Elizabethan Era

The Tudors Era

Jacobean Era

My Lady Greensleeves old English folk song



Greensleeves as we know it today is an old English folk song which originated during the Tudor period. Over time many people have forgotten that there were lyrics to accompany the music. There are several versions of the Greensleeves lyrics, but the true and original version contains eighteen verses and describes the love of a nobleman for a lady with a gown with green sleeves. Of course, with a song that is so old there have been a number of variations made to the lyrics over time, but the original lyrics remain as romantic as they were when the song was first written.

Lady Greensleeves

During the period that the song was composed and the lyrics written, the sleeves of a ladies gown were detachable, fastened to the gown with laces. This meant that one pair of sleeves could be worn with a number of different gowns. There are many who believe that the Lady Greensleeves in question is Lady Anne Boleyn, and that it was King Henry himself that penned the words of love to his then mistress. While the lyrics could certainly refer to their illicit courtship there is no proof that this is the case, or that Henry actually wrote it. Henry was an accomplished musician so there is no doubt that he did compose something during his lifetime.

Greensleeves Alternative Meanings

There are a number of interpretations of the meaning of the song, aside that it was a love song composed for Anne Boleyn. There is also the inference that the green sleeves upon the gown of a lady could have been caused by her laying in the grass with her lover. The grass stains resulting in her having green sleeves. Then again, green was a colour which represented many things during the Tudor period. Not only did it symbolise joy, it was also a colour that was associated with purity and chastity, something which would be at odds with the song being about a lady of ill repute.

My Lady Greensleeves Lyrics

Looking at the original lyrics of the song it is clear to see that the words are those of a man, a wealthy and noble man who is trying to win the hand of his love. He describes the woman as 'My Lady Greensleeves' in reference to the colour of sleeve that she prefers. He also describes how much he has done to win her approval. We learn that he has bought her jewels and fine linens, paid for a roof over her head, all of which he makes her know that has been at some considerable expense.

He describes gifts of petticoats and of jewels for her to wear around her neck, linens with delicate gold embroidery, and a golden, pearl encrusted girdle for her to wear around her waist. He appears to have clothed her from head to foot including her grass green gown with the green satin sleeves which he says made her look like the 'harvest queen'. These really do look like the gifts that a king or a noble would bestow upon his mistress.


   
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