It's a song which extolls the virtues of monarchy and exalts loyalty to the state.

But as we all get used to singing the new lyrics for God Save the King, following the accession of Charles III, academics at the UEA have revealed the rebellious roots of the national anthem.

The song has been included in a new study of protest music, Our Subversive Voice, which lists 750 English protest songs, from 1600–2020.

The exact origins of the anthem are shrouded in mystery, but the UEA researchers assess claims by some scholars that it originated in the early 18th century as a Jacobite drinking song - sung by supporters of the Stuart dynasty which lost the throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

According to this theory, it was sung in protest at the reigning monarchy and in support of the rival Stuart claimants, celebrating the exiled king ‘soon to reign over us’, with extra 'Jacobite' verses written.

However, the UEA academics think it more likely that the song was first created in praise of the reigning monarch - George II - but was appropriated as a rebel protest song during the 1745 rising, which saw a Jacobite army under Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, invade England from Scotland.

According to the database there was "an immediate Jacobite attempt to appropriate an instantaneously popular song".

The Royal Family's own website says the song was first publicly performed in London in 1745, after Bonnie Prince Charlie's forces defeated the army of King George II at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh. The victory was the high point of the Jacobite campaign.

After news of Prestonpans had reached London, the leader of the band at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, arranged God Save the King for performance after a play, praising King George II.

It was a tremendous success and was repeated nightly - soon spreading to other theatres.

An anti-Jacobite verse, including the line 'Rebellious Scots to crush' was sometimes sung.

As the Jacobites faded as a force, following the failure of the 1745 rising, their versions of the anthem faded too and by the 19th century, the version we know today had been formalised as the national anthem.

The UEA researchers say the song also earned its place on the database because it was also parodied in protest song - by supporters of the French Revolution and victims of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.


The Our Subversive Voice project has run for two years and involves academics from the University of East Anglia and the universities of Reading and Warwick.

It has catalogued 750 English protest songs, from 1600–2020.

The 250 most distinctive ones are included on a new database and the project culminates in London this week with a concert and exhibition.

The protest song is often said to have been born in the United States in the 1940s–50s, to have flourished in the 60s and 70s, and to have faded into obscurity in recent years.

But the project shows its origins go back more than 400 years to complaints King James was selling honours.

And there are some other surprising inclusions - including Rule, Britannia! and Jerusalem.

UEA’s Prof John Street, the project’s lead researcher, said: “When people think of protest songs they probably think first of American music, and then perhaps of the great tradition of Irish or Scottish protest songs.

"We wanted to find out what things would look like – and sound like – if you focus just on England, especially given the current attention given to ideas of Englishness.”

The research found complaints about the way the political class behaves were as common in 1600s England as in the modern day.

Researchers found lots of songs about religion, war and poverty, as well as a 17th-century environmentalist protest about draining the East Anglian fens.

The searchable database, which includes information such as the lyrics and, where possible, a recording, also features 17th century ballads lamenting beer price hikes to contemporary performances decrying Brexit and the Grenfell fire.

There were also songs opposing vaccination in the 1800s, just as there have been during the recent Covid pandemic, such as Van Morrison's No More Lockdown.

The website also features interviews with songwriters who have penned protest songs, including Billy Bragg and Peggy Seeger.

Prof Alan Finlayson, a project co-investigator from UEA, said: "One thing we found across the centuries, was people complaining about those in charge: monarchs, military commanders and MPs.

"For over 400 years people have been singing about their rulers’ self-indulgence, laziness and lack of concern for ‘ordinary’ people."

The Our Subversive Voice database can be found at

On Friday, September 23, The Carnival Band will perform a variety of protest songs from across the centuries, at London’s historic Cecil Sharp House.

Tickets are free, but must be booked at