Sing Him Victorious by Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson

Sing Him Victorious


Sometimes you realise that words you know by heart, even sing now and then, don’t quite make sense. The perfect example is the National Anthem. It’s the ‘send’ in the fourth line (‘Send him victorious’) that always strikes me as odd. I have a recollection of raising an objection to it at my primary school, only to be told, patronisingly and erroneously, that ‘send’ was a subjunctive and that I’d understand when I was older. Various examples have been offered of early modern uses of ‘God send him well’ and the like, but they’re not at all convincing in the context of a text which appears to have taken the form we know in the mid-18th century.

The first recorded London performance of the Hanoverian loyalist version with which we’re familiar took place at Drury Lane Theatre on 28 September 1745, after the forces of Charles Edward Stuart (the ‘Young Pretender’) had defeated George II’s army at Prestonpans and were moving south towards London. Although George II had fought on the continent two years earlier, he remained far from the action during the Jacobite rising, so the theatre audience cannot have been wishing him godspeed as he led his troops into battle.

‘Send’ would, however, make perfect sense in circumstances where the monarch in question is absent or in exile, and his return or restoration is desired. A decade ago, I was academic adviser to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for their Jacobite gallery. Among the objects which we displayed

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