figures (although they might have been, generally). I have to think they were simply defaulting to the standard usage in the Church at the time: when you have to use a noun/pronoun, use the male version since it can mean either male or female.

    Still, the whole thing is pretty funny. Under the sheets.

  7. “Tthe first rule of Heavenly Mother is that we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother” … that made me smile.


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