In 1977, at a time when Queen Elizabeth II was planning her Silver Jubilee to commemorate the 25 year anniversary of her ascension to the throne while concurrently the Sex Pistols were launching their anti-establishment punk anthem “God Save The Queen”, Prince Charles penned a heartfelt letter to Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten asking to take his mother’s place as the object of their ridicule.
With England mired in an economic downturn, enmeshed in IRA atrocities and the looming threat of global nuclear war, the mid-’70s was a difficult time in England. The Labour government suggested the idea of massive celebrations such as the Silver Jubilee as a way to create unity for the nation and revel in nostalgia for past glories.
Meanwhile, the Sex Pistols, one of punk rock’s seminal bands, were standard bearers for the genre’s desire to challenge social norms and traditions. The Silver Jubilee provided an excellent target for their disaffection. The Sex Pistols released “God Save The Queen” in May of 1977, and it was immediately met with visceral condemnation by the general public. The Telegraph dubbed it “the most controversial song in history.” Originally titled “No Future,” the title of the song was changed to “God Save The Queen” as a riff on the British national anthem, and the song sought to target perceived excesses of the British government with a direct hit on the royal family.
“God save the queen/’Cause tourists are money/And our figurehead/Is not what she seems” reads one verse of the anti-anthem.
The Supreme Court have ordered that Prince Charles' letters are to be published. Oh well. If you insist. pic.twitter.com/ztakhXswH0
— Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK) March 26, 2015
After catching wind of the intentions of the new song in a moment that was supposed to be a special commemoration of The Queen’s reign, Prince Charles personally wrote to Johnny Rotten, “begging” him not to “attack” The Queen, and asking that the Sex Pistols target the Prince instead, according to the Express.
In the letter, Prince Charles wrote:
“I cannot ask you to suppress your free speech.
Might I then suggest that instead of attacking my mother on this her most special occasion, that I place myself in her stead?
I realise you’re an angry young man – I get angry myself sometimes, so I know exactly how you feel.
It might run as follows:
God bless the Prince
Let’s make him into mince
He’s got stupid stick-out ears
Gets his kicks shooting deers.“
Apparently, Prince Charles’ pleas fell on deaf ears, though Sex Pistols singer John Lydon suggested that there may have been some divergence between the song’s intent and its reception.
“These are fun songs. Done for a laugh. God Save The Queen? It’s kind of high camp, in a way,” said Lydon in 2002.
“You certainly don’t think it’s going to be taken as a declaration of civil war.”
Yet it was, as the song was banned by the BBC and Lydon was routinely physically attacked by members of an outraged public. Yet the song also hit a nerve among the disaffected youth of the time, selling 150,000 copies in its first day and ultimately making Rolling Stone‘s list of greatest songs of all-time and a spot on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Queen Elizabeth II did quite well for herself also, despite her son’s sweet efforts to shelter her from the storm.