The British Grenadiers

For our 2017 Lagniappe Dulcimer Fete which had the theme of “Yankee Doodle Dulcimer,” we researched and compiled of music book of tunes which were popular in the Revolutionary War era. Of course, many of the tunes which were sung in colonial times originated in England. One of these songs was “Free America” which has the same melody as “The British Grenadiers.” The lyrics, which were meant to inspire colonists to rebel against England, were penned by an American patriot with a tragic story. I had assumed that the grenadiers — an elite British fighting unit — were relegated to colonial times. However, with all the media attention to Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, we saw contemporary grenadier regiments on full display.

With all the media attention on Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral proceedings, I couldn’t help to notice that several of the hymn’s being sung sounded familiar. For example, The British national anthem, “God Save the King (Queen)” uses the same melody as, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” It reminds me of how connected we were to the King of England and the British Isles in colonial times.

The British Grenadier Guards

The British Grenadier Guards are one of the most elite British regimental military units. They were very prominently featured during the military processions of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. The Royal Guards were founded in 1656 by King Charles at Bruges in Flounders. That is over 350 years ago. The Grenadier Guards have fought in all the major wars which Great Britain has been involved in. The regiment is known as fast and mobile light military unit. They also have ceremonial duties and are one of the military units which guard the royal residences.

Household Military Units

Actually, there are five British regiments military units which have the privilege of protecting the King at his various castles and palaces: the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards. You can identify the units by the color of their plume hackle on their tall bearskin hats as well as the style and placement of the buttons on their tunics. The blue plumes refer to the Irish Guards. The guard units wear scarlet color tunics in summer months and gray tunics in the winter. Here are Irish Guards with their mascot, an Irish Wolfhound. I can see how snare drums are importance in keeping the cadence going when these units are marching. The tempo for the British Grenadier March is typically 110 BPM. At the funeral processional for Queen Elizabeth II, the cadence was set at 75 BPM for the tunes which were played.

During the American Revolution, several colonies also had grenadier regimental units such as the 11th Regiment of Connecticut Militia. To spark courage in American volunteer soldiers,  Joseph Warren (1741–75), a soldier and leader in the war for independence, wrote new lyrics to the melody of “The British Grenadiers.” The song essentially scoffs at Great Britain, saying, “You may have been overrun by conquering nations, but we won’t be!”

Here’s what I wrote about the “The British Grenadiers” song in our “Top Revolutionary War Era Tunes” Book

“The British Grenadiers,” also known as “Free America”, was a popular patriotic British military marching song with the first print version around 1750. It is still played by British, Canadian and Australian military units whose badge of identification features a grenade.

A Grenadier is the elite member of an infantry regimental unit. Originally Grenadiers were grenade-throwing units; although this practice seems to have been abandoned by Revolutionary War times. Rifles were more powerful; grenades misfired. The Grenadiers were the physically strongest, bravest and boldest members and the role of these regiments was to lead assaults in the battlefield; storm fortifications breached during sieges; perform special tactical functions on the battlefield.

Dr. Joseph Warren wrote a song entitled, “Free America,” to the British Grenadier tune.  The lyrics were published in The Massachusetts Newspapers and ascribed to Warren in 1774. Warren was a physician and an early active American patriot from Boston. He served as President of the Revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. 

Warren was the person who alerted Paul Revere and William Dawes to leave Boston and ride to the town of Concord to warn that the British garrison was advancing to capture rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

Although Warren was commissioned as a General in the colony’s militia, he asked to serve as a common infantry soldier in the Battle of Bunker Hill where the worst fighting was expected. He perished during the 3rd British wave of the battle with a gunshot wound to the head. It is fitting that Warren set his poem to the British song which stood for bravery and physical strength.

As a bit of morbid trivia, Warren was buried on the battlefield. Nine months later when the British lost control of the area, Warren’s brothers were able to locate and dig up his body which had been badly mutilated by the British. Paul Revere was a dentist. The body was positively identified by a small gold wire that Revere had used to hold a false tooth in place. Warren’s body was exhumed and moved two more times. The final resting place is Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, August 8, 1856.

Dulcimer Tab for The British Grenadiers tune

Here is our tab for the tune, “The British Grenadiers.” The tab is in DAD and is straightforward. Since this is a march tune, it is important to keep the rhythm steady. I have included the lyrics for “Free America” at the end of this blog post.

In the poem, “Huzza, huzza, huzza ,….” means “hurrah, hurrah, hurrah….” and was used as a celebratory exclamation in colonial America. Like yelling “Go America!” with conviction and vigor.

Free America
by Joseph Warren

That seat of science Athens,
And earth’s proud mistress, Rome,
Where now are all their glories
We scarce can find a tomb.
Then guard your rights, Americans,
Nor stoop to lawless sway,
Oppose, oppose, oppose, oppose
For North America.

Proud Albion bow’d to Caesar,
And numerous lords before,
To Picts, to Danes, to Normans,
And many masters more;
But we can boast Americans
Have never fall’n a prey,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza
For Free America.

We led fair Freedom hither,
And lo, the desert smiled,
A paradise of pleasure
New opened in the wild;
Your harvest, bold Americans,
No power shall snatch away,
Preserve, preserve, preserve your rights
In Free America.

Torn from a world of tyrants
Beneath this western sky
We formed a new dominion,
A land of liberty;
The world shall own we’re freemen here,
And such will ever be,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza
For love and liberty.

God bless this maiden climate,
And through her vast domain
May hosts of heroes cluster
That scorn to wear a chain.
And blast the venal sycophants
Who dare our rights betray;
Assert yourselves, yourselves, yourselves
For brave America,

Lift up your hearts, my heroes,
And swear with proud disdain,
The wretch that would ensnare you
Shall spread his net in vain;
Should Europe empty all her force,
We’d meet them in array,
And shout huzza, huzza, huzza
For brave America.

The land where freedom reigns shall still
Be masters of the main,
In giving laws and freedom
To subject France and Spain;
And all the isles o’er ocean spread
Shall tremble and obey,
The prince who rules by Freedom’s laws
In North America.

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