Hymn Story: I Vow to Thee My Country
“I Vow to Thee, My Country” is a British patriotic hymn.
Sir Cecil Spring Rice wrote the poem “The City of God” or “The Two Fatherlands” in either 1908 or 1912. The poem described how a Christian owes his loyalties to both his homeland and the heavenly kingdom.
In 1908, he was posted at the British Embassy in Stockholm.
In 1912, he was appointed the Ambassador to the United States but when Britain joined the war against Germany, he was called back to Great Britain. Shortly before his January 1918 departure from the US, he re-wrote the hymn and renamed it “Urbs Dei” or “The City of God”, altering the first verse.
In both versions, the first verse invokes Britain or “my country” and the second verse, the Kingdom of Heaven.
He sent the text in a letter to William Jennings Bryan, shortly before his February 1918 death.
Gustav Holst set the poem to music in 1921 and the melody became known as “Thaxted”.
The hymn was first published in the 1925/6 hymns the Songs of Praise and has appeared in a number of additional British hymnals.