In light of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral yesterday I thought I would look at the story behind this hymn Although the hymn is commonly used at Remembrance to remember those who fought and died in both wars for the country, the Queen did at her coronation make a vow to serve the Country.
The origin of the hymn’s text is a poem by diplomat Cecil Spring Rice, written early in the 20th century, entitled Urbs Dei (“The City of God”) or The Two Fatherlands. The poem described how a Christian owes his loyalties to both his homeland and the heavenly kingdom.
The Story Behind I Vow to Thee, My Country
In 1908, Spring Rice was posted to the British Embassy in Stockholm. In 1912, he was appointed as Ambassador to the United States of America, where he influenced the administration of Woodrow Wilson to abandon neutrality and join Britain in the war against Germany. After the United States entered the war, he was recalled to Britain. Shortly before his departure from the US in January 1918, he re-wrote and renamed Urbs Dei as “I Vow to Thee, My Country” significantly altering the first verse to concentrate on the themes of love and sacrifice rather than “the noise of battle” and “the thunder of her guns”, creating a more sombre tone in view of the dreadful loss of life suffered in the Great War. The first verse in both versions invokes Britain; the second verse, the Kingdom of Heaven.
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best.
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know.
We may not count her armies; we may not see her King.
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering.
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.